Her words stopped me in my tracks.
“I need to verify your insurance information, Mr. Dooley, but you will never receive a bill from the hospital,” she stated casually. I should have known; after all, I see the same commercials that you see from time to time. Yet, I am embarrassed to admit that previously I failed to pay attention. At this point, I knew little about childhood cancer and even less about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. What was second nature to the woman in registration was news to me.
“How is that possible?” I asked.
“Because of generous donors around the world,” she explained, “our patients never receive a bill from the hospital. There will be no charge for whatever your insurance fails to pay.”
“No charge. You take care of your son and let us take care of the rest.”
And take care of it they did. Every flight we took to Memphis (over 100). Every mile we drove. Every meal we ate while there. Every room we stayed in overnight. Every vial of chemo Carson received. Every MRI, CT scan, and clinic visit. No expense was spared, and no expense was laid at our feet.
No charge. No strings attached.
When it was all over, we estimated that St. Jude spent nearly 2 million dollars to help our son get well. Words cannot describe the deep gratitude our family feels for the abundant, unrestricted generosity of the world’s premier research hospital leading the fight against childhood cancer. To this day, it takes my breath away.
Frankly, the whole experience gave me a completely new outlook on living a generous life. No secular organization should model the sacrificial giving God seeks more than the church of the Lord Jesus. As a pastor, I not only want to model sacrificial giving for my people, but I also want to teach them to prioritize the Lord’s work.
I realize that discussions on money and giving are often taboo despite the fact that significant portions of Scripture are devoted to these subjects. While the lies of the prosperity gospel leave many wishing to avoid the issue altogether, faithful pastors seeking to preach the whole counsel of God recognize the undeniable connection between our view of wealth and our spiritual maturity. Simply put, wherever we put our treasure, our heart will necessarily follow (Matt. 6:21).
Despite our best efforts to ignore it, most Christians instinctively understand that either God or money will rise to prominence in our lives, leaving no room for both to capture our allegiance (Matt. 6:24). The biblical antidote for worshipping at the altar of the almighty dollar is generous giving to God’s kingdom work (Matt. 6:19-20). So, instead of asking if we should give, allow me to make some observations about how we should give, particularly to our local church. Five patterns emerge as we consider the kind of generosity that pleases God.
Our giving should be sacrificial. While describing the giving of the Macedonians to the ministry of the church, Paul says they gave despite their great affliction and poverty (2 Cor. 8:2) in a way that was according to their ability and beyond their ability (2 Cor. 8:3). Sharing resources that we will never miss falls short of the sacrifice God desires in our giving.
Our giving should be intentional. Not only does Paul challenge the Corinthian believers to participate in the offering for the Jerusalem church, he also tells them to plan ahead and set aside their gift well before its collection (2 Cor. 9:5). Setting aside funds each week is the best strategy because it increases our capacity to give beyond what single moments allow (1 Cor. 16:1). Being intentional pushes the kingdom’s agenda to the forefront of our budget by protecting us from reactionary giving out of our leftovers.
Our giving should be cheerful. Lest anyone think that generosity is defined by certain dollar amounts, Paul also highlights the heart and attitude that should accompany our offerings. Giving only when coerced or forced creates a religious hypocrisy that resembles a whitewashed tomb rather than a transformed heart. God desires cheerful anticipation as we give out of devoted resolve to build eternal treasure (2 Cor. 9:7).
Our giving should be proportional. Much like a swinging pendulum, the proportional nature of giving is obvious in two distinct ways. First, what we give away should be proportional to what God has given us. Second, what God gives us is often proportional to what we are willing to give away. Do you want to be generous? Give as God as given to you. Do you want to be more generous? God can (and will) give you everything you need to be as generous as He wants you to be (2 Cor. 9:8-11).
Our giving should be worshipful. Not only does supporting God’s kingdom work lead those who benefit to worship God, but it also points us back to the One who gave more than any material possession we might part with. Giving reminds us of the “indescribable gift” of God’s Son (2 Cor. 9:15). Though Jesus was rich, He became poor so that we might become wealthy because of His poverty (2 Cor. 8:9). Sustained generosity not only makes us more like Jesus, it also helps us to appreciate the depth and breadth of His great sacrifice for us.