Mt6v22to23: The Generous Spirit.

"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!"

(A) Introduction.

There is some disagreement about the meaning of this saying of Jesus. From the context it must have something to do with getting our priorities right with regard to material and spiritual well being. I think the good eye refers to a generous spirit. If we have a generous spirit our whole lives will be lit up. We shall be like a room flooded with light. Conversely if our eye is bad our lives are dominated by a grudging, mean spirit and we are like a room that is dull, gloomy and dingy for lack of light. If our guiding light is the very spirit of meanness and acquisitiveness then how great will be the darkness of our lives.

I want to look at three characteristics of a well lit room:

(B) It is cheerful.

I really enjoyed my trip to Japan in May 2002 with my friend Tommy Bamber. It was the first time I had flown and the first time in nearly forty years that I stayed in an hotel. The hotel in Morioka, where we spent a night, had a beautiful breakfast room. It was very bright and cheerful. It was such a sparkling room that it put me in a good mood. I am usually very grumpy first thing in the morning but not that morning in Morioka.

In stark contrast was the lean-to attached to the old manse in Brockley where I grew up as a boy. It contained a lot of junk and the copper used to heat up water for chapel teas. There was no window and no light of any sort. It was a dreadful place - dark, dank and dirty - festooned with cobwebs, overrun with mice and smelling of cat's urine.

Such is the contrast between a man of generous spirit and a man of grudging spirit.

We will cheer others up if we are generous with:

    (a) Our welcome. It is very heart warming when folk are pleased to see us. Tommy Bamber and I were going to spend time in Hokkaido with Mr and Mrs Sagawa during our Japanese adventure. They were waiting for us, with their colleague Shiho, at Sapporo station. What a warm welcome we received. They were on the train to help us with our luggage before we could get off. They carried our bags to the waiting car. Within a short time of arriving we were sitting in Mrs Sagawa's dining room eating a variety of delicacies that she deep fried for us - dabs, prawns, scallops, burdock root, ferns, asparagus.. . I shall never forget the sweet little dabs and the merry atmosphere. Next morning two of the young lady teachers at the Sagawa's English School got up at 4am in order to take two strange Englishmen bird watching in the local forest! The trip to Japan was an enormous boost to my morale because of the extraordinary warmth of the welcome we received.

    A grudging welcome is very different. When I was a little lad I would go with other boys in the village to the home of Garry Grubber. Mr and Mrs Grubber owned the first television set in Brockley. We would be allowed into their farmhouse to watch, 'The Lone Ranger.' I can still recall the older son, Gerald, coming in one day, looking at us, and saying, "What are they doing here - they only come to watch the TV. Tell them to go home." That was a depressing thing to say!

    Churches can give visitors either a warm welcome or a grudging one. When we discontinued our evening services at the struggling Baptist church at Brockley I was very sad. I went instead to the larger General Baptist church in Bury St Edmunds. They gave me a warm welcome that raised my spirits and was balm to my troubled heart. Many years earlier I made my way to the society for Baptist students studying in London. It met in Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church under the leadership of a chaplain whom I first encountered as a boy at a Christian camp. He was a charismatic figure and I loved him greatly. I expected to be greeted with open arms! His first words on seeing me were, "What are you doing here? This is no place for you." Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church was a hot bed of liberalism and they didn't want a reactionary Strict and Particular Baptist to strike a note of discord. It was a terrible, terrible, disappointment to get such a lukewarm welcome.

    (b) Our appreciation. It is very depressing to be taken for granted. I sometimes entertain visiting speakers to our church. I do my best to cook them a nice midday meal. It is quite discouraging when they eat the meal without making any comment. I find that if I entertain the speaker and his wife - it is always the wife who is most appreciative!

    How cheering to be appreciated. I had an e-mail this week from an old pupil thanking me for being such a funny teacher. Well, that was better than nothing! Last summer I took my brother Paul out to do some bird watching. After we had finished I put my binoculars on the roof of the car while I took off my boots and changed into shoes for the drive home. I drove off with the binoculars still on the roof. Fortunately they were insured! The insurance company asked me to get a written statement from a reputable dealer that the binoculars were damaged beyond repair. So I went to see an old school acquaintance who works in a shop in Bury St Edmunds that sells optical equipment. He was most obliging and wrote a statement confirming that the binoculars were irreparable. He then advised me on the best replacement and I bought a new pair. As I left the shop, I said, "Many thanks, you have been a great help." Just for a moment, a face drawn by the onset of Parkinson's disease, lit up.

