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Let everyone give as his heart tells him, neither grudgingly nor under compulsion, for God loves the man who gives cheerfully. After all, God can give you everything that you need, so that you may always have sufficient both for yourselves and for giving away to other people. As the scripture says: “He has dispersed abroad, he has given to the poor; his righteousness remains forever.”  2 Corinthians 9:7 (PHILLIPS)

“We seek to love [neighbors, creation, ourselves] as grateful responses to the grace-filled fact that God first loves us” (J.A. Nash)1

When I was growing up, my parents taught lots of students from all over the world. They were often in our home and us in theirs. I still remember my mother telling me before we went to one of our international friends’ homes, “Now, Beth, remember – don’t compliment them on whatever you see in their house.” She said this, not to be mean or uncharitable in any way, but because she knew this truth: that if any of us said anything indicating that we liked something, they would package that thing up and we would be taking it home with us when we left that evening. They would, quite literally, give you the shirt off their back if they thought you needed it, or even just liked it.

Those international students lived with open hands and open hearts in love. Not always in a love from hearts knowing Jesus, but always in a love that reminded me of Jesus, then and now. A love that was lived out in a distinctive charity of giving.

I see that same charity in many of the international and missionary kid students today at my university. A distinctive charity of time, listening, interest, answering questions, vulnerability in language, and other gifts that cost them far more than the price of the gift itself. They give of themselves. In so doing, they challenge, convict, and compel me to do the same — to give like Jesus, not just with them, but with others near and far.

They remind me of Jesus and make me want to live as He did. With open heart, ears, hands, and calendars for the person(s) in front of Him at that moment. He gave without expectation of return for His gift and without hesitation in the giving. He gave in love that was without limit. He was a living charity. His was a giving life.

Charity living is distinctive in its selflessness, for it is a life set aside unto Jesus. Charity living looks different from person to person yet the same in pointing to the Person of Jesus. Charity living is developmental in its growth of a life reflecting the image of Jesus, both for the giver and the recipient. Charity living doesn’t start or stop with charitable giving. It is a heart change resulting in a lifestyle that is distinctively different in its development of awareness and gratitude for the gifts all around us every day, along with the opportunity to be giving of ourselves to all in our world.

As a Christian, my thoughts are naturally drawn to the Person of Christ in how my charity should reflect His. As a soil scientist, my thoughts are naturally drawn to the world under my feet as examples of life itself. With all that in mind, could the ground itself in Eden have reflected the charity found in the Person of Christ? Its freely giving of water, nutrients, space, and suppression of disease and weeds2 to nurture and sustain plant and soil microbial growth? Its continual giving out of help and taking in of waste? (Plants and soil microbes pump out waste materials in exchange for taking nutrients in from soil.) Its sustaining of the life in and above it?

If so, Eden’s ground sharply contrasted with the ground outside it after the fall.3 A now-cursed ground stingy or selfish in its giving and receiving, thus requiring work by Adam and his children for growing crops. Or as Genesis 3:19 ERV vividly puts it: You will work hard for your food, until your face is covered with sweat.

To dig a little deeper into the now-cursed ground concept, the soil was different than it was before the fall. We can’t know if the soil changed in composition, but we do know that it changed in cooperation. To apply this idea to people’s lives, a change of heart has occurred.

Whether in Adam’s day or now, it’s only a change of heart that will change me into cooperating with Christ in charitable living. For it’s only a change of heart that will make the soil of my soul into a fertile ground for the work of Christ to be made known to the nations (see Romans 12:1-2 and Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus wants my life to be full of Him. And if my life overflows with Him, it can be a tangible reminder of the beauty of Eden to all those around me living on this cursed ground today. But to have this kind of life, I need a heart that freely gives to others what is helpful, without expectation except that of receiving their waste of misplaced anger or rejection in return. I need a life that exudes the richness of a sustaining love that is always distinctive and often misunderstood.

We can see this principle clearly in 1 Corinthians 13:3 NASB: And if I give away all my possessions to charity, and if I surrender my body so that I may glory, but do not have love, it does me no good. To carry this idea a bit further, giving without love doesn’t do anybody else any good either. This is not to say that God can’t or won’t use a loveless gift for good but that the gift’s potential isn’t achieved – what is a full belly or bank account if the recipient still feels unloved? Likewise, the giver is still lacking joy and hope if her motive for the gift is something other than love. Arrogance, guilt, or the desire for attention or distraction can never be satisfied or alleviated, no matter the size of the gift. This is because the giver is then left with what she started with – a hard, dry soul soil, barren and bereft of love’s irreplaceable richness.

We can see this idea with Cain’s gift in Genesis 4:3. He brought a gift of his crops to God, but Scripture implies that it wasn’t offered in worship, much less love. God rejected Cain’s gift because He knew Cain’s heart (see Genesis 4:4-8). Cain’s subsequent anger and murder of Abel further delineate the difference between a have-to gift and a want-to gift.

Have-to gifts are obligations expecting returns from the receiver to the giver. A have-to gift really isn’t a gift at all; it’s a payment or a bill, depending on which way you consider it. In contrast, want-to gifts are delightful opportunities bringing joy to both the giver and receiver. Having given and received both types of gifts, I know well what love’s presence (or absence) will do to a gift, independent of the size, type, or monetary value.

2 Corinthians 9:7 (AMPC) captures this idea: Let each one [give] as he has made up his own mind and purposed in his heart, not reluctantly or sorrowfully or under compulsion, for God loves (He takes pleasure in, prizes above other things, and is unwilling to abandon or to do without) a cheerful (joyous, “prompt to do it”) giver [whose heart is in his giving]. That cheerful giver is acting from love – both for her God and the one to whom she is giving. That love in her heart is from God, Who Himself is love (see 1 John 4:8). Or as the Jubilee version says – for God is charity. Charitable living happens because of God’s Presence. For where God is, there is love/charity in its unmistakable richness of life.

And that’s the kind of life I want today.

(This post is an excerpt from Well-Grounded: Cultivating Intimacy with God coming this December from Northeastern Baptist Press.)


  1. J.A. Nash, Loving Nature: Ecological Integrity and Christian Responsibility, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991), 141.
  2. Granted, neither disease nor weeds might have been present in Eden before the advent of sin. I’m just including these for a broader thought on the many contributions that a charitable soil would make for plant growth.
  3. Yes, the ground in location was now different post-fall, since Adam is no longer in Eden. But in looking back at Genesis 3:18-19, I think we could assume the ground itself was different than it was previously because of the curse placed upon it.

Beth Madison

Beth Madison, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Science, School of Adult and Professional Studies, Union University, Jackson, TN

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