The Joy of Giving
Over the last 50 years, the standard of living has steadily increased in Western Europe and North America. For example, the size of the average home has more than doubled since the 1960s and spending on vacations and eating out have soared (Americans spend on average $1100 per year, per person on vacations). We have every imaginable creature comfort at our fingertips from dishwashers, to smart phones, to flat screen TVs.
Yet over the same 50-year period of time, the percentage of income Westerners give away to help those in need, to spread the gospel, or to bless others with the blessings they have received has steadily declined. On average, we now give away about 2% of our income! In other words, we have been given more, but we are keeping more of what we have been given.
This is having a terrible effect on us! In his thought-provoking book, The Paradox of Pleasure: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, Gregg Easterbrook surveys some of the statistics I have just shared with you and concludes
“The incredible rise in living standards for the majority of American and Western Europeans has made them more affluent, healthier, more comfortable, more free, and sovereign over ever taller piles of stuff – but has not made them any happier.”
Look, I live in Western culture, and I am very thankful for all that I have been blessed with! I certainly don’t think that those of us who live in North America or Western Europe should walk around feeling guilty that we have been so materially blessed. However, I also don’t want to be like the proverbial frog in the kettle. I don’t want to become so accustomed to the culture I am in that I become self-centered and self-absorbed.
The fourth-century theologian, Augustine, observed that there is great beauty in, well, beautiful things, be they material good or rich relationships. But, he wrote, “all such things may be occasions for sin, when we incline toward them more than we ought. It is true that these things have their delights, but none like my God, the Maker of all things” (Confessions, 2.5.10). One of the most telling signs that we “incline” toward these things more than we ought is when our practice of generosity weakens or ends altogether.
As I said at the beginning, I am going to post about generosity all this week, but I am not going to beat you over the head with the Bible and tell you that you need to start giving more. (I grew up in a church like that, and I really came to resent it.) Rather, I intend to encourage you to consider something with me: when we give, it brings joy to others, joy to us, and glory to God. It’s what I call a win-win-win, and it’s also the exposition of Philippians 4:14-23 in a nutshell.