How Grace Generates Generosity and Joy
One of the most amazing accounts in all of the gospels is found in Luke 19 when a greedy little traitor named Zacchaeus has a saving encounter with Jesus. When I think of Zacchaeus, I always think of Gollum—the sniveling, back-stabbing, mutant Hobbit of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Gollum only thinks of himself and getting back “my precious” at any cost—no matter who he has to betray or kill.
Zacchaeus was a tax collector who made his living by selling out his nation, leveraging Roman authority, and extorting his fellow Jews. He was rich and powerful, but he was also hated and lonely. It was this spiritual emptiness that drove him to try to see Jesus as he passed through Jericho that day. So dense was the crowd, and so unaccommodating they were to short-framed Zacchaeus, that he finally had to run ahead of the crowd and climb into a tree to merely catch of glimpse of this passing miracle worker.
Perhaps Zacchaeus had heard that Jesus was loving and kind toward sinful and outcast people. Perhaps he had heard the story of Matthew, a fellow tax collector who had met Jesus, and in turn hosted a feast for his associates to do the same. This same Matthew was so transformed that he became a devoted follower of Jesus and one of his twelve disciples. Perhaps Zacchaeus had been at Matthew’s lunch. We don’t entirely know what drove the curiosity, but we do know that Zacchaeus had to humble himself and be humiliated to climb into that tree that day.
The chilling moment of the narrative, at least to me, is when Jesus stops and makes eye contact with Zacchaeus in the tree. I can only imagine the pause in Zacchaeus’ spirit and the rush of adrenaline—perhaps both delight and fear—when Jesus knows his name!
“Zacchaeus, hurry out of that tree—I want to have lunch with you today!”
Immediately the crowd begins to murmur. Why would Jesus care to spend time with this sniveling, despised, small-hearted man? With all the power holders—the wealthy, the good people surrounding Him, why would Jesus befriend the broken, sinful, failed, and outcast?
There are always murmurers standing on the sidelines of those engaged in gospel ministry—always people complaining and critiquing. But, Jesus was unwaveringly focused on lost Zacchaeus. This was no chance meeting. Jesus had an appointment at a sycamore tree before His forthcoming appointment at salvation’s tree!
Murmurers never sidetracked Jesus, and neither should they sidetrack you or me.
Overcoming his momentary pause of alarmed delight, Zacchaeus scurries down from his post, exchanges an uncertain greeting with this world-famous God-man, and proceeds to host Him in his home for lunch.
During that lunch, Zacchaeus found what his heart had been long searching for—unconditional, perfect love. He found grace and forgiveness in the person of Jesus, and He accepted that grace by faith. He was saved through faith alone, and His heart would never be the same!
In those few moments with Jesus, Zacchaeus’ entire value system was deconstructed and reconstructed by grace. Suddenly the things that mattered for so long to Zacchaeus—material wealth, success, power—were valueless! The allure of these things fell away and lost their grip on Zacchaeus’ heart like shackles falling away from a slave set free. The chains of greed and spite melted in the presence of this white-hot, perfect God-love. A life lived for self—for temporal security, for “winning,” for earthly success—was instantly and surprisingly upended.
This was not a compelled change. It was a surprise, even to Zacchaeus. The last thing he expected when he woke up that morning was to end the day with less than half of his estate still in his possession—and happily so! Jesus didn’t force Zacchaeus to change. He didn’t require him to change. Zacchaeus wasn’t changing to earn salvation or to pay a debt to Jesus.
No, Zacchaeus was simply changed by the Gospel. His heart was radically transformed in one lunch with Jesus. An hour or two of conversation with God discovering what really matters, finding what the heart most deeply desires, experiencing a kind of love that money cannot give or buy—it all brought a radical reversal of loves.
Toward the end of lunch, quite unprovoked, Zacchaeus stands up and declares, “Lord, I’m going to give away 50 percent of my income!” (And we think a tithe is too much!) He continues, “And whomever I have extorted, I will restore four times what I took!”
