Jesus saves Christmas, part 2: Saving us from guilt-driven giving
You’ve probably been inundated with emails, direct mails, tweets, and Facebook updates asking you to help someone in need or to help a ministry finish strong. Or maybe you’re like me, and you can’t even go to the store without being asked to contribute a little something. Whether I’m buying a book, a toy for one of the kids, groceries—even coffee—it’s always the same question: “Would you like to make a donation along with your purchase?”
The Strange Sense of Guilt
Now, I don’t have a problem with these things necessarily. I spent more than 10 years working at Christian charities and non-profits, so chances are you have received something I was involved with at some point. I know the importance of giving, and I know that there’s something about Christmas that makes us all a little freer with our finances—we’re more willing to be generous at this time of year.
But when you’re inundated with message after message, request after request, there’s also a subtle pressure, isn’t there?
When you’re standing in line at the store with a row of shoppers behind you, you feel—if only for a split-second—like you “should” say yes when the cashier asks you to add a dollar to your bill. When you’re walking out of the store, and the kettle attendants look at you hopefully (or possibly expectantly), you feel it. When you open your mail and see another request to give to a charity, you feel it again—this weight; this strange sense of guilt.
When Guilt Motivates Our Giving
So what do we do? Many of us make promises to alleviate the guilt. We may not have bothered to add the dollar to our grocery bill this time, but we tell ourselves that next time, we’ll add two. We’ll make sure we drop some change in the kettle or make a last-minute donation to our charity of choice. And sometimes we even follow through. But we’re not terribly happy about it. We’re compelled to give not out of joy, but out of guilt. We don’t want to be “that guy” (or gal) who passes by.
But is this what generosity is supposed to be about? Should we be okay with guilt-driven generosity—the belief that “giving is the rent we pay for a place on this earth,” as the former police chief of my city said a number of years ago?
While this seems to be the general thinking of the world at large, this kind of thinking has no place in the Christian life. Whenever we succumb to the idea that we give because we owe, what we’re really saying is we have to prove our goodness—we have to earn something, even if it’s as meaningless as the approval of the store’s cashier.
Jesus Saves Us From Guilt-Driven “Generosity”
Instead, Jesus took our need to earn the approval of others, and He took the guilt and shame that come from our failure or inability to meet all the needs around us. He took that with Him to the cross. Jesus replaced our guilt with gratitude—and it’s this gratitude that motivates all we do, including generosity.
This was what motivated the early church to share what they had, so no need could be found among them (Acts 2:44-45). There was no command from on high, there was simply a desire to care for one another. And this was the motivation behind Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians when he told them their giving ought to be cheerful and done with thanksgiving, not under compulsion (2 Corinthians 9:5-15).
“And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work,” wrote Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:8. This is the heart of generosity—it’s God’s grace abounding within us; placed there by God Himself. We are freed from the guilt, which turns giving into extraction rather than joyful service by the grace of God. God has been so generous with us by not sparing His only Son, His most precious treasure. How can we, who have been made children of God, not want to respond in kind?
Christian, you don’t need to feel guilty about giving during the Christmas season. There’s no rent to pay for your place on this earth; your life here is a gift given to you by your Father in Heaven. It was bought for you with the blood of our elder Brother, Jesus.
Jesus died to save you from guilt-driven “generosity.” Let His grace abound within you and in all your good work this Christmas.
An earlier version of this post was first published on Aaron’s blog.