How God Inspires Ambitious Generosity
MARCH 24, 2021
If we do not learn how to lay up treasures in heaven, we will inevitably settle for the treasures of earth — and miss out on something far more lasting and satisfying.
When we hear, “Lay up treasures in heaven,” it might sound like, “Make sure you put some money away in your 401(k).” “Prioritize long-term financial security over short-term gains and purchases.” Jesus, however, is not selling life insurance or dealing retirement plans here. Investing in heaven does not mean forfeiting present happiness. It means relocating and deepening our happiness — now and in eternity.
Whenever we make earthly sacrifices in the process, Jesus says,
Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29–30)
Any investment we make in heaven at the expense of some experience on earth will be handsomely rewarded now in this time — and in the age to come. A hundredfold now in this time. Do you believe God will do that when you give what you have away?
Again, Jesus says, “It is more blessed” — now, today, in this moment — “to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). When we lay up treasures in heaven, we are not hedging for the future; we are seizing blessing now and in the future. The happiest people in the world are not those who spend and buy for themselves — we see this over and over again in the headlines of our consumer society — but those who spend and give for the good of others.
Pursuing happiness in this way, however, will make us aliens in a world of buyers, spenders, and savers. Those who have stored their treasures in heaven will confuse, and likely offend, those clinging to what they have here on earth.
Our treasure, here and elsewhere in Scripture, is whatever we earn or acquire for ourselves with what we’ve been given by God. What do we spend our money, time, and energy to have?
So, first, what has God given you? Well, everything you have. “What do you have that you did not receive?” the apostle Paul asks. “If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). We far too easily begin taking the gifts of God for granted until we eventually start taking credit for them. Faithful stewardship begins with a conviction that all we have, we have been given (James 1:17), and that all we have been given, we have been given in order to make much of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
So, again, what has God given you? He “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). First, he has given you life, a breathtaking and immeasurable gift with enormous potential. Assuming you survive the day, God will have given you another 20,000 breaths. And, if he wills, he will give you another 20,000 tomorrow. What will you spend those breaths to have?
God has given you life and breath and everything. If you have it, God gave it. Every dime in every paycheck. Every square inch of your home. Every piece of cotton in your closet. Every last cent in your savings. And one day, we will each give an account for how we spent and used all we had — and most of us, especially in the West, have been given much. What will our much have purchased? What will our much say about what we really treasured and pursued? Will our much suggest that we lived for heaven on earth, or that we quietly wished heaven would let us have a few more years here first?
What does it mean to lay up treasures in heaven? It means to give all we can on earth for the good of others in the name of Jesus. Jesus says,
Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:33–34)
Do you want a treasure that never fails? Do you want financial accounts that never atrophy? Do you want a security, freedom, and pleasure that swells and spreads long after you have died? Then sell what you have to give to those who have not. Jesus says elsewhere to one wealthy young man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). We cannot begin to lay up treasure in heaven if we’re not ready to sacrifice our earthly treasures for those in need.
Obeying Jesus really does begin here: providing for the poor. This will look different from family to family, city to city, century to century, but Jesus assured us, “You always have the poor with you” (Mark 14:7). And so it has been, even in the most affluent nations. And as the apostles charged Paul, so God charges us: “Remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10). So who are the poor where you are, and how might what you have meet them where their needs are?
Beyond the poor (never overlooking or avoiding the poor), we lay up treasures in a wide variety of generosities.
We give to other kinds of needs around us, especially of believers — opening our homes in hospitality, covering bills in a crisis, providing meals after a surgery, surprising someone with a thoughtful gift. We support the spread of the gospel, first through our own churches, but then far beyond, through world missions. Do any dollars produce more treasure in heaven than those that help welcome the unreached into the kingdom?
We give, and we also do good — spending time with the lonely, carrying boxes during a move, teaching Sunday school, babysitting for weary parents, helping someone with house projects, baking for a neighbor. “Let us not grow weary of doing good,” Paul says, “for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). So, laying up treasures in heaven sometimes means lending our time and hands instead of our money.
The calling here is not just a lifestyle of generosity, but of ambitious generosity. Not, “Make sure you cover your bases, and then see if you have some left over to give away,” but, Lay up treasures in heaven. Chase this treasure. Search for creative ways to obtain more of this treasure. Do whatever you can to have this treasure. Not leftover generosity, but radical generosity — the kind that only makes sense if Jesus really died, really rose, and will really reward those who give and sacrifice in these ways. Don’t simply include heaven in your budget, but aim your budget — your whole budget — at heaven.
Where does this kind of ambitious generosity come from? How do we fight the fears that make us selfish, shortsighted, and stingy? Notice what Jesus says immediately before he calls us to give all we have:
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. (Luke 12:32–33)
If you struggle to lay up treasures in heaven, remember, first, that you have a Father in heaven. In Christ, the ruler of the heaven awaiting is not merely your compassionate king or merciful judge, but he has made you his own child. The one holding your inheritance for you (1 Peter 1:4), and you for your inheritance (1 Peter 1:5), loves you with the love of a devoted and adoring Father.
And your Father is not stingy, but generous. He wants to give you the kingdom. If you are his, “all things are yours, whether . . . the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21–23). How insane of us, when we are confronted with a real, pressing need, to cling to a few hundred dollars or a few unexpected hours while God holds out everything to us in Christ? He literally will withhold nothing. Ambitious generosity grows in the imaginations and pockets of those awed by the generosity of God. Meditate on all that God will give you. You will never be able to count or quantify what he has promised.
Not only is your Father generous, but he is glad to give you the kingdom. He gives not reluctantly, but eagerly and cheerfully. With the greatest, most warming smile. Why does God love a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7)? The next verse tells us: because God himself is a cheerful and generous giver (2 Corinthians 9:8). Glad generosity in us burns bright with the joyful generosity of heaven toward us.
In the end, God will not only reward us for laying up treasure in heaven, but he will be the great reward of heaven. Like the persecuted believers in Hebrews, we can joyfully give what we have on earth for those in need, and even accept the plundering of our property, since we know that we have “a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34). And the better and abiding possession is not ultimately something he gives, but Someone he is.
*Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have two children and live in Minneapolis.
What does generosity look like to you? Has it change in the past year in the midst of a global pandemic?