A Generosity Parable
A wealthy man was preparing to leave on a trip when he learned of a family that had suffered a great loss and was nearly destitute. He had compassion on them but was pressed to depart so he called for his son and gave him a check, saying: “I am leaving on a trip and I have compassion for the family who has suffered such a loss. Please take this check, keep what you need for your own expenses and give the remainder to this family as a gift from me. If you are still in need, tell me. Remember, I love you and will always take care of you.”
After the father departed, the son cashed the check, then he took the funds and…
How will this parable end?
We write our own ending to this story every time we make choices on how we will invest the resources God entrusts to us. Our abundant and generous heavenly Father provides for our needs, and for the needs of those on whom he has compassion. He calls us to share his resources as he directs, expecting from us acts of generosity that reflect his nature and will.
Let’s consider three possible endings, including the father’s response, and learn in each what Scripture teaches about generosity.
Ending #1: …the son considered the things he did not have.
He envied his friends’ possessions and doubted his father would provide for him to have the same. Since his father left no specific amount to give, he purchased several things he had long desired. When he counted what was left, it was about 10% of the large original sum. In his pride, he presented the small remains to the family in need.
When the father returned and learned of his son’s actions, he was sad. “I gave you so much, I promised to meet your needs, why did you give so little? I wanted you to show my compassion, but you have shown me to be a miser. Why didn’t you trust me?”
Is this a familiar story? If so, hear the words of Jesus encouraging us to trust God to be our provider: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matt. 6:33)
He invites us to give through our freedom: “Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matt. 10:8b)
He tells us that God’s love will be seen through our giving: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)
The Moral: We are never more like God than when we give.
Ending #2: …the son grew frustrated by his father’s request.
He would be obedient, but not joyful. Begrudgingly he took his portion and delivered the remainder to the family in need. Seeing it they rejoiced and told everyone of his generosity, praising and thanking him for the gift. The son accepted the praise and never told them it was from his father. If he couldn’t keep the money, at least he could enjoy the praise and honor for his lavish generosity.
When the father returned and learned of his son’s actions, he was sad. “While you gave a good amount, your heart was not right. Why, when I gave to you so selflessly, did you keep the glory for the gift for yourself?”
“How will this parable end?” ”
Can we truly be generous, or is our giving only always a reflection of God’s generosity given through us? We must hear Scripture as it teaches us to give as God gives to us; joyfully and lavishly: In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. (2 Cor. 8:2-4)
It also teaches us to give selflessly: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matt. 6:1-4)
And to give with a desire for God to receive all the glory: “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (2 Cor. 9:10-14)
The Moral: We glorify God when we give in his name.
Ending #3: …the son did as his father asked.
He set aside just what he needed, then took even some of that and added it to the amount to be given to them. In his great joy, he presented the amount to the family in need. Upon seeing it, they rejoiced and wanted to tell everyone of his generosity. But he silenced them and told them the entire sum was from his father, who had great compassion on them. It was his father’s generosity they should praise, and not himself, for he was only obeying his father’s directions and seeing that the father’s funds were given according his father’s wishes.
When the father returned and learned of his son’s actions, he was pleased. “Well done, son. Because you have been faithful with what I provided, I will entrust you with much more so that the world may experience my generosity through you.”
Is this your heart as a steward of God’s resources? Let’s let Scripture teach us that giving in God’s name blesses both the giver and receiver: “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35)
And, giving rewards us with God’s continued provision for us to steward: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)
Giving also allows us to experience the fullness of the life God created us to live: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Tim. 6:17-19)
The Moral: We experience the life that is truly life as we give selflessly, joyfully, freely and with a heart to glorify God.
Dr. Scott Rodin is president of The Steward’s Journey, Kingdom Life Publishing, and Rodin Consulting, Inc. He is also Senior Fellow of the Association of Biblical Higher Education. Scott has helped hundreds of Christian ministries in over 20 countries take a biblical approach to leadership, strategic planning, board development and raising kingdom resources. He has a Ph.D. in Theology (Aberdeen, Scotland) and has written 15 books on the steward leader and the journey of the faithful steward.