In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
- Acts 20:35
Paul quotes a saying of Jesus not recorded in the gospels. It is like one of the beatitudes in that it presents us with a basic truth that reveals the inner workings of the spiritual kingdom, but contradicts human nature (i.e., When Jesus says...)
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Matthew 5:10
...He is revealing something that may be true in the kingdom, but not so in the world. Persecution is not a happy thing. It doesn't feel good or bring any joy, especially when a person does what is right and is persecuted for it anyways. However, in the inward, spiritual person who is part of the kingdom of God, there is joy when this happens because the persecution testifies to one's effort at doing what is right, and is an outward sign of one's faith and loyalty to Christ for which Jesus promises a reward.
Giving, being more of a blessing than receiving, is a similar teaching. When you think about it, what is more enjoyable — giving or receiving?
What would you rather do:
- Give your money away or get a check in the mail from an unexpected tax refund?
- Give up your Saturday to drive your wife's Aunt around who's in from Chicago — or have your buddy over to help you build a deck for your back yard?
- Organize a party to honor your supervisor's promotion to Vice President or receive a bonus from your boss as recognition for your hard work?
When we look at it from a human point of view, it is more fun, more pleasurable, easier, and more desirable to receive than to give.
- Everybody says, "Don't buy me anything for Christmas," but they don't mean it!
- No one really likes to give and not receive.
If this is true concerning basic human nature, why does Jesus say that it is more blessed to give than to receive?
It would seem that it is more blessed to receive than to give because people spend a lot more energy trying to experience the pleasure of "getting" rather than the blessedness of "giving." The key word is this verse is "more." Jesus is not teaching that there are no pleasures involved in receiving, He simply says that there are more intense joys attached to the act of giving.
With this in mind, I'd like to share four particular joys specifically attached to giving.
1. The Joy of Acting as a Spiritual Being
Giving is part of God's essential nature.
- He created the world and gave man life, the garden, a wife. — Genesis 2-3
- He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, to save mankind from sin. — John 3:16
- He gave believers the Holy Spirit to empower their resurrection from the dead. — Romans 8:11
When we give, we experience the pleasure that comes from acting out of our higher nature. The impulse to give comes from the spiritual man, not the fleshly man. The reluctance to give, the slowness to give, the resistance to give much comes from the flesh, and these (spirit and flesh) are always at war with one another.
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
- Galatians 5:17
However, when we give, one of the pleasures we actually feel (call it peace, satisfaction, etc.) is the feeling produced by the victory that the spirit has won over the flesh. We have acted as spiritual people and that feels good.
2. The Joy of Honoring God
Throughout the Bible we notice that every person who knew God or was aware of His presence had a need to formally honor Him in some way. God provided mankind with a formal way of doing this — the giving or offering of a sacrifice:
- Noah sacrificed to the Lord. — Genesis 8:20
- Abraham gave sacrifice. — Genesis 12:8
- Moses knew God and instructed the people in offering sacrifice. — Exodus/Leviticus
- King David and those who returned from exile all gave sacrifices to God in order to honor Him for various reasons.
The physical method of honoring God has changed (we no longer offer produce or animal sacrifices, etc.) but the essence of that method remains — the exercise of giving.
David said that God was not interested in the blood of animals, but rather in the condition of the hearts of those who offered them (Hebrews 10:5-8).
- A sacrifice was acceptable because it was a given thing.
- The animals and food offered in sacrifice represented wealth to those who offered them.
- The worshippers were expected to give their best animal, produce, oil, and grain to God in sacrifice — and this was not done without personal cost!
Those who give in an indiscriminate way, without reference to God, still experience the pleasure of giving caused by the victory of the spirit over the flesh (i.e. Non-believers still feel good when they give).
The spiritual man who gives (even a cup of water) because of faith in God and Christ, however, has the additional joy of knowing that he has honored God and Christ through his giving whether informal (charity) or formal (offering at church).
3. The Joy of Anticipated Blessings
Do you believe the Bible? Amen if you do. It says:
- "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." — Genesis 1:1 — Amen, if you believe.
- "Those who believe and are baptized will be saved." — Mark 16:16 — Amen, if you believe.
- "He who is generous will be blessed." — Proverbs 22:9 — Amen, if you believe.
- "…He who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully." — 2 Corinthians 9: 6 — Amen?
My point here is that we are willing to believe in God's power to create the world, create the Jewish nation, become human and die and be resurrected, forgive our sins and give us eternal life. Why, then, should it be so difficult to understand and believe that God will bless those who give, and give generously?
One of the joys of giving, especially for Christians, is that giving is the seed for getting. In other words, the more you give, the more you get. There is a condition however. If you give in order to get, you receive nothing back because giving with only this motive is no longer giving (it becomes trading or bargaining). If, on the other hand, your giving is truly giving (e.g. letting go without demanding or grudging a return) then you will be blessed.
Paul explains the blessing that you receive from this type of giving in 2 Corinthians 9:10-11:
Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.
What God gives to the giver is an abundance of resources to continue giving, and thus enjoy the experience as well as the satisfaction of honoring God through this action. When you give, you are setting in motion a chain reaction that sees God increasing your stewardship of resources for the distribution of blessings to others for His honor. This is an exciting and joyful prospect for those who experience this cycle.
4. The Joy of Fellowship
Giving is something that brings people together in a good and loving way.
And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
- Acts 2:44-47
Note that as the early disciples worked to meet each other's needs they were automatically drawn closer together in joyful fellowship as well.
- A common effort at giving.
- The blessings of mutual service.
- Working together in the service of others.
These kinds of things bring out the best in us on behalf of others.
In addition to this, the development of greater spiritual mindedness, the honoring of God and the joyful anticipation of further blessings enrich our fellowship making it a joyful experience.
In the congregation where I am a member, we publish in our bulletin the amount given for the collection each week. The reason for doing so is to allow everyone the opportunity to see the result of the giving we have shared in and help each member feel the satisfaction that this brings.
I stated at the beginning that there is a certain joy in receiving, but there are ways that the act of giving blesses us that receiving cannot:
- Receiving, with its excitement, thanksgiving, and physical pleasure is, at best, a human thing. We are not enabled, lifted higher, or spiritually strengthened when on the receiving end of things. God is a creator, Christ emptied Himself, the Holy Spirit gives life and power, and we truly reflect the image of God when we give, not when we receive.
- Receiving does not honor God, it is an honor that we receive from others. Receiving draws our eyes upon ourselves and has the inherent danger of greed and selfishness in order to continually repeat this shallow pleasure.
- Receiving does not beget more receiving, only giving does this. Receiving's major blessing is that it prompts us to give thanks and hopefully seek ways to show our appreciation. If we respond properly when we receive, we will begin the cycle of giving which will lead us to the joyful anticipation of greater blessings.
- Receiving is a lonely thing. Those who will receive our gifts will, in the end, be left alone with the gift and the momentary pleasure it will bring. We, on the other hand, not only have each other and a greater love for each other because of our giving — we also have the memory of this experience that will fill our hearts with joy long after this action is past.
Jesus truly said it best, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." When I give, therefore,
- I am blessed with growth.
- I am blessed with piety.
- I am blessed with abundance.
- I am blessed with love.
Blessings that can only be obtained through giving, blessings only given by God based on giving.