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The Hebrew Meaning of Generosity: In Giving We Receive

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November 20th, 2020

In Giving We Receive

The theme of giving and receiving is more than just a financial principle of generosity. The Bible gives many examples of how it can be applied universally. If we bless Israel, we will be blessed, if we curse Israel, we will be cursed (Gen 12:3). And, if we don’t forgive others, we ourselves will not be forgiven (Matt 6:15). We will be judged according to the measure we judge others (Matt 7:2). If we bring the tithe, the storehouses of heaven are opened (Mal 3:10).

We like to place our values on commitment, hard work, stewardship, and providing for our families. These are all noble ideas. Yet when it comes to giving or generosity, we tend to be a little hesitant, wanting to make sure we don’t “go crazy”… you know, in the name of “wisdom” and “responsibility”.

While there can be an element of truth to this, we may be using these words to cover up for “fear” or “self-preservation” that are rooted in our hearts. However, the more we learn about who God is, we quickly learn this is the opposite of how He gives.

Amazingly, in His wisdom and kindness towards us, God allows us to use our own measure of generosity towards others. By doing so, He provides a constant opportunity for us to readjust our standards. It’s a theme that repeats throughout the Bible.

Dear reader:

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When someone is described as generous, we equate them as being profoundly kind. We see them as going above and beyond normal expectations, giving abundantly and unselfishly.

Typically, finances come to mind first, and reasonably so. Scripture is filled with teachings on money because of the connection between finances and our priorities. So then, what about generosity as it relates to our time and our words? Can we be generous with the skills and talent we have? God uses money as a tool to speak to us about issues of the heart.

The Jewish community takes the responsibility of giving with great pride. The concept known as tzedakah finds its origins in the Torah. This Hebrew word literally means righteousness, but Hebrew speakers use it in reference to giving and charity. 

The Heart of Generosity

There are multiple passages in the Hebrew Scriptures where God instructs the Jewish people to perform acts of tzedakah. God is specifically commanding the Israelites to consider the poor among them, as recorded in Leviticus 19:9-10 and Deuteronomy 15:7-8. 

We can also see a prime example of living in the spirit of generosity in the life of Abraham. He often gave of his time and wealth whenever he was showing hospitality to travelers. Forgoing his own comfort, he gave his nephew Lot first choice in selecting property. And what is more, Abraham was generous with his knowledge of God, residing among paganistic tribes.

Can we be generous in the way we love and serve others? The common denominator is this: generous people are generous because they don’t hold on to anything too tightly, whether money or status. It is all about the posture and condition of our heart. 

Are we clinging onto that which we believe will give us security? Or are we at peace, confident in the truth that God knows what and when we need? Is He our provider? Jack Hayford describes it this way: “learning to be a giver is rooted in clarifying who we perceive as our ultimate source in life – ourselves or God.”

If your delight and confidence is in the Kingdom of God, you will no doubt be generous with all that God has entrusted to you and blessed you with on the earth. 

Give to Receive

Whether resulting in positive or negative outcomes, we get back what we give out. Try it for yourself. Do you need more grace and mercy in your relationships? Look for opportunities to give grace and mercy to those that don’t deserve it. Do you wonder why your friends keep a distance? Try being the vulnerable friend to others, like the one you are looking for. Are you in over your head with your business? Find ways to serve and be generous when others ask for your help.

When we are faithful with little, we are given more. This amazing principle is dependent on our own decisions and actions.

Let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say on generosity. Proverbs 11:24-25 says, One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.”

Solomon, the author of these words, contrasts the generous person with a tightfisted one, and warns against the wrong patterns. It seems counterintuitive that the one who gives more away will actually have more. However, when we view this through God’s wisdom, we see that being generous demonstrates our faith. We trust God with what He Himself entrusted to us.

I love the play on words here. One way we demonstrate our trust in God is by faithfully stewarding what He has entrusted to us. In turn, He can trust us with more. 

Provided for in God

This is a profound aspect of discipleship that is rooted in a foundational characteristic of God. To state the obvious, there is no one more generous than God. As we are becoming more like Him, we will find we are becoming more generous as well. It is at the very core of the gospel message. When God saw our sin, He didn’t pull back but in the most generous and selfless acts ever, gave His only Son on our behalf – to a people who didn’t ask for it or know that they needed it.

