As we have been learning, adhering to God’s divine principles brings about happiness. “The true principles of Christianity open before all a source of happiness, the height and depth, the length and breadth of which are immeasurable.” –The Adventist Home, p. 493
We will conclude this series of articles by looking at one final principle that contributes to a Christian’s happiness.
GENEROSITY AND BENEVOLENCE
The world has become more selfish and self-centered. Many rarely go out of their way to help someone else unless there is some benefit for themselves. Companies are driven by profits more so than serving its customers. The mentality of “each person for themselves” appears to have taken a hold of society. And, people justify selfishness. The claim is that we cannot be helpful to others unless we take care of ourselves first. This is true to a degree, in that we need to ensure that we are healthy in order to be able to perform our life’s duties, and that includes helping others. This form of self-care is not selfish or shallow; it is a really important part of a healthy lifestyle. But it is now taken to an extreme.
Self-centered people, having a “me-first, me-only” attitude, are solely focused on one’s own wants and needs, with absolutely no consideration for others. People feel they need to be selfish because of competition for jobs, resources such as land, and basic necessities such as food and shelter; people are just “trying to survive.” The unselfish person gets taken advantage of, and is left behind. So, people feel that they are forced to be selfish, and to keep their interests above everything and everyone else, to ensure that they have all they need in order to survive in a world that does not have enough resources for its population.
What can we do to combat the natural urge towards selfishness? By definition, benevolence and generosity are the opposite of selfishness. Therefore, these characteristics are found in those who are considered unselfish. Generosity is a willingness to give to others more than they have reason to expect or a right to demand. Research has found that even a small amount of generosity towards others makes people happier. In fact, merely promising to be more generous is enough to trigger changes in an area of our brain that leads to greater happiness. We produce endorphins, which are brain chemicals associated with helping our mood, in other words, we feel happier. Being generous also increases one’s ability to cope with physical pain and chronic diseases. Volunteering one’s time has been associated with decreases in blood pressure, stomach acid, and cholesterol levels, while boosting the effectiveness of the immune system. An ongoing study at the University of Notre Dame has shown that those people who demonstrate more generosity tend to be emotionally happier, physically healthier, and to have a greater feeling of purpose and meaning in their lives.
Generosity may be expressed in many ways, in kind acts, in gifts, in doing good things for others, in volunteering one’s time to help those in need. And in doing these acts, the giver expects nothing in return. This type of generosity is often referred to as benevolence. The definition of benevolence is “disposed to promote the prosperity and happiness of others; charitable.” God is a God of love, pity, tenderheartedness and compassion, and He expects His children to exhibit the same characteristics. Benevolence is more than giving money; it is a personal work that we do for others. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.” James 1:27. The act of benevolence also benefits the giver, but only if nothing is expected in return. Once we expect something in return, even the receiver’s gratitude, it diminishes the sense of wellbeing that our actions produce.
How do we develop this willingness to help others? Is it innate in human beings to give selflessly to those who are less fortunate than them? There are many philanthropists in this world, who give generously to charities, who help the poor and needy. But, often these people are ones who have more money than they will ever need in their lifetime; therefore, it is easy to give. Where do we find the true source of selflessness? When we understand the compassion and kindness given to us by our Heavenly Father in giving us much more than we deserve, in unconditional love towards sinners by giving His Son to die for us, we then will want to do the same for others in response for all that we have received. “He alone, for the selfish heart of sin, gives the new heart of love.” –Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 254
“The greatest sin which now exists in the church is covetousness. God frowns upon His professed people for their selfishness. . . . If they can help the servant of God just as well as not, they sometimes do it; but he is often left to pass on, and but little done for him. . . . The poisonous weed, covetousness, is so deeply rooted they let the servant of God leave them without administering of their temporal things. They have prized his wearing labour just as highly as they act.” –Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, p. 236
God knew how important it was for man’s spiritual health to develop a spirit of willingness to give to others, in order to prevent the root of selfishness taking hold of men’s hearts. “Our heavenly Father did not originate the plan of systematic benevolence to enrich Himself, but to be a great blessing to man. He saw that this system of beneficence was just what man needed.” –Christian Service, p. 67
The children of Israel were directed to pay tithes to support the priests who ministered in the sanctuary. But, this was just a part of God’s plan. Gifts and offerings were also specified, and the people were taught to be liberal both in sustaining the cause of God and in giving to the needy. “By this system of benevolence the Lord sought to teach Israel that in everything He must be first.” –The Acts of the Apostles, p. 337
Even the stranger in the land was to be taken care of. “If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.” Deuteronomy 15:7–8. “And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 23:22
God reminded His people, in His command to take care of the poor and strangers, of what He had done for them, in His generosity towards them. “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Exodus 20:2
When we practice benevolence towards others, we also receive blessings in return. What does God promise us if we are generous in giving to Him and to others? “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” Galatians 6:9–10. “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” Luke 6:38. “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove Me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” Malachi 3:10. “Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase: so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall
burst out with new wine.” Proverbs 3:10. What wonderful promises in these verses! We never lose when we give our time, our money, and our means to others, to God’s cause. These promises reassure those who are willing to give, that they are actually gaining when they are generous in their tithes and offerings. I have had people tell me that they cannot afford to give any more to God, because they have little money themselves. Can we afford the loss of heaven with our selfishness?
