He may have been a wee little man, but he was the kingpin of the Jericho tax cartel. He was a filthy rich little guy, this Zacchaeus.
But when he met Jesus, everything changed — not only his heart, but his hands. The same fingers that once reached to extort filthy lucre, now extended with generosity to the poor, and to pay back fourfold anyone he’d defrauded (Luke 19:8).
Sign of a New Soul
It’s only a few verses earlier in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus encountered another wealthy man, who we call “the rich young ruler.” His great possessions were the barrier to him following Jesus. Veteran pastor Kent Hughes, who served nearly thirty years at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, says the contrast is unmistakable: How we handle our money has everything to do with how we orient on Jesus. The rich young ruler chose his wealth over Jesus, but for Zacchaeus, meeting the Messiah loosed his hold on his material possessions.
There’s a very intentional theology of generosity in the Gospel of Luke in particular, and the point, as Hughes captures it, is generosity is a sign of a regenerate soul.
“There is no such thing as a Christian scrooge,” he says. “We may know some scrooges who claim to be Christians, but I don’t think you can claim to really know Christ and be a stingy person.” The gospel opens our soul — and with it, our hands.
Is Tithing Enough?
Generosity is more than tithing, and more than just money. A stingy person can give ten percent, says Hughes. “Ten percent is good, but that’s not the point. The point is to be generous.” He points out that the total prescribed giving in the old covenant amounted to about 23%, not ten. Tithing isn’t necessarily a sign of grace. It can be very legalistic.
The issue is giving sacrificially. “Christians ought to give in such a way that there are things we forego in order to be generous — that vacation, that new car. Christianity encompasses all of our life.”
And so the regenerate are generous — not just with their finances, but with their time and possessions.
Why We Give
But for the Christian, the issue is not just that we give, but how. “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). And giving gladly rests on the great why of Christian generosity: that Christ himself — our Savior, Lord and greatest treasure — demonstrated the ultimate in generosity in coming to save us. “Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). If Jesus is in us, then increasingly such an open-handed tendency will be in us as well.
One of the effects of the gospel going deeper into our souls is that it frees our fingers to loosen their grasp on our goods. Generosity is one of the great evidences of truly being a Christian.
In this new episode of Theology Refresh, Kent Hughes reminds us that not only it is Jesus himself who speaks most often, and warns us more severely, about the danger of greed, but he is also the one who so strongly appeals to our joy and says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).