I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ” (Philemon 1:4-6, NLT).
As I was doing my daily time with God a few weeks ago, I stumbled across this passage and it really stuck out to me as significant. Figured I’d share about it here!
What struck me as especially significant was the underlined phrase in the verse above. Paul prays for Philemon to put into action generosity that comes from his (growing and maturing) faith. What I think was so striking to me was that Paul draws this connection between faith and generosity, essentially saying to Philemon (and to us) that as our faith grows, our generosity should grow as well.
I wanted to know more. So, I did a deeper dive using the Blue Letter Bible (one of my favorite Bible study resources, especially as it relates to Greek/Hebrew language stuff), and found that the word the NLT translates as “generous” here is kind of a hard one for us to translate well into the English language. The overall idea here is “fellowship,” or “togetherness,” but with a connotation of sharing with one another. (If you read some other translations of this verse, they use the word “fellowship” instead.) Some of you might have read in the book of Acts before and been struck by some of the passages in that book that talk about the church sharing all they had with one another. I think what Paul is asking Philemon to do here is to put into action his friendship and generosity that grow as a result of his faith in Christ, right in step with what we see the early church model so well in the book of Acts.
Given Philemon’s situation, this makes a lot of sense. Paul actually writes this letter because a slave in Philemon’s household named Onesimus stole some things and ran away to Rome. Here, he somehow encountered Paul, and actually responded to the Gospel and become a follower of Christ. Paul is sending this letter back with Onesimus to Philemon, asking that Philemon would receive Onesimus not harshly, but with tender-hearted spirit of forgiveness. After all, the past is the past, and Onesimus is now Philemon’s brother in Christ. Certainly this circumstance would require Philemon to act in a spirit of friendship, togetherness and fellowship. But it would no doubt also require incredible generosity on Philemon’s part. He would need to be merciful and generous, looking past his servant’s faults. We don’t know if he did or not. I like to think he did, though.
I guess the connection that I want to draw for us today is that as we cultivate a deeper and deeper personal relationship with Jesus, generosity serves as a key pathway for us to do so. When we think of generosity, oftentimes the first thing that we think about is money. I think that’s a big part of it. Being a follower of Christ means that I will be generous with all of the resources that God has seen fit to provide me. By virtue simply of being Americans, most of you reading this are in the top 5% of wealthiest people on earth. That’s not a resource to be held on to, but one to be generously shared for sure.
But when I think of the word “generous,” I think “open-handed.” Generous people are open-handed in the way that they live their lives. Nothing that comes their way is just for them. They understand that everything they’ve received (financial resources, yes, but also things we all have like time, talents, relationships) are something that they can extend with an open hand to love and serve others. I remember a professor I had in college named Drew Humphreys, who I think lived this generous lifestyle out really well. Drew was your average guy. He wasn’t a millionaire (he was a church worship pastor, for goodness sake). But he was always inviting students to lunch or dinner together with his fiancee (later to be his wife). I remember he asked me to help out at his church in Cincinnati once and took me out to lunch, which was cool. But more than just buying some food for you, Drew was generous with his life. He shared his perspective on life and relationships and being in Bible college and what he learned in hindsight. He shared insight he had on ministry. And what’s more, he did so in this way that was sharing, not forcing. He just struck me as a generous guy. Nothing that God let come Drew’s way was just for Drew. It was something he could share with others. I don’t know if “generous” is an adjective you could accurately pin to me. But Drew definitely inspired me to work toward that.
I think that people like Drew are a beautiful example of what it means to live generously. Yes, we give of our financial resources to make a difference. But even more, we give of our lives to make a difference. As we head through this Live Sent journey and beyond, I think one of the greatest things we can do to grow in our relationship with Jesus and make an impact is to learn to live generously. It’s a marker of a mature faith in Christ.
How about you? Has anyone impacted your life with their generosity? How do you live generously?