Generosity is everywhere - extract from foundation module: Gospel Community

 

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Generosity is everywhere in this final section of Romans. Look at chapter 14 and its emphasis on welcoming others. That is generosity. Not passing judgement on one another in 14:13 is another expression of generosity. Notice 15:2, with the repeated emphasis on welcome. And 15:7 sums it up: “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” These actions and attitudes are only possible when our hearts have been gripped and transformed by God’s prodigious generosity in Christ. But once that has happened, then they are inevitable. It is in this frame of mind, now that the tone and the context have been set, that we can properly comprehend and experience the full force of what Paul is saying in 12:13.

Below we will uncover two simple and concise descriptions of a community formed by the gospel and existing for the gospel. They are distinct but closely connected, with the second being a necessary consequence of the first.

1. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need

Love and generosity, unity and joy, assurance and boldness, a spirit of praise and prayer, and a passion to reach out to win others, are recurring marks of gospel communities, but the key word in this sentence is the word ‘share’. It is a familiar word: koinonia. The same root word is used in Acts 2:44: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” It’s there again in 4:32: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” The sharing of which Paul writes is not in which someone has an abundance and gives a portion to someone else. It is more of an attitude that sees the abundance as not belonging to me so much as it belongs to us. But that does not mean I relinquish ownership, because that would be to relinquish responsibility. It is to say to one another, “We have these resources, how can the benefit be maximised?”.

Romans 12:13 calls us to generosity that is:

  1. Sacrificial (Common)

  2. Specific (Saints)

  3. Strategic (Need)

Generosity is not reckless, careless abandon. Dropping large currency notes out of a window onto passers-by on the street below isn’t generous; it’s stupid and negligent. Generosity is using what you have and all you have to the best effect. And one way in which this happens is shown in the second clause in 12:13.

2. Practise hospitality

Leon Morris cites F.J. Leenhardt in his comment on this phrase: “Christian hospitality must inconvenience us more than that of others; we do not choose our time or our guests.” Morris then goes on to say, “Paul is not advocating a pleasant social exercise among friends, but the use of one’s home to help even people we do not know, if that will advance God’s cause.”(1)We think we are being hospitable when we invite people we like around for a meal. As pleasant and enjoyable as this is, this is not what should characterise a generous community, formed by the gospel and existing for the gospel. The word translated ‘pursue’ is a verb, a doing word, and it implies vigorous effort. Paul’s saying: Don’t be a passive responder to need. Go out of your way to open your home to others; others you don’t necessarily click with; others who won’t be able to repay you.

The word hospitality is made up of two words in the original language and means ‘love of strangers’. It would be helpful for each of us to look back over our diaries for the last six months, and take notice of how many strangers we have provided for in our home. This does not mean we should avoid having friends round. Nor does it mean we have no responsibility to care for those in our gospel communities. But it does mean that these should not be the only ones we care for. If our hearts are captured by the gospel and full of Christ, there will be an indiscriminate nature to our generosity. It will be an instinct and a reflex, not a strategy. There is an unremitting clarity in Jesus’ words in Luke 6:27-36:

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.  And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

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1 Morris, L. The Epistle to the Romans (Wm.B.Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1988), 448


 
Beth Butler