When talking about spiritual gifts, people are often quick to think about special abilities that the Holy Spirit provides. This can include controversial gifts like tongues, interpretation of tongues, healings, and prophecy or can include leadership, preaching, and administration. All of these are listed as spiritual gifts in the New Testament, so this comes as no surprise. But did you know that one of the spiritual gifts that the Apostle Paul lists is giving? Yes, you read that correctly! Giving can be a Spirit empowered activity.
Over the past few issues, we have discussed the spiritual gifts as empowerments of the Spirit, given to build up the church and help with God’s mission. We’ve also talked about the controversial gift of tongues (and interpretation). In this article, I want to spend some time talking about a spiritual gift that we often overlook, ignore, or misunderstand.
Now I probably need to make a clarification. When it comes to the subject of “giving,” people can become very uncomfortable. The fact that many church leaders have been caught misappropriating funds, twisting Scripture for their own personal gain, and manipulating people to give for the wrong reasons has caused a lot of people hesitation in talking about giving. Yet this is where we need to make a careful observation about Spirit empowered giving. The spiritual gift of giving can apply to financial contribution, but it isn’t limited to it.
The Apostle Paul wrote the following to the Romans:
“If your gift… is giving, give generously.” (Rom. 12:8 NLT)
Our Bibles’ translate the Greek word metadidōmi as “giving” and this Greek word, when properly translated, means… *drum roll*… “giving.” Yes, our translations are totally fine. The spiritual gift of giving, as granted from the Holy Spirit, should be done with generosity when executed properly. But what does generous giving, as a spiritual gift, look like?
“THEY’D GIVE YOU THE SHIRT OFF OF THEIR BACK”
About ten years ago I was teaching a class on spiritual gifts and was reading through Romans 12 when I came upon Paul’s statement about giving. As I studied the verse and did my best to understand what he meant, I came to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit clearly gave some people the ability to function as givers in ways unique to other people in the Church.
Once I acknowledged that this was a spiritual gift, I started to notice that there were certain people who really stood out in reference to their giving. For example, there’s a man I attend church with named Mike and people are always saying things about him like, “Mike would give you the shirt off of his back.” While he never publicizes the things he’s done for people, I have had people tell me that he has given them hundreds of dollars. Others have told me he showed up at their house to do an abundance of manual labor. I know that he’s cut down trees and made firewood for the elderly. Mike, I believe, has the Spirit empowered gift of giving, and you see it in how he generously contributes from his finances, time, and abilities. He’s one of the most giving people I’ve ever met.
Two of my closest friends are a married couple named Katy and John. These two are also great examples of people who appear to have the spiritual gift of giving. Whenever they hear about a person who has specific needs or who is facing life’s challenges, they’ll pray and God will inspire them to do amazing things in order to help that person. They’ve helped organize meals for people unable to cook. They have given money to people unable to afford essentials and have demonstrated time and again they like to give generously. They, like Mike, would give the shirts off of their backs to people in need.
WHAT IF YOU PRAYED FOR GOD TO EMPOWER YOU TO GIVE GENEROUSLY?
Given that the apostle Paul wrote that Christians living in the ancient city of Corinth should strongly desire the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 14:1), what would happen if Christians started asking for the Holy Spirit to empower them to give generously? What if you asked the Holy Spirit, right now, to give you the ability to contribute generously for the cause of the kingdom of God?
I believe that the world would be totally different if the Church could better give. And while spiritual gifts are distributed according to the sovereign will of the Holy Spirit, we’re also told that we should desire the spiritual gifts. I believe this tension of asking and trusting God simply means that we should ask God to help us be generous givers and trust that he will give us the gifting we need.
So what if you asked God to give you a special ability to give? What if you asked the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart right now about situations around you that could use a touch of the kingdom?
THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF GIVING POWERFULLY PROCLAIMS THE GENEROSITY OF THE KINGDOM
As all spiritual gifts have the ability to point back to the God who gives them, the gift of generous giving is a powerful way to proclaim the generosity found in the kingdom. Have you ever stopped to think about how generous God actually is?
God the Father is so generous that he sent his Son, Jesus to redeem us from sin. God the Son is so generous that he left heaven to come to earth and save us. God the Spirit is so generous that he fills and dwells in all of God’s people. The gospel of the kingdom is so generous that it welcomes all, regardless of their gender, age, skin color, or previous history.
Being a generous giver means that someone gives abundantly, freely, and in a completely unselfish way. One of my favorite verses in the Bible that so richly communicates how generous God is with his love to us is found in 1 John 3:1 NLT:
“See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!”
God’s generous love means that we are invited into his family as his heirs and given the status of being his first-borns who receive the incredible inherited promise of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 4:6).
Each of the manifestations of generous giving, inspired by the Spirit, serve as a signpost of God and his kingdom. In the same way that God has generously provided salvation through the giving of himself, members of the Church are able to generously give their time, energy, and finances in order to communicate and point back to God’s giving. In other words, we can give because we have first received.
GIVING BY THE SPIRIT OFTEN IS A BYPRODUCT OF THE GIFT OF FAITH
It is important to realize that the spiritual gift of giving is something that comes from and glorifies God. When Paul teaches the Romans who have the gift of giving to give generously, he means to encourage them to give with these qualifications in mind. They are not to give with ulterior motives or in a way that distracts from Jesus and his kingdom.
This kind of giving, as in the generous expressions of the Holy Spirit, often requires a great deal of faith. It should come as no surprise that one of the spiritual gifts that Paul lists just happens to be faith (1 Cor. 12:9). This is not the same type of faith that the Spirit gives in relation to trusting in Jesus for salvation. The New Testament scholar Gordon Fee explains this well:
“While it is true that Paul considers the ‘faith’ that leads to salvation to be the work of the Spirit in the believer’s life, what he has in mind here is the special gift of supernatural faith that can ‘move mountains,’ mentioned again in 13:2. It probably refers to a supernatural conviction that God will reveal his power or mercy in a special way in a specific instance.”
Over the years, the examples of the gift of giving that I’ve observed often have been the result of what I’d consider “supernatural faith.” The Holy Spirit seems to inspire people to give abundantly in ways that can only be said to express the radical faith that God will provide. I know one married couple who felt that the Lord had told them to commit to giving a very large sum of money toward a ministry focused on orphans, even though that commitment was beyond their own personal means. In fact, apart from a miracle, if they gave that sum they were going to be eating ramen noodles for a very long time! Yet after praying about it and talking to people they respected and trusted, they became more convinced that God was calling them to do it anyway. So after they made their commitment known to the ministry, they were miraculously provided with far more money than they had even imagined! In the end, they were able to give hundreds of thousands of dollars toward helping children without parents. It was a complete miracle all the way around, and it started with the gift of faith to give generously. Now this doesn’t mean that just because you give generously you are going to automatically receive an abundant overflow of cash-money! Some television preachers make it sound like God is an ATM machine. No, we’re called to be good stewards of what what we have and the Bible does not teach that giving is a guarantee for “riches” (see 1 Tim. 6:17). This couple only took this step of faith because they believed that God led them to make that commitment. They were generous because the Holy Spirit gave them a huge measure of faith and then the strength to follow it through… and then hundreds of thousands of dollars flowed into the kingdom for the sake of orphans!
I’d like to invite you to pray this prayer with me:
“Father in heaven, thank you for the generous gifts you have given me. You have given me salvation, and you have given me your Spirit to dwell in me and empower me to build up your church and to help the world around me. Would you please give me the gift of giving so that I can generously proclaim your love? I trust you and love you. In Jesus name, amen.”