When the rich young man approached Jesus, asking what good thing he can do to gain eternal life, Jesus told him to keep the commandments. When the young man replied that he had kept all from his youth up, Jesus gave him one more command. “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow Me.” Matthew 19:21. At this, the young man “went away sorrowful.” Jesus knew that the young man’s possessions were holding him back from truly loving Him, and that these possessions meant more to him than salvation. Unless he was willing to give up his earthly treasures, to show kindness to others by giving from his wealth, he would never be able to lay up treasures in heaven. We may claim to keep all the commandments, but if we are selfish, there is no place for us in God’s kingdom. “The righteous considereth the cause of the poor; but the wicked regardeth not to know it.” Proverbs 29:7. “Take heed, and beware of covetousness, for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he posesseth.” Luke 12:15
“Those who deny self to do others good, and who devote themselves and all they have to Christ’s service, will realize the happiness which the selfish man seeks for in vain.” –Counsels for the Church, p. 282
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, two people—a priest and a Levite—passed by the man who had been beaten, stripped of his clothing, and left for dead. They were considered leaders in Israel, men that were looked up to by others. But, what did they lack? They lacked mercy, kindness, and compassion. Jesus said to those who took care of the poor and needy, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” And to those who refused to give to the hungry, the thirsty, to the stranger without a home, Jesus pronounces a curse upon them. “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Matthew 25:40–41
“He whose heart is aglow with the love of Christ will regard it as not only a duty, but a pleasure, to aid in the advancement of the highest, holiest work committed to man—the work of presenting to the world the riches of goodness, mercy, and truth.” –The Acts of the Apostles, p. 338
It is also known that the person giving the gift receives more benefits from the exchange than the person receiving the gift. And, why is this? It is based on the reason why we give gifts to each other. When we give to others because we love them and are thankful for what they mean to us, we appreciate the opportunity to express this care for them in the form of a gift. Does it matter what the gift is, how extravagant or costly? No, “it is not the greatness of the gift that makes the offering acceptable to God; it is the purpose of the heart, the spirit of gratitude and love that is expressed.” –Christian Service, p. 73
The widow had only two mites to give to the treasury, but Jesus commended her sacrifice as she gave “all that she had.” He compared her to the Pharisees who gave from their excess, “of their abundance”, thus their offerings, presented with great ostentation so that all could see, were not a true sacrifice. Their motives were based on self-glory. “The poor widow who cast her two mites into the Lord’s treasury, little knew what she was doing. Her example of self-sacrifice has acted and reacted upon thousands of hearts in every land and in every age.” –Christian Service, p. 171. The value of her gift was not based on the amount she gave, but by her love to God and her willingness to give for His cause.
“When the hearts of men are softened by the presence of the Spirit of God, they are more susceptible to the impressions of the Holy Spirit, and resolves are made to deny self and to sacrifice for the cause of God. It is when divine light shines into the chambers of the mind with unusual clearness and power, that the feelings of the natural man are overcome, that selfishness loses its power upon the heart, and that desires are awakened to imitate the Pattern, Jesus Christ, in practicing self-denial and benevolence. The disposition of the naturally selfish man then becomes kind and pitiful toward lost sinners, and he makes a solemn pledge to God, as did Abraham and Jacob. . . . The love of God and love for souls triumph over selfishness and love of the world.” –Counsels on Stewardship, p. 315
Our generosity should not only be in the larger gifts that we give when special offerings are requested, or in the energy that we put towards completing some grand project that occasionally requires great effort. We need to daily consider the needs of those around us if we are to develop characters fit for heaven. “God tests and proves us by the common occurrences of life. It is the little things which reveal the chapters of the heart. It is the little attentions, the numerous small incidents and simple courtesies of life, that make up the sum of life’s happiness; and it is the neglect of kindly, encouraging, affectionate words, and little courtesies of life, which helps compose the sum of life’s wretchedness. It will be found at last that the denial of self for the good and happiness of those around us, constitutes a large share of the life record in heaven.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 133
HAPPINESS IN OUR FUTURE HOME
Not only do acts of kindness, benevolence and self-sacrifice increase our happiness on this earth, if we are faithful in the performance of our duties, we are promised even greater happiness in the next world. “And the years of eternity, as they roll, will bring richer and still more glorious revelations of God and of Christ. As knowledge is progressive, so will love, reverence, and happiness increase.” –The Adventist Home, p. 548
We are now preparing for our home in eternity. The same principles that will be present in heaven will need to be present on this earth also, if we are to obtain this heavenly home. “In heaven none will think of self, nor seek their own pleasure; but all, from pure, genuine love, will seek the happiness of the heavenly beings around them. If we wish to enjoy heavenly society in the earth made new, we must be governed by heavenly principles here.” –Counsels for the Church, p. 80
We can also begin to experience the happiness of heaven while still on this earth. “Those who take Christ at His word, and surrender their souls to His keeping, their lives to His ordering, will find peace and quietude. Nothing of the world can make them sad when Jesus makes them glad by His presence. . . . As through Jesus we enter into rest, heaven begins here. The longer we are in this heaven of bliss, the more and still more of glory will be opened to us; and the more we know of God, the more intense will be our happiness. . . . But what is this compared with the hereafter?” –The Desire of Ages, p. 331
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Revelation 21:4. Despite the promise of happiness in this life, if we follow Jesus, we all will have times of sorrow—we will lose loved ones, we will have trials, difficulties, people will hate us for His name’s sake. However, we do not need to allow these things to make us unhappy. Everything that we experience in this life is to prepare us for eternity. And to all those who are saved are given this wonderful promise, that in heaven, all tears will be wiped from their eyes.
The Spirit of Prophecy sums up the source of true happiness in one sentence: “If there is anyone who enjoys happiness, even in this life, it is the faithful follower of Jesus Christ.” –Child Guidance, p. 147. Our faithfulness will be reflected in our generosity in giving of ourselves to others. “Then said Jesus to His disciples, If any man will come after Me, let Him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. . . . For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Matthew 16:24, 26