As a Christian, when I think of character qualities I would like to possess one that looms large is magnanimity.
In 1843 Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. Most of us are familiar with Ebenezer Scrooge, the main character in this beloved novel. He's a miserly, altogether stingy curmudgeon of a man who underpays, is ungracious and intolerant toward his employees and people around him. Scrooge is surly to everyone he meets and is even too cheap to heat his own office properly. He values things and uses people.
But Scrooge undergoes a radical ethical and moral transformation when confronted with his past, present, and possible future. He is made to recall life and love from his past youthful innocence, confronted in the present with the impoverished Bob Cratchit family's joy and love of each other in spite of circumstances. And he is shown a possible future of his death and people's delight over that fact. Because of this Scrooge was transformed and in the end, was loved by all.
When I think of what it means to be magnanimous I think of Alistair Sim's portrayal of Scrooge after his transformation: loving life and possessing a joyfully generous attitude toward all.
I could also reference the Grinch, from Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas. He couldn't stand to see the Whos happy because his heart was two sizes too small. So he stole their Christmas, or so he thought. The Grinch discovered that true joy was not found in the external trappings of tinsel and baubles—it was in the heart. And in discovering that, his own heart grew larger and he became magnanimous. He gave back all he had stolen, and even joined in the festivities himself by carving the roast beast.
A magnanimous person lives with an open heart and hand—an attitude of large-hearted generosity of spirit toward all. If there's one thing we who have been abundantly blessed beyond imagination should be, it's magnanimous.
Scrooge and the Grinch are fictitious characters, but Zacchaeus wasn't. When he met the Saviour (Luke 19:1-10) he was transformed. His heart was changed and he became magnanimous. He gave half of his possessions to the poor and said, If I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount (v.8).
With all these characters, as with us, the core issue is the heart. The heart—our inner being of thoughts, motives, feelings, affections, desires, and will—needs changing for there to be a true and lasting change in our behaviour.
The heart transformation is not simply a matter of the will. It takes a renewed heart and mind. The Lord promised the new heart in Ezekiel 11:19 (NIV) “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” And Paul spoke of the need to transform our behaviour by renewing our mind. While only the Lord can change the heart and plant the desire to be magnanimous, it's our responsibility to renew our minds so that transformation can happen (Romans 12:3).
That point is particularly important for believers to understand. Although we experience the new birth and are blessed beyond measure, some are more Scrooge-like than Christ-like. How can this be?
Although the heart of a person determines the kind of thoughts they think, the opposite is also true. The kind of thoughts we think will determine the kind of heart we have. Proverbs 23:6, 7 says, “Do not eat the food of a begrudging host, do not crave his delicacies; for he is the kind of person who is always thinking about the cost. 'Eat and drink,' he says to you, but his heart is not with you.” In other words, he is tight-fisted so he is always thinking about how much things are costing him. And because he always thinks about the cost, his heart is stingy, not generous. Being focused on the cost of things, “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things,” (Mark 4:19) will not result magnanimous living.
Living with an open heart, open hand begins by deciding to value what God values most: people, not things; considering what people are worth, not what they cost. The tight-fisted person is materialistic, always thinking about the cost. Magnanimity like that of Zacchaeus blossoms from a heart that is surrendered and a mind that knows Jesus is Lord of all. Those qualities that will pry open our tight fists.