His encounter with grace compels two very important values—generosity and reconciliation! First, he desires to bless others with his excess. Secondly, he desires to go make right his relationship with anyone that he has wronged. This is the heart’s reaction to an encounter with the gospel of grace! It goes like this:
“If in Jesus I am this eternally loved, this relationally secure, this infinitely valuable, and this lavishly forgiven—then I want everyone to see, experience, and choose this same grace! I can’t keep this inexhaustible love to myself. I can’t hoard this kind of lavish, generous, extravagant grace!”
In such a materialistic day, it’s hard to wrap our brains around the idea that generosity produces joy; but this principle is so clear to see in Zacchaeus’ response to Jesus. Contrast this with the story a chapter earlier when a rich young ruler walked away deeply sorrowful because of the stranglehold his hoarding tendencies had on his heart. Greediness strangles the heart. Generosity sets it free. A greedy life is an anxious, tense, stressful life. A generous life is a delightful, free, joyful life.
Only grace produces this kind of pure generosity. Only grace makes the heart free to do in love what it would never otherwise naturally do. Only grace can motivate willing generosity—not obligated, not coerced, not compelled, not contrived—joyfully offered from a sincere desire to bless and worship. Love-driven generosity can only be the product of grace. To say it simply, real generosity comes from the wellspring of “want to,” not “have to” or “ought to.”
How often have I obeyed Jesus because I “ought to” or felt “obligated to.” I have never regretted doing so, but I have regretted doing so from wrong motivations. I regret any time anything less than love has driven my worship.
Grace-giving responds in love with love because of love, and not for any other reason. Grace-giving explodes almost instinctively. It doesn’t need a message series. It doesn’t need a lecture. It doesn’t need a lesson on “why we should give.” Grace produces a reaction of generosity.
When the infinite love of Jesus touches the infinite despair of the human heart, a combustible reaction of loving generosity is triggered. Real grace is an igniter of generosity in the human heart, and generosity always produces a joyful heart.
How does generosity produce joy?
It loosens greed’s grip on my heart—generosity sets the heart free to have joy, express love, and take faith-risks that prove God’s reality.
It declares God as God and Provider—generosity is a statement that I am a steward, God is my provider, and I will trust Him with my material world. It keeps money from becoming my god.
It positions me for God to come through—generosity places me on a collision course with God’s rewarding response to faith. (Hebrews 11:6) It gives God the opportunity to prove Himself in my life.
It stretches my faith muscle—generosity allows my faith to grow. Unexpressed faith will atrophy like an unused muscle. Expressed faith will grow and have courage and confidence as God leads in future steps of faith.
It yields fruit over which I can rejoice—generosity produces fruit in other lives—in my local church, in missions efforts—and that fruit abounds to my account. Investment into the gospel is always a wise investment!
It gives a sense of value and stewardship—generosity gives my temporal possessions eternal meaning and value. It gives eternal purpose to my material, mundane, everyday living.
It gives a sense of obedience as a steward—generosity gives me the sense that I am living in obedience to Jesus as my Lord. The greatest success in life is to obey Jesus. Obedience is success, and that knowledge of obedience gives my life deep meaning and stability. That knowledge will hold the heart together through all sorts of life-storms.
One seemingly random day in Jericho, a small heart was made big—to its own surprise. One Gollum-like little man was transformed over one lunch with stunning love. In a moment, his vast wealth was vastly less valuable. In an explosive moment of faith, he found what his heart was missing, and his material world suddenly took on a different purpose. He could no longer love stuff that never loved him back. He would from henceforth love Jesus who so extravagantly loved Him first.
When you and I encounter grace over and over again, when we allow our hearts to marinate afresh in the infinite love of the Gospel—we too will have a transformative moment. Grace will explode in generosity, making us materially generous and relationally reconciling. We will value people more than things, and the power of the gospel will drive our lives and our loves!
Is this a scary thought?
It is, but only for a moment. That first moment when Jesus’ eyes meet yours—it’s a moment of both delight and terror. But then He smiles. His warmth releases your fear. He leans toward you, raises His hand in invitation, and does the unthinkable.
He calls you by name. When you realize He knows your name—everything else changes forever!
Cue grace. Grace cues generosity. Generosity always cues joy.
Set your heart free. Climb out of your tree. Follow Jesus—He knows your name!