Giving Is Living
In everything I showed you [by example] that by working hard in this way you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed [and brings greater joy] to give than to receive.”
Christ’s message turned everything upside down when He lived on the earth. To become great, He told His followers, become a servant of all. To rise up, stoop low. The last shall be first, and first last. To be significant in the Kingdom, become like a little child. And as Paul related to the leaders of the church in Ephesus, we are filled up when we give out.
Our culture, like every culture throughout history, is remarkably self-absorbed. Selfishness transcends time, race, and societies. But because we have more disposable income than any other people in history, we have more that we can spend to indulge ourselves. Everywhere we look, ads tell us that our lives are deficient if we don’t have this car or that perfume. Though we claim to be shrewd, we are all infected by at least a light case of consumerism, and we clutch things more tightly than we should.
The promise of advertising is that the product or service will give us fulfillment in our lives! People who have walked with God for a while, though, understand the danger in this lie. We know that having more stuff only fills us for a short time, and soon we thirst for more. And we know that we really live only when we really give. Heartfelt fulfillment, and in fact, the deepest thrill of our lives, comes when we pour out our lives to help those who can never invite us to a dinner party, take us out on their boat, or make us look good in any way. When we help the weak, the poor, and the sick- expecting nothing in return- we are most like God, and He blesses us beyond anything the world can offer.
Gratitude is a fruit of great cultivation. You do not find it among gross people.
I don’t think that there’s another season that’s more about giving than Christmas. At least here in America, Christmas morning will find families gathered around the Christmas tree that has piles of presents under it. Children gaze at those brightly wrapped packages with wonder and anticipation, and rightly so for they know hidden under all that paper lies dreams and wishes. I know as a parent and a grandparent the exquisite joy the giver receives as they hear tearing paper and squeals of delight. The hugs and kisses and other displays of gratitude warm our hearts.
But the giving that Paul is referencing is far different than this kind of giving. Often this kind of giving never brings together the giver and the receiver. The Christian who gives to the missionary who takes the gift and uses it to take the gospel to total strangers who may never, in this life, meet the benefactor who gave so generously is the gift Paul is speaking of.
One of the unfortunate things to emerge from gift giving is gift exchanging in which two people give each other presents because they feel an obligation to do so.
But let’s talk about gifts and giving. The very nature of God is that of generosity and gift-giving. We read that He created the whole universe and all the creatures that inhabit the earth. He kept none of it to himself but instead created humans to share it with. He created a beautiful garden and placed them in it with every imaginable thing that they could enjoy. Sadly, they foolishly gave it all away placing themselves into slavery- the slavery of Satan. Imagine what a foolish choice they made- exchanging the incredible gift from God for the bondage and want they received in exchange. But God didn’t walk away. He then chose the very best He had to give- His Son. That’s what John 3:16 says:
“For God so [greatly] loved dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so that whoever believes trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
On the night that Christ was born, the Bible says that Mary wrapped Him in swaddling clothes. We don’t know if they were drab or brightly colored cloth, and it doesn’t really matter for it was the gift that was much more than anyone could imagine. It was God’s Son, the gift from the Father to fallen humanity. Since God gave every human choice, He gave His Son without guarantee that the gift would be well received or even received at all. But He gave anyway. That’s what it means to give. Giving means that we release something not demanding or expecting anything in return. That kind of giving so pleases God that often He rewards such givers.
Giving isn’t an investment. There are those who may give gifts with the anticipation that those gifts will pave the way for them, but those aren’t really gifts. True giving has no strings attached and even if the recipient isn’t grateful or doesn’t respond to the giver, the giver finds the very act of giving rewarding enough.
I want each of us to consider giving, not just during Christmas season, but at other times and at all times. I want us to think about the generosity of God toward us when we are given opportunities to give whether we are giving to the church or someone in need and let that help us decide our level of generosity. How sad it is that sometimes the church has left the impression that we are duty bound to give or we have to be pressured to give. There are those who insist that unless we give a compelling speech or pass an offering plate under someone’s nose, that people won’t give. But I believe that there are those who have benefited from the generosity of God and the gratitude of that whenever they remember it moves them to generous giving.
Finally let me say that our level of generosity is equal to our level of faith and trust. Those who are stingy are usually motivated by fear and doubt. They reason that if they give away what they have, they aren’t likely to have enough. They forget that Jesus said that the very same God who fed the sparrows and clothed the lilies was their Heavenly Father who would always care for them.
Scrooge, in the Charles Dickens “Christmas Carol,” learned the valuable lesson of generosity and the return it brought with friendships and relationships that were far more satisfying than a few coins counted in a cold dark room alone.
May the spirit of generosity fall fresh upon us and may we give with glee and delight, knowing that our giving has put a smile on the face of God.
Dr. John Thompson