The answer to the simple question about a relationship between wealth and generosity isn’t as simple as you might think. You have to define both wealth and generosity correctly to answer that question well. Wealth is defined in Dictionary.com as a great quantity or store of money, valuable possessions, property, or other riches; the wealth of a city. or an abundance or profusion of anything; plentiful amount.
This is less than helpful because wealth can be very relative. And Dictionary.com doesn’t do justice to the real meaning of generosity when it defines it as “readiness or liberality in giving.” That is such a coldly antiseptic definition compared to the deep warmth and excitement of true generosity.
To get the true meaning of generosity, I suggest you watch the six-minute online video entitled “I Like Car.” That is generosity. Defining generosity comes down to a vaguely analogous situation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s 1964 description of the problem with defining obscenity, “”I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced… [b]ut I know it when I see it …” In other words, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”
Generosity isn’t the amount given. A thousand dollars or even a hundred thousand dollars given by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is not nearly as generous as the widow giving her last two coins to God. Luke 21:1-4.
There is another way to approach generosity and that is to try to engage in the “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” debate. Which came first, wealth or generosity? It is a hard question to answer. The answer is very personal and unique for every person and very hard to even determine because true generosity often does not have anything to do with money.
We all know people who are generous with their time. They may have a lot of money – or they may have little. But they do have time (the same amount you do) and they give freely of it. Retired people are among the best at this. They have correctly determined that while they may not be “working,” they can still serve God and reach out to others by giving time in service to God and other people. I understand that completely – that is what I, our Chairman, and our Operations Director all do, serve as volunteers for the glory of God.
There are also people who are also very free with their experience, expertise and abilities. Just check out Medicalmissions.org or Samaritan’s Purse and its World Medical Mission or International Medical Relief (among others) which help connect health care professionals who want to volunteer their skills to parts of the world where their skills are inaccessible to most people.
But let’s get back to the chicken or egg question – what comes first, wealth or generosity?
I’ll give you a hint, it’s a trick question. It’s a trick because you also have to correctly define “wealth” before you can answer the question well. If you limit the definition of wealth to mean a lot of money, then generosity requires giving a lot of money. Your answer is easy, money must come before generosity.
But if you define wealth as including skills, abilities, education, training, and talents as well as money, then it is easy to see that generosity can be so much more and better than just giving money. True wealth doesn’t lie in the bank or investment account balance, it lies in the heart. Indeed, in the New Testament, often the word “rich” refers to something far better than money. Paul writes about “the riches of God’s grace,” Ephesians 1:7, “the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,” Ephesians 1:18, how “rich God is in His mercy,” Ephesians 2:4, “the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus,” Philippians 4:19, ”the riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you,” Colossians 1:27, and being rich in good deeds, 1 Timothy 6:18. James writes of being “rich in faith.” James 2:5.
The saying, “You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving” is true. Your heart and your treasure flow together.
21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
So, which came first, generosity or wealth? In my opinion, generosity comes first almost every time. And is there a relationship between generosity and wealth? So long as they are broadly and correctly defined, the answer is a resounding, “YES!” Generous people always give of what they have. Wealthy people may, but don’t always, give.
Generosity is an engaging topic because it is so welcoming. People love generous people, even if they don’t become beneficiaries of that giving. Generous people are joyous people, they understand all that God has given them, they know it is His and not theirs, and they know generosity results in thanksgiving and praise to God. 2 Corinthians 9:11-13. I have seen it written that no one has ever seen an unhappy generous person. To that I can shout, “Amen!”
About the Author
John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.