Friday, March 1, 2013

What Does the New Testament Say About Generosity?

Check out today's episode

I have recently finished reading the New Testament and I am collecting my thoughts about what I read in this series of posts. Today I am writing about what the New Testament says about Generosity. Other entries in this series:
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  1. Slavery
  2. The Apocalypse
  3. Women
  4. Violence
  5. Sexuality
  6. Obedience
  7. Fear
  8. Blasphemy
  9. Wealth
  10. Binary Thinking
  11. Faith
  12. the Afterlife and Free Will
  13. Suffering
  14. Family
  15. Forgiveness
  16. Love
  17. Interpersonal Conflict
Today I will be talking about generosity in the New Testament. This is one of the things that Christians bring up a lot as the good that comes from the Bible, it encourages us to be generous to others and in particular to help the needy. As we will see today, this is quite strongly biblically supported, there are quite a lot of verses which are variants of "help each other out". Perhaps focusing on things I have labeled 'generosity' was going to inevitably bring me to this conclusion, but looking at other categories, nothing jumps out at me as a nice counterpoint. Perhaps I will think of something while I'm writing this, or someone will point out an obvious thing I've missed, but initially it looks pretty good for the bible on this point.

I'll start with Romans 15:2 which simply says that we should be good to our neighbors and build them up. 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 and Romans 12:4-6 tell us that we are all in this together, if any of us suffers we all suffer and if any of us does well we all do well. The main idea here is that we should word together, good stuff. Philippians 2:4 tells us that we should not simply focus on ourselves, but consider the needs of those around us as well, while Philippians 1:24-25 takes it a step further and says we should put the needs of others above our own. 2 Timothy 2:10 and Romans 9:3 say we should be willing to make sacrifices and endure hardships for the benefit of other. While this can obviously be taken too far, it is a great thing for people to have in mind, especially if it is a small sacrifice to themselves and a big benefit for someone else.

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This idea is exemplified in 2 Corinthians 8:14 which says that we should be generous in times of plenty, and when we are in need someone else will help us, this is reciprocal altruism. 2 Corinthians 9:112 Corinthians 12:14-15 and 1 Timothy 6:18 also encourage generosity, and I think the intent is clear, if we all help each other out when we can, we will all be better off. In addition to simply saying to be generous, there are quite a few verses (1 Thessalonians 5:14Titus 3:14Matthew 25:40Luke 3:10-11Luke 14:13Acts 2:451 Peter 4:9-10) which tell us to help out the poor or those in need, it's basically the same message just with a slightly different focus. Hebrews 13:2 tell us to extend our hospitality to strangers as well as known friends, and of course the good Samaritan parable (Luke 10:25-37) tells us that we should even help our enemies.

Altruism is great, but it of course sets people up to potentially be taken advantage of. If someone realizes that everyone around him is helping everyone out, he could potentially take that help and never provide help for others in return. The New Testament tackles this in 2 way, first it tells people not be a burden on others if they have the ability to work (1 Thessalonians 2:9). It also tells people to take care of their family if they are able instead of counting on the church to do it (1 Timothy 5:16), the idea being you should take care of your family and let the church use their resources helping people who don't have family who can do that. Again, we are talking about reciprocal altruism here, and as social creatures we can detect when people are cheating the system and not doing their share to help out when they can. Our natural urge is to stop helping those people, but all of the verses urging altruism might go against that, well 2 Thessalonians 3:10 tells us that in this situation, we should indeed trust our instincts and stop helping the free-loader.

I said yesterday that today's would be the last one, but it turns out that is a lie, I think there is one more I want to do. That is why I didn't announce my plans for this ahead of time as they have changed a bit as I went. I figured I was close enough that it was safe, but apparently not. So there should be one more of these, and since I just announced that again, we'll see tomorrow if I decide I want to add an additional one after that as well :)


  1. You see, I told you that the Bible was good! How could you have ever doubted! ;-)

  2. By the time I got to "counterpoint" is this post, I had already thought of one. As I watched the news these last few days of all the drastic cuts that will kick in today if Congress doesn't get it's act together, I was thinking, "Why keep sending billions in aid to Pakistan and other countries who could care less whether we remain solvent or not when we have this many problems at home?" There is a point at which generosity is not warranted.

    "Our natural urge is to stop helping those people, but all of the verses urging altruism might go against that, well 2 Thessalonians 3:10 tells us that in this situation, we should indeed trust our instincts and stop helping the free-loader."

    1. I definitely agree Anna, there is certainly a point when you are sacrificing too much to help someone else too little. It's good to make sacrifices for other people, but it needs to be in the proper proportion. If you are damaging yourself so that you can do something that barely benefits someone else it is clearly time to stop.


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