In Acts 20:35, the apostle Paul said:
In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
As I was trying to sleep, the words, “it is better to give than to receive” kept running through my mind, so naturally I had to look it up and see where this statement came from. Paul says he is quoting Jesus, but if you cross reference the statement you won’t find it in the gospels. What you will find in the gospels is the kind of embodiment that Paul is referrring to when he says, “In everything I did, I showed you…” Isn’t that what Christ’s incarnation was all about? Showing us God’s heart of generosity in human form? Similarly, Paul was living out what he saw Christ living out. Both Paul and Christ were living witnesses of gracious lifestyles.
In truth, living into the reality that it really is more blessed to give than to receive is radical. When Paul mentioned “this kind of hard work”, that’s where most of us go in our minds. Work can have a negative connotation. We think of the work associated with giving, serving, considering others before ourselves, loving without the promise of return. It sounds like committing to a doormat existence. It sounds like being taken advantage of. It sounds like anything BUT a blessing. Why does Paul, on the one hand, call helping the weak hard work and then later make the statement that it is more blessed to give?
BECAUSE IT’S BOTH! Having recently seen my utter failure to give in a circumstance involving my daughter, I had the epiphany that the work is seeing the opportunity and choosing the graceful agenda (which may not be what we initially want to do). For us it is hard work because everything in our media saturated culture screams of what we deserve. “We deserve a break, we deserve to treat ourselves well, we deserve a vacation, we deserve upgrades, better products, and to be pampered.” If we watch enough TV and read the advertisements in the paper, the message is unavoidable. Pretty soon, we buy into the entitled lie that expects what we have been told we deserve. So it is literally work to push against this idea. It is work to remind ourselves that we were created for engagement and activity that blesses. Humanity (back in Genesis) was tasked with the work of culture care and garden tending. Delightful work was given to us that we might live life to the full. Stewardship of resource was not something delegated to keep us busy and out of trouble. It was given to us because it was how God wired us. Giving of ourselves and our talents and our imaginations will ultimately bless others AND us.
When we are faced with an opportunity to chose to give of ourselves, in life-giving work, I believe that there is blessing. When I choose to let go of my agenda in favor of a God given moment to practice grace, there’s something in it for me as well as the one given to. It’s a topsy-turvy persepctive that warrants trying out. Make an experiment of your day and ask God to give you eyes to see opportunitites to give of yourself. When He shows you, throw yourself into it and then reflect on it. Did it bless you?
My working theory is that if I live into the kind of spiritual practice that intentionally chooses to give rather than receive, I will be tapping into a well of joy that just goes deeper with each gift.
A few final thoughts:
- this is not about giving money (though there may be circumstances that require this)
- this is not about giving in ways that suck the life out of you (giving graciously is a different beast than reluctant obligation)
- this is not about earning brownie points with God through good works (we can’t)
- this IS about experimenting with gracious living and seeing what is learned in the process of living generously