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Ask Chuck: Can we be generous to a fault?

Ask Chuck your money question

Dear Chuck,

Every December, my wife and I do some preliminary tax planning by reviewing our charitable giving for the year. We are split on our views of giving. What is your perspective on this question: do you think we can ever be too generous?

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Generous to a Fault?

Dear Generous to a Fault,

Getty Images/CatLane
Getty Images/CatLane

No, I don’t think it is possible to be too generous. However, since you and your spouse appear to be divided on how much to give, I want to provide some perspective that may help you get united.

Don’t ask the wrong questions

It is common to ask, “How much of our money do we want to give away?” The reality is that everything we have belongs to God. The better question for spouses should be, “How much of God’s money should we spend on ourselves?” Once you have answered that question, you should be able to easily agree on the amount that you can freely and joyfully give to others. 

While it is wise to get the maximum tax benefit from your giving, there are far better motivations for establishing your standards of giving. In fact, I believe we often miss the biblical paradox of being generous.

Generosity is better for the giver than the receiver

Paradoxical statements appear to contradict logic, as in the statement, “Fools can be wise.”

According to G.K. Chesterton, “A paradox is often a truth standing on its head to get our attention.” Take generosity. It is not the prosperity Gospel nor the give-to-gain strategy. It is a principle of biblical economics in which generosity is better for the giver than for the receiver. Consider Proverbs 11:24–25 (NIV), “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”

Generosity is good for your health

A study conducted by clinical psychiatrist Dr. Lynne Gallagher shows that when we are generous and focused on others’ needs, our body’s stress is reduced, which slows premature aging and lowers our risk of death more than those who are not generous. Giving can stimulate the brain’s mesolimbic pathway or reward center. This is measured by lower blood pressure, reduced levels of cortisol, and an increase in endorphins, which elevate happiness and reduce depression.

Generosity makes you happier than spending

A 2008 study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and colleagues found that giving money to someone else lifted participants’ happiness more than spending it on themselves (despite participants’ prediction that spending on themselves would make them happier.) In a 2006 study by the National Institutes of Health, Jorge Moll and colleagues found that when people give to charities, regions of their brains are activated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect.

Generosity decreases loneliness

“Giving promotes cooperation and social connection.” Several studies, including work by sociologists Brent Simpson and Robb Willer, have suggested that when giving to others, “your generosity is likely to be rewarded by others down the line — sometimes by the person you gave to, sometimes by someone else.” These exchanges promote a sense of trust and cooperation that strengthens our ties to others. Research shows that having positive social interactions is central to good mental and physical health. As researcher John Cacioppo wrote in his book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, “The more extensive the reciprocal altruism born of social connection … the greater the advance toward health, wealth, and happiness.”

Generosity is contagious

A study by James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, and Nicholas Christakis of Harvard, showed that a generous person inspires observers to behave generously later. Altruism could spread by three degrees — from person to person to person. “As a result, each person in a network can influence dozens or even hundreds of people …”

Generosity gives meaning and purpose

According to a study by Ascent, acting more generously is correlated with feeling more satisfied with life and career. Meaning and satisfaction are associated with making a difference in something bigger than ourselves, connecting to the feeling that we’re making a positive contribution to those around us.

Generosity gives a sense of control in a chaotic world

When life feels out of control, choices about giving help you feel empowered because you can engage in ways that are most meaningful to you.

Our advantage

  • Freedom from materialism.
  • Freedom from greed and coveting.
  • Freedom from the control of mammon (earthly wealth).
  • Freedom from the heartache of loss.
  • Eternal benefits.

Our motive for giving is the recognition and deep appreciation for the grace and goodness of God. Like the Macedonians, it is a privilege for us to participate in giving. They gave themselves first to the Lord; then out of their love for Him, even though they were extremely poor in the eyes of the world, they pleaded for the joy to support the expansion of God’s eternal Kingdom!

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV).

I hope you and your spouse will unite around the joy and privilege we have to give and, through your generosity, will experience the untold benefits God promises far beyond a tax deduction.

Do you want more tools and tips regarding financial freedom to prepare you for a prosperous new year? Are you interested in receiving ministry updates from around the world? Sign up to receive the Crown Newsletter emails by using the form on the homepage at

Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, a global Christian ministry, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is the host of a daily radio broadcast, My MoneyLife, featured on more than 1,000 Christian Music and Talk stations in the U.S., and author of his most recent book, Economic Evidence for God?. Be sure to follow Crown on Facebook.

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