    An appreciative nature is like a sunny room - it cheers the heart. I have just finished reading Guanlong Cao's account of his childhood in China. In the chapter entitled, 'Rotten Fruit,' he describes how his mother would send him out with 10 cents to buy a bagful of badly bruised peaches from the market. They could not afford undamaged ones! Guanlong Cao was a canny dealer and often managed to buy the best of rotten peaches for his 10 cents. On the way home, nostrils assailed by the sweet scent of ripe fruit, he resisted the temptation to sample the goods. He writes, I think it must have been mother's praise that gave me the will power. He returned home with a full load and his mother made such a fuss of him. She extolled his ingenuity at getting so many peaches for 10 cents. He says, I listened to her flattery a million times - it never bored me. He concludes: Mingled with the sweet scent of rotten fruit, it is a memory that will remain with me all my life.

    We can all be appreciative. It is a virtue to cultivate because it transforms our lives as surely as switching on the light transforms a dark room. It transforms our lives for the benefit of others.

I love the story of Ruth and Boaz. See exposition on Ruth2. What a welcome Boaz gave Ruth to his barley field. He said, "My daughter listen to me. Don't go and glean in another field and don't go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls. .... And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled." Ruth2v8and9. You are certainly more likely to get a warm welcome if you are young and attractive than if you are bald, bandy and well worn. Boaz also showed great appreciation of Ruth's conduct. He said to her: I've been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord the God of Israel under whose wings you have come to take refuge. Ruth2v11. There is nothing like a good man's commendation to rejoice the heart.

(C) It is attractive.

Shopping malls in large cities are brightly lit places. It is never gloomy in Sainsburys or Marks and Spencers. The pictures in an art gallery are cunningly illuminated to show them off to the best advantage.

I very much dislike dimly lit rooms. When I went to parties as a student in London I could hardly see the person I was talking to. It was impossible to inspect the food and if you dropped something you could never find it. I think candlelit dinners for two are as overrated as breakfast in bed. I was brought up in the era before the electric light and I know what it is to live by oil lamp. Rooms had dark corners and shadowy places then.

A man with a generous spirit is as attractive as a room flooded with light. We can be generous with our time, talents and possessions to:

    (a) Help others.

    I read quite recently the obituary of Margaret Hewson in the Daily Telegraph. She had a traumatic childhood. One of her brothers and sisters died in childbirth, one died of asthma and neglect and three committed suicide. Her own life was blighted by asthma. Yet her obituarist could write: Just as sardonic humour nearly concealed her underlying bleakness so her exemplary stoicism almost made one forget her chronic asthma. But her most triumphant ransome from a haunted childhood was surely the extreme patience and kindness she lavished on anyone unhappy and thwarted.

    Margaret Hewson's life was like a fine, brightly lit, room - a thing of beauty.

    (b) Give others a good time.

    The Daily Telegraph contained another impressive obituary at about the same time. Graeme Jameson was a popular landlord of the Wykeham Arms in Winchester. He was a man of extraordinary generosity. He was a beaming, articulate and always immaculately dressed figure who made every customer feel more than welcome and deserving of special attention. Regulars celebrating a birthday or some personal achievement were invariably rewarded with a bottle of good champagne. Bouquets of flowers went to homes where there was illness and elderly people were always treated with special respect. There was nothing dingy or gloomy about Graeme Jameson!

    We do not forget people who put themselves out to give us a good time. I will never forget the efforts of Mr Takeda and his two friends who entertained us in Japan. One day they took us 200 miles by motorway to the most famous Shinto shrine in Central Honshu. From there we travelled to a lowland park renowned for its wild flowers and then high into the mountains to an upland bog to do some bird watching. Finally we travelled to a holiday home in the forest for a wonderful supper followed by a good soak in naturally warm water from a volcanic spring.

    My uncle David is someone else who made every effort to give me a great time. The summer my father died I spent a week with him in Devon. He devoted every day to doing something he knew I would enjoy. I shall never forget our walk in the Otter valley. See my story: Be still. My uncle was a very attractive man.

    Boaz did his best to make Ruth's experience in his barley fields a happy one. He gave her bread to eat and invited her to share his savoury dip. Later he presented the Moabitess with so much roasted grain she was able to take some home for Naomi. He gave instructions to his men to deliberately drop handfuls of barley for her to glean. No wonder Ruth lost her heart to him!