After the most memorable feast of Shavuot (Pentecost), when the Holy Spirit had taken up residence in their hearts, followers of Jesus were not in need, because people were selling their things to make sure all we cared for (Acts 4:32-35). As a result, the new believers were being multiplied daily. Later in the book of Acts, when there was a prophetic word about a coming famine, the early church didn’t start to horde to survive. Instead, it responded in generosity and took up an offering for the believers in that area (Acts 11:28-30).

The more active we allow God to be in our lives and the closer we walk with Him, the more generous towards others we will become. The blessings of God overtake us, and with new responsibility and authority we are also given enough to give where He leads us.

Sharing is Trusting

This begs the question, is it wrong to be a follower of Jesus and also be wealthy? 

Consider wealth as a test of heart and mindset. Wealth and possessions are not inherently bad things. But do we desire wealth and “stability” more than we desire the presence of God? Do we trust money more than we trust God? Where does our confidence lie? 

Can’t we look to both earthly and heavenly treasures? Apostle Matthew describes and warns us against this very thing: “For your heart will always pursue what you value as your treasure.” (Matthew 6:21)

In Luke 21:1-4, Jesus describes a widow with not much to her name who deposits two small copper coins into the offering box at the Temple. She gives to God out of obedience and with a generous heart, even though there’s clearly not much to give from. She is possibly jeopardizing her very livelihood by giving at all, but Jesus acknowledged her. 

What is Tithing: A Look at Scripture

The process of generosity can be seen all throughout Scripture. In Genesis, Abraham gives a one-time gift of a tenth (or a tithe) to Melchizedek. In the time of Moses, this amount increases significantly. Per Moses’ instructions, Israel was to give 10% to the priests (Numbers 18:21-26), 10% towards the feasts (Deut 14:22-27), and every 3 years another 10% to the poor (Deut 14:28-29). That totals 23.3% annually.

By the end of Jesus’s ministry, He is teaching his disciples that if they don’t give everything, they aren’t worthy of Him. In light of that progression, it appears that giving 10% is just the starting point. If we want to inherit the world, we give it all – just as He did…

The truth of the matter is, this is not about tithing or even money, but where our hearts are. Jesus said that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be as well. The widow’s 2 mites were the most valuable gift. It was the precious oil broken over Jesus feet that was more valuable than selling it at a high price. It was the good Samaritan’s gift of time and compassion towards the injured man that the others were unwilling to give that stirred the heart of the Lord.

An Act of Gratitude

The story of the widow reminds me of someone I met while volunteering with a local Jewish organization a few years ago. Each year, on the weekends leading up to Passover in the spring and Rosh Hashanah in the fall, the organization assembles holiday care packages for members of the local Jewish community. Some are ill, others are isolated, and many benefited from this sweet gesture. 

I was making a delivery to a lady in a low-income apartment complex that housed mostly immigrants and senior citizens. Many who receive these care packages are truly touched by the gesture and offer enthusiastic words of thanks. This lady was no exception. 

woman receiving groceries in the midst of a pandemic

I handed over the goods to her and ended our courteous exchange by wishing her a “chag sameach” (happy holiday). As I was walking away, I heard footsteps and shouting behind me. The lady wanted to thank me yet again, and with tears in her eyes she forced some chocolate bars and kiwi fruits into my hands. 

I realized this lady impacted me not because I left her home with treats of my own. It was because she wanted to express her gratitude with her own act of generosity. She was living in low-income housing and was on the organization’s list of those in need. She was fit to receive a holiday care package, and yet, she was moved to give of whatever little she had. 

By God’s Grace

I hope this story inspires you as much as it inspired me. Generosity is a state of the heart, not of one’s wallet. We rest in the knowledge that God is the provider of all things. He is gracious and loves to bless His children. Confident in His provision, we give liberally out of it. 

We are generous, because God has been and continues to be generous with us. He lavished His love on us, and this should cause us to respond in kind, in every aspect of life.  

See how God used one generous pastor to spark a global movement to lift up the name above all names:

 

 

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Bibliography

  1. Hayford, Jack. “Profit, Property and Possessiveness.” Jackhayfordlibrary.com, 25 Feb. 1979. 
FIRM is a global fellowship of Biblically-grounded believers committed to cultivating Messiah-centered relationships that bless the inhabitants of Israel—Jews, Arabs, and others—and the Jewish community around the world.
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