Acts 20:35, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
As Christians we take this seriously. We read Paul’s words and quickly hear James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress,” and Jesus in Matthew 25:40, “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” We choose to literally give the things we can spare, our outgrown clothes, our Saturdays, our tithes into the church offering plate. The more we give the better we feel, we pat ourselves on the back for giving up an evening at the food pantry, we reflect on our sacrifice not to take our regular family vacation so we can spend a week doing a service project. In time we begin to take pride in everything we have done, and before we know it our “cheerful giving” has been injected with a dangerous dose of pride.
It’s absolutely important to give of what we have, especially since God has provided most of us with more than what we need. However, often we forget that our financial surplus leaves us with a poverty of deep relationships; our overdose of comfort leaves us with a lack of perspective. We have tunnel vision as to what giving is, forgetting that sometimes the most valuable gifts do not require money. Moreover, we lose the true joy of giving because we’ve let pride come over us like a blinder, ignoring that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). We let our efforts be the focus when they are really only the channel that God uses to do his work.
What if we turned this verse on its head? If it is more of a blessing to give than to receive, then if we truly love our neighbor we will allow her to give as well, we will not rob her of the joy in giving of herself to us. If we know the delight in giving then we must be conscious not to rob others of that opportunity. But when we enter into a situation wearing the lens of pride, puffing ourselves up with the memories of all of the “good” we have done, we make it impossible to receive. Accepting a gift requires humility, it requires us to admit that the other has something that we need, something we cannot supply for ourselves. When we elevate ourselves as the beneficiary to someone who needs everything we can spare, we are not opening ourselves to recognize the gifts they can give to us. When we are humble enough to receive, not only are we learning from one another but we are both blessed by the act of giving, and the relationship is reciprocated.
I spent a short time in Tanzania three years ago. I left with the expectation that I would see villages renewed by missionaries and farms flourishing due to the instruction of North Americans. I couldn’t wait to see everything they had been given.
Upon arriving in the very first village my group sat down to talk with an eleven year old girl. She was an AIDS orphan and she shared her story with me and my companions. I would leave giving her nothing, but she had proven to me that she had something to give that I needed—a lesson in courage and deep trust. I was humbled hearing her experiences, and it was a long fall from the prideful place I had been in when I walked into her village. I understood quickly that while she had poverty of resources, I had poverty of strength. Through her witness she had given me a greater gift than I would give to anyone while I was in Africa.