COLUMN: Power of untarnished generosity

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Ever seen a silver spoon darkened by age and the air?   

What once was bright and shiny becomes gray and dull.  Why?  Because tarnish is a product of a chemical reaction between the metal and non-metal compound, such as oxygen or carbon dioxide.  One of my boyhood memories is helping my mother polish the silverware when grandparents were coming for a holiday visit.  I did not understand the chemistry – and may not today – but I saw the effects and knew the work required to fix.

Tarnish is actually the result of a chemical process as a thin layer of corrosion forms over the metal. Tarnish is a surface phenomenon that is self-limiting over time – unlike rust.  Only the top layer of the metal reacts.  The impact is that the tarnish seals and protects the underlying layers from reacting.  Tarnish actually preserves the underlying metal in outdoor use.

Generosity is a gleaming wholesome virtue that comes as a response to grace.  We are generous to others and to God in giving of our time, talents, touch and treasure, because God in His mercy has shown us his grace.  However, we can add a layer of tarnish to our generosity by being too calculating in our giving or by being comparative or competitive.  We can take what was designed to be an act of grace and make it dull and repulsive when greed and self manipulates the process to make us look good.

“Compassion, charity, duty and justice are all important virtues as we interact with one another.  In fact, they should all work in harmony … (however), I believe that generosity is the first car in the train of virtues.  Without it, the other virtues are unlikely to ever get started or to be fully expressed … Generosity removes the pettiness and calculation that can easily work against the goodness of our original intent.” (David Toycen. “The Power of Generosity: How to Transform Yourself and Your World”)

More than once, I have observed individuals who wish to practice charity, but their attitude is so lacking generosity that the expression of kindness is muted and may be lost. There is such precision and calculation to their gift that one questions whether they really mean to help another person or simply check off another mark on the list of good things they have to do.

The Bible describes the attitude that the giver should practice when making a contribution.

But when you give to the needy, don’t let your right hand know what the left hand is doing. -Matthew 6:3

The implication is not to think too much about your gift or how it will benefit you. The gift that is too calculated is not worth giving.

Adopt the perspective of Richard Foster in “The Challenge of the Disciplined Life”: “Rather than, ‘How much of my money should I give to God?’, we learn to ask, ‘How much of God’s money should I keep for myself?’”

Calculate how much of God’s money you need and give the rest away. That’s the mark of untarnished generosity. Think about it!

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