What if I told you that you live daily wearing a straitjacket? How crazy would that be?! Thinking yourself free and unbounded you, like a person in need of restraint to keep from hurting yourself, you bind yourself up so that you don't become too excessive or lavish. The straitjacket is one you put on yourself, but it's also likely that the straps of this jacket have been pulled tighter by religious types. If you accomplish and achieve their standards, you feel better because you can check the box and validate your goodness. If you don't measure up to the straitjacket standard you feel shame, guilt, dishonor, and anxiety. The straitjacket is pulled tighter, and the pressure to perform is all the greater. Insanity! Is this what Christianity is? A straitjacket of rules and regulations? Is Christianity a set of metrics for the fruit of the Spirit? If Christ came to set us free then why do we wear a straitjacket of laws around our lives instead of being free to enjoy grace and flourish in holiness? If the gospel is "Good News" then where is the good news for us in the realm of giving and generosity? Are we bound to give ten percent?
I'm convinced that many Christians live with straitjackets around their hearts and wallets. The fear they live under demonstrates itself either by making them afraid to loosen the straitjacket and hold with open hands the resources they have, or it makes them tighten their fists around what they have all the more, lest they lose it. If they hit the magic "ten percent" mark though, all is well with God and man.
This kind of approach doesn't sound like generosity to me. It doesn't sound like “giving” either. I suppose if I had to compare the practice of giving ten percent to something, it would feel more like taxation. The danger could be we are expecting and believing that if we do our part, meet our quota, and hit the mark then we are living right.
Jesus and the Straitjacket
Lately, as I’ve read the four Gospels, I can’t help be struck by Jesus’s generosity. He is constantly giving in some fashion or another. The demands upon him were great—heal this friend, cast out that demon, teach at this town, feed that crowd, serve this poor woman, or pay that disciples’s taxes. I don’t ever recall Jesus saying, “No, I’ve hit my quota today. Ten percent is all I have to give. I’m done.”
If anything it was the other way around. The greater the demands and requests upon Jesus the more open his hands were to give, serve, and love. It doesn't seem that Jesus had many world possessions. He even told someone who wanted to follow him, "The Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (Lk. 9:58, CSB). We often think of Jesus’s lack of material wealth as a result of his vocational choices. But what if his material poverty was intentional? What if he actually gave away everything he possessed.
I'd like to think, through Paul's reflection, that Jesus was intentionally poor because he was intentionally generous. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich’ (2 Cor. 8:9, CSB). Note the verb in this verse—“became.” Jesus’s poverty was an act of intentionality. He saw the need of the human race that could do nothing to rescue and help itself. He gave. He saw the way we suffocate ourselves with legalism and works and gave himself to free us from death-by-tithe.
Jesus didn't wear the straitjacket of ten-percent. He became poor so that he could liberate, model, and earn real generosity for all his people. He saw the straitjackets of the Pharisees and scribes. They wore them well and helped others suit-up into straitjackets of their own. Because they were so fearful of breaking the Law, they would go to the extreme of emptying the kitchen cupboards of their spices and measure out ten percent of the mint, cumin, and dill to be sure they could say they gave ten percent of everything away (Matt. 23:23, Lk. 11:42). As good as they were at honoring the tithe principle though, they lacked generosity, justice, and mercy. Real generosity eluded them.
If generosity is not measured by a percentage (however high or low you want to make it) but by Jesus’s own example, it begs the question, how generous are we really? Could it be that we have not perceived the depth of the gospel to such a degree that we are changed by the gospel? Or are we afraid there won’t be enough of God’s generosity for us as well?
Fear not! By the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we too can become generous like Jesus. We can hold with open hands all that we have in order to love God and serve others. We can become poor so that through our poverty we might make others rich in Christ. The straitjacket can be loosed, and we can be freed to be gospel-generous people.
An Invitation to Gospel-Centered Generosity
I’d like to invite you as well to imitate Jesus’s generosity. My hope is that you are supporting the work of the ministry through your local church and giving priority to generously supporting the ministry and pastors that feed you the Word of God each week (see 1 Corinthians 9:14 and 1 Timothy 5:17-18).
As you give to your local church, I'd also like to ask you to consider giving to support the ministry of Gospel-Centered Discipleship. Our purpose is to publish resources to help make, mature, and multiply disciples of Jesus. While we operate each month on a limited budget and scope, our desire is—if God wills—to increase our reach and serve Christ by equipping the church with excellent resources for the advance of the gospel.
Practically speaking, we’d like to increase our reach through hiring more editorial staff, updating aspects of our website, and funding and developing creative writers who have the gifts of excellence with words. You can support us coming alongside the church and discipling writers in three ways:
- If you have found an article particularly useful for your own growth would you toss a "tip in the jar" to support the development of more articles and resources? You can make a one-time donation here.
- Would you consider being a monthly donor to our ministry and making a contribution to the work of our ministry on a regular basis? If one-hundred of our readers were able to give $5 a month to our work, we'd be able to move forward in some accelerated ways. You can contribute on an ongoing basis by following this link.
- If you would like to fund one of our major projects like website development, staff positions, or other opportunities would you please contact me to allow me to share more of our vision with you.
May the grace of God through Christ be in your gaze. May you know and believe in him as the one who generously gave all he had, even his very life, so that, “He might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7, CSB).
Jeremy Writebol is the Executive Director of GCD. He is the husband of Stephanie and father of Allison and Ethan. He serves as the lead campus pastor of Woodside Bible Church in Plymouth, MI. He is also an author and contributor to several GCD Books including everPresent and Make, Mature, Multiply. He writes personally at jwritebol.net.
You can read all of Jeremy’s articles here.