We know this saying well: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
But why? Isn’t that counter-intuitive? After all, when you give, you deplete your own resources—be it physical, monetary, or emotional. Isn’t it much better to receive instead? Who doesn’t like receiving things like presents, attention, and approval?
A plain reading of Jesus’ words may lead us to think that giving is good and receiving is bad. But that’s not the case. What Jesus meant was while it’s blessed to receive, it’s more blessed to give.
Those who have received much, give much
My heart doesn’t always agree with this sentiment, though. There have been times when I’ve found it hard to give my money, energy, or time to God or to someone else, especially when I felt I barely have enough for myself.
Of course, I’m not saying we need to give away everything we have, regardless of our circumstances. There’s certainly a place for us to care for ourselves and to store up our own resources. There’s “a time to gather” and “a time to keep”. (Ecclesiastes 3:5-6) It’s not wrong to save up for a rainy day or to care for oneself.
However, I’ve learned that my struggle to give may sometimes reflect a deeper heart issue: I’ve failed to realize how much I’ve already received and am not content with what I have.
When a sinful woman came to the house where Jesus was having dinner to anoint Him (Luke 7:36-50), Jesus said she loved greatly because she had been forgiven of her many sins. He then said, “But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47)
When I find it hard to give in love, is it because I’ve forgotten how much I’ve received from God? If so, I must find out and address what causes me to forget the tremendous grace, love, and forgiveness God has already given me.
I realize that when I’m aware of how much God has given me, I’m more willing to give to Him and to others in love. Only when I truly understand that God has richly provided me with everything I need for my enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17), can I be “a cheerful giver” who delights God’s heart. (2 Corinthians 9:7)
Here are some other lessons I’ve learned when I chose to give.
1. When everybody gives, everybody receives
It’s simple math. If everyone insists on receiving without giving, then who would each person receive from? But if everyone chooses to give to each other, then everybody receives. It’s a win-win situation, isn’t it?
2. Giving helps us to learn contentment
“Do I really need this?” is a question I ask myself whenever I struggle to give. A few years ago, I made a commitment to God that I wouldn’t purchase any more new shirts, trousers, or shoes unless I really had to. One look at my wardrobe told me I had enough; wanting more would come from the desire to look good to win the praise of people—a desire I should be putting to death. (Colossians 3:5) If I want to learn to steward my money wisely for the kingdom of God and learn that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6), then I cannot succumb to such desires.
In doing so, I can channel my money to areas where there are real needs. There’s an old woman I’ve befriended who makes a living by selling tissue paper on the street. By monetary standards, she’s poorer than I am. Yet I’ve seen how she generously and joyfully gives to others in need, though she doesn’t have much herself. In this aspect, she is rich, and her example inspires me to be more giving.
Sometimes, I was able give her some money without thinking twice. But there were other times when I found myself reluctant to do so because I felt I didn’t have enough. During such moments, I asked myself, “Do I really need this?” That’s when I realized that regardless of my need, her need for the money was definitely greater. After all, what did I have to lose? I could just spend a bit less on food that month, for instance. And each time I gave to her, I experienced the joy of giving.
3. Giving helps us to trust God for His provisions
Whenever I feared that I might suffer lack after giving, God would come through for me in some way with His wonderful, timely provision. It may not always happen in the way or timing I expect, but I’ve seen His faithfulness time and again.
This brings God’s promise in Malachi 3:10 to life: “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.’”
My heavenly Father is Jehovah-Jireh; He knows what I need, and He’s faithful to provide for me. Therefore, I can “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,” trusting that “all these things will be given to [me] as well.” (Matthew 6:8, 32, 33)
4. Giving enables us to know God more
I believe God calls us to give because giving enables us to know Him better. The Father gives us His Son (John 3:16); He gives us to Jesus (John 6:37); and He gives us the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13; John 14:26). The Son gives us the revelation of the Father (John 14:6-9; Matthew 11:27) and He gives us reconciliation and access to the Father by being our peace (Ephesians 2:13-18). The Holy Spirit gives us reminders of Jesus’ teachings (John 14:26), taking what is of Jesus and making it known to us (John 16:14); and He gives us different kinds of spiritual gifts for different kinds of service to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)
When we give, it helps us to know God’s heart more, just as participating in an activity our loved one is passionate about helps us to understand them better. Indeed, God’s Word tells us that our primary aspiration in life is to understand and know the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23-24, ESV) and to know Jesus by sharing in the fellowship of what He has gone through. (Philippians 3:10)
5. Giving is a gift from God
Have you ever worshipped God in song with such fervor that you knew with certainty that this was the very reason why you were created—to give Him praise? I have. During such moments, I felt as though I had fulfilled my purpose in life and was filled with overwhelming thankfulness that God created me so that I could enjoy this wonderful gift of being able to gladly worship Him.
Imagine being loved so much by someone but not being able to give back in any way to this person. How miserable that would be! Part of the experience of love is to be able to give back to that person who loves you and has given so much for you. I’m so grateful to God that He has created me with an ability to give back to Him in some way—whether it’s in songs of praise or in my time, money, attention, or energy.
I understand, therefore, that giving not only honors God, but in and of itself, it is God’s gift to us. God doesn’t need us to give to Him, but we experience joy when we give to Him—and He delights in us reciprocating His affections. It’s like how we would enjoy giving back to our parents for all that they’ve given to us—though they don’t need us to.
For all these reasons, I understand why Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Of course, there’s a time to give and serve, and there’s a time to receive and rest. We have to exercise our God-given wisdom to practise wise stewardship of our resources.
But giving is ultimately a joy and privilege God has given to us. So we don’t have to give; we get to give.