- “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.”
- Proverbs 11:25
- “Blessed are those who are generous, because they feed the poor.”
- Proverbs 22:9
- “Light shines in the darkness for the godly. They are generous, compassionate, and righteous.”
- Psalms 112:4
The Importance of Generosity
In Luke 18:18-29, there’s a story about a young rich man who asks Jesus about what must be done in order to inherit eternal life, to be saved. We usually think of simple belief as the answer, but here Jesus in his response starts listing the 10 commandments. Well, not all of them, actually, only commandments 5-9. These commandments regulate horizontal relationships, that is, our relationships with each other as humans. The parallel version of the story in Matthew 19:19 even adds the commandment “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” a separate commandment found in Leviticus 19:18.
Now the young man replies he’s followed all those commandments since he was a kid. Jesus, who knows the man’s heart, then says, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Let’s look for a minute at the commandments Jesus left out, #1-4 and #10. The first four establish the vertical relationship, that is, how humans must relate to God as the one and only God. Number 10 is a little out of place it seems: do not covet. That is, don’t desire what is not yours.
What’s going on here then? You see, it turns out the rich man didn’t want to give up his wealth and possessions. This made those things his idols, therefore he broke commandments 1-4. “But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.” Or as Mark 10:22 has it: “At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
Does this mean the rich can’t be saved? Jesus says it’s harder for them to be saved than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, but with God all things are possible. What’s keeping the young rich man from being saved then is greed, which is also known as idolatry:
“You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.” (Ephesians 5:5)
The love of money and possessions (aka greed, which can also include coveting) is an obstacle to the young man’s accepting Christ. The man preferred those things, so he walked away from salvation, just like how anyone else who would reject Jesus for a pagan god or goddess.