    A mean person is by comparison repulsive and hateful. I started to read Arnold Bennett's, 'Riceyman Steps.' It is about a bookseller, Mr Earlforward, who married a well-to-do widow called Violet. He loved her after a fashion but he had a greater love - an all- consuming passion - money. For dinner Mr and Mrs Earlforward had bread, margarine and tea. They had it day after day. One night, greatly daring, Violet cooked her husband some steak. He refused to eat it. He wanted to keep eating bread and margarine and save his money. Mr Earlforward preferred to shiver in unheated rooms rather than spend money on fuel. He made a virtue out of meanness. It was his guiding light! What a dark, dark, life his was. It was dingy room of unremitting gloom. The account of Mr Earlforward's miserly ways so distressed and depressed me that I had to stop reading the book. I was so upset I could not finish it.

We have a choice: to cultivate a generous spirit and to live beautiful lives for Christ or to succumb to the love of money and become black holes of despair.

(D) It is conducive to good work and godly living.

If I am sewing, a job I hate, I have all available lights on. It is the same when I am writing, cleaning or decorating. It is difficult to do good work in the gloom. Samuel Pepys ruined his eyes writing his diary by candlelight and sadly had to abandon his project after only a few years. None of us would like to be operated on by a surgeon in the dark! A well-lit room helps us to work effectively. So we can assist people to live godly lives by being:

    (a) Generous in our judgments.

    It is not always helpful to draw attention to a person's faults. Paul writes: 'Love is kind. .... it keeps no record of wrongs. ... Love does not delight in evil.... . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.' 1Corv4to7. I think a person generous in their judgments tries to hide the failings of others.

    I used to go and visit old Eddie Durrant. In the winter I could not help seeing the old cars his son had bought as an investment scattered forlornly over a paddock gathering rust and slowly disintegrating. In the summer the scene was transformed. The dilapidated vehicles were hidden by a mass of white blooms from the enveloping bindweed or bellbind as we called it in Suffolk. The ugliness was hidden. The man with a generous spirit brings the best, rather than the worst, out of people.

    It is so much easier to work with, or for, people who are not too critical. Some of the ladies who attend our chapel were foolish enough to ask their husbands to give them driving lessons. Ivy had tuition from her volatile husband, Cecil. On one occasion she drew up behind Theobalds, the local bus, and asked plaintively, "What shall I do now?" Cecil replied, after a pause, "Drive right into the back of it woman." Ivy never learned to drive.

    Barnabas was like a well-lit room for John Mark. He was prepared to overlook his disloyalty and give him a second chance. Paul was more censorious. It was Barnabas that helped John Mark to grow as a Christian and become useful to Paul at the end.

    (b) Generous with encouragement.

    Some children are brought up in a dark room receiving little encouragement from either parents or teachers. I used to teach a boy called Paul. He looked angelic with blond wavy hair and blue eyes. However he was very tiresome and I wasn't able to give him much encouragement. Paul would come to afternoon lessons stuffed with E compounds after drinking numerous cans of fizzy drink. It wasn't long before he was into his yawn and flop routine. As one gigantic yawn disappeared into another he would sprawl limply across his desk like an exhausted octopus. After I threatened to give him 50 lines for every yawn he marginally improved. One day Paul handed in some work that was somewhat better than anything he had done before. So I gave him an A-. It wasn't long before he was asking all and sundry what grade they had been given and informing anyone who would listen that he had got an A-. He was particularly pleased to have, 'beaten Lewis Rush.' That was the turning point. From then on Paul began to make progress. It shows what a little encouragement can acheive.

    We can all encourage others in Christian work. I love the final chapter of Paul's epistle to the Romans for the personal comments it contains: Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Rm16v12 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. v13 Just imagine how these comments must have thrilled the recipients and motivated them to keep on keeping on. We all need some encouragement sometimes. I informed my Christian friends last Christmas of the existence of this web site. Most haven't bothered to look at it and only one wrote anything complimentary at all. I find it very hard to understand. The Bible tells us to encourage one another in the Lord.

    (c) Generous with good practical advice.

    It can be like entering a bright and cheerful room to be with a person generous with advice that helps us to succeed. Such a person inculcates a sense of well-being. See exposition on: Blessed are the Peacemakers. I have found good advice hard to come by. I get most of it from the outside of a packet or from books.

    The best advice on how to live comes from reading the Bible and especially the Gospels. Jesus tells us how to live. He teaches us how to please God and do his will. We are left in no doubt about what he expects of the subjects of his Kingdom. That is why Jesus is the, Light of the World. Jesus helps his followers to live good and godly lives.

    If we are like Jesus we shall be lesser lights. It is possible for all of us to shine for Jesus.

          Jesus bids us shine with a clear, pure light,
          Like a little candle burning in the night;
          In this world of darkness we must shine -
          You in your small corner, and I in mine.