Michael Douglas won an Academy Award for his role as the corrupt financier Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film “Wall Street”. The film was released just after the October 1987 stock market crash. During the film, Gordon Gekko makes a speech to the shareholders of a company called Teldar Paper. Part of the speech is repeated below. It has become an iconic image of the greed that sometimes drives corporate excess and rampant speculation.
“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A “
It would appear we have not learned much. In 2008, another stock market crash was sparked by housing finance defaults in the US. This led to the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.
Greed is a part of our fallen human nature and all of us at times can be tempted to compromise our values and integrity in order to get ahead and accumulate more. One of the most prevalent forms of greed is love for money. Money in itself is not bad. It is a useful medium of exchange. However, 1Tim 6:9-10 makes it clear that love for money can be a destructive force in our life. The passage reminds us that greed is not good, greed does not work and greed is not right.
Generosity is good. Generosity is right and generosity works.
The opposite spirit to greed is generosity. In 1 Tim 6:17-19 Paul gives a number of instructions to Timothy on how those who are rich can overcome the love of money. The commands could be summarise in one word—generosity. The great Christian leader, Saint Francis of Assisi prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon: where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope where there is darkness, light where there is sadness, joy.” We could add to that “where there is greed let me sow generosity.”
1. Generosity works inwardly.
Radical acts of generosity can help us overcome our sometimes inappropriate attachment to material possessions. In Lk 18:18-27, Jesus encourages a rich young ruler to give away all that he has. Jesus emphasis is not on the outward impact of this giving but on the inward impact it would have for the rich young ruler who seemed to be over-attached to his wealth.
2. Generosity works outwardly.
When we give generously, God is able to act with the gift and multiply its impact (2 Cor 9:10). A practical example of this is the way CityLife members have generously supported (through partnership in missions giving) ministries such as Harvest India Mission in Andhra Pradesh, South India. When we first partnered with this ministry in 1998, the church in the city of Vishakapatnam was only around 50 people. Since that time, many have come to know Christ, the city church has grown to 400 people, 51 village churches have been planted and almost 6000 new believers now regularly attend. That is multiplication!
3. Generosity works upwardly.
Generosity moves God’s heart. God himself is a giver (Jn 3:16). 2Co 9:7 tells us that he loves a cheerful giver. Like a father, God loves his children even when they have turned their backs on him. However, his love overflows even more when his children respond to him through, for example, acts of generosity. Imagine the awesome power that is mobilized when we move God’s heart. That is why we can pray with confidence and ask God to bless both the gift and the giver when we present our offering to the Lord.
There are many different ways in which we can practice generosity. In fact practicing generosity in all of its forms, generosity with life, with money, with love, with knowledge and time, has marked the upward surge of Christian missions for generations. By examining ancient practices of the church, we can learn how to develop the spiritual discipline of generosity in our own life.
In ancient times, the church in the New Testament spent time preparing to make generous gifts. 2 Cor 9:5-9 shows how Paul encouraged the Corinthian church to prepare in advance a generous gift for the church in Jerusalem which was experiencing famine. World Impact Partnership in Mission Cards are one way we can prepare a gift in advance today. The cards gives us the opportunity to think through, commit and then prepare in advance how much we will give towards the World Impact ministry of CityLife Church in the coming year.
Throughout church history generous giving has been part of church worship. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel brought their gifts to the temple. Gifts were given in an attitude of prayerful worship. In the New Testament, the practice of communion and corporate fellowship included sharing together in giving to the needs of the congregation (Acts 2:44-46). Offering envelopes and World Impact Partnership Mission cards provide us with a practical means of presenting our gifts to the Lord corporately as part of our worship today.
Generous giving in the Old and New Testament was always associated with vision. It was provision for the vision. Moses presented the people with a vision to build the tabernacle (Ex 35). Paul had a vision to reach nations to which people gave (Phl 4:15-19). He also had a vision to support Jerusalem in a time of famine (2 Cor 9). At CityLife we have a mission to impact communities, cites and nations for the Kingdom of God. We also have specific visions and goals to make this practical. One example is our World Impact project to plant CityLife International Church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Giving to vision enables our generosity to be effective.
How would you re-write Gordon Gekko’s speech? Here is one suggestion. “Generosity, for lack of a better word, is good. Generosity is right. Generosity works. Generosity clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of God’s heart. Generosity, in all of its forms; generosity with life, with money, with love, with knowledge, with time, has marked the upward surge of Christian mission for generations, and generosity, you mark my words, will not only set our souls free from greed that corrupts, but it also has the power to impact communities, cites and nations for the Kingdom of God.”
Sample Discussion Questions and Activities:
1. Discuss as a group whether you think greed, or “grasping for ill-gotten gain”, has captured the hearts and minds of western economies and society.
2. Read 1Tim 6:9-19 through together and discuss the relevance of this passage to us personally who live in one of the richest nations in the world.
3. Share some testimonies of how generosity has worked in yours and others lives.
4. Using the examples in the summary above and others you can think of, discuss practical ways we can all practice generosity.
5. Write your own “generosity is good” speech as a group.