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Giving is discussed quite frequently in Christian circles. Christians are encouraged to emulate God in their giving. But where do we learn about God and giving? One of the clearest passages that teach us about God and giving is found in John 3:16.

John 3:16 states,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

In this passage we see, why God gives, how God gives, and to whom God gives.

Why God Gives? God gives because he loves. He loves both himself and his creation, the world. God created the world, and we know that Psalm 19 tells us that the “heavens declare the glory of God.” But also, we know that humanity was created in the image of God to reflect God’s glory to the created order. Sin damaged man’s ability to properly and correctly reflect God’s glory—his kingdom, characteristics, attributes, and nature. Thus, in his deep love for himself, and in his deep love for his creation (namely mankind), God generously gave.

Divine generosity originates in love—the love of God’s glory and the love of mankind and alleviating mankind from their plight. Generosity doesn’t originate from law or obligation, but a deep seeded love. God did not give because he needed something from us, or for himself, he gave because he loved. Love is truly rooted in the very nature of God (1 John 4:8).

For God, generosity is missional! He gives to fulfill his mission of creating a people (a kingdom) for himself from all peoples who will reflect his glory in every area of their life throughout the created order.

How God Gives? God gives generously, which is demonstrated by his free, extravagant, and sacrificial gift of His Son. In addition, Jesus gave Himself willingly and joyfully (Heb 12:1–4). God the Father and God the Son gave generously in a way that leveraged who they were in order to raise the status of man from sinner to saint, rebel to child.

According to Andreas Köstenberger, “While the Greek introductory construction (houtos gar, for thus) stresses the intensity of God’s love, the result clause, speaking of the giving of God’s [Son] (monogenes huios, one-of-a-kind Son), stresses the greatness of that gift.” Köstenberger goes on to notes how the term “‘gave’…draws attention to the sacrifice involved for God the Father in sending his Son to save the world.”[1]

Another scholar notes how “only begotten” denotes how special and beloved the Son was. In Jewish literature, it was often applied to Isaac, to emphasize the greatness of Abraham’s sacrifice.[2]

Therefore, John stresses the manner, or way, in which God gives—God generously and sacrificially gives His best!

To Whom God Gives? God gives generously to all! However, it is the “whosoever”—those who believe in Christ—who realize the extravagant, sacrificial, and joyful generosity of God. Notice who he gave to? Sinners! Rebels! God gave generously towards those who had committed treason against His sovereignty.

John Calvin describes the target of God’s love incomprehensible to the human mind. Calvin notes,

It is a wonderful goodness of God, and incomprehensible to the human mind, that he was benevolent to people he could not but hate and removed the cause of the hatred so that there might be nothing in the way of his love.[3]

As God’s people, we are to emulate his love.

Thus, if we are going to give like God, we must: emulate WHY He gives; emulate HOW He gives; and emulate to WHOM He gives. [Keep in mind that generosity doesn’t have to be narrowly defined as in the amount of money, or treasure, one gives. It can also be broadened to include time and talents one uses towards the well-being of others.]

  1. To Be Generous like God, we must give for His glory and others’ good. This is important, for as fallen, broken, and sinful vessels, our tendency is to make an idol out of money.

Jesus strongly asserts, “No servant can serve two masters for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13). Tim Keller, regarding this passage, notes, “Just as we serve earthly kings and magistrates, so we ‘sell our souls’ to our idols. . . . When Jesus says that we ‘serve’ money, he uses a word that means the solemn, covenantal service rendered to a king. If you live for money you are a slave. If, however, God becomes the center of your life, that dethrones and demotes money. If your identity and security is in God, it can’t control you through worry and desire. It is one or the other.”[4]

Is it is wrong to have money? To be wealthy? To have nice things? No. Money isn’t the problem, but as the Apostle Paul asserts,

the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim 6:10).

So, the problem is idolatry. Thus, if we are going to give like God gives, our giving must revolve around his glory and be directed in a way for others’ good.

As stated above, giving should be tied to God’s mission. God loves Himself, which is why he directs his love to his creation—especially his prized creation, man. The way we view and give of our time, talents, and treasures should be done in accordance with fulfilling God’s mission. (Acts 2:45; 2 Cor 8,9; Phil 4:15).

  1. To Be Generous like God, we must give extravagantly, cheerfully, joyfully, and sacrificially. Paul shares in 2 Corinthians that “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).

The gospel doesn’t force one to give, but frees one up to give—to give willingly, joyfully, and sacrificially. The gospel changes one’s perception from I “have to give” from I “get to give.

In addition, does our giving require anything from us? In other words, what are we sacrificing in our effort to give generously? For God, He gave his Son? For Jesus, He gave his life? What does our giving costs us? Paul writes in 2 Cor 12:15, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. . . .”

  1. To Be Generous like God, we must give without impartiality and prejudice.There are many times we want to make sure that what we give to, or whom we give to, will not squander our money? In other words, we want to make sure that it is a wise investment. We want to make sure that the person we are taking time to serve and minister to is “worth” it. Or, maybe we want to make sure the church is spending the money the way we want it to be spent; if not, then we may withhold our giving.

While there is an element of wisdom and calculation to generosity,

gospel generosity doesn’t base giving on whether or not one seems to be “worth” it or a good investment, but bases giving on radical obedience that trusts God will use the investment for his glory and others’ good.

In early Christian history the church was seen giving to both those inside and outside the church. Paul writes to the churches in Galatia, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). In addition, history records Emperor Julian, circa 362A.D. writing to a high priest in Galatian, complaining that the pagans needed to match the generosity of the Christians. In another letter, Emperor Julian, penned, “I think that when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by the priests, the impious Galileans observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence. . . . The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”[5]

Here are some questions to ponder:

  • Am I grateful for the generous love that God has shown me?
  • Am I demonstrating his generous love towards others?

[1] Andreas Köstenberger, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: John, 129.

[2] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 270.

[3] John Calvin, John (Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer, eds., The Crossway Classic Commentary Series; Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 403.

[4] Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, 57.

[5] Take from, Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 83–84.