One saying of the Lord Jesus Christ is easily overlooked: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’. The words are easily missed because they are found nowhere in the four Gospels!
They actually occur in Acts 20:35 at the end of Paul’s farewell to the elders of the church at Ephesus. He declares, ‘I have shown you in every way, by labouring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive”.’
The original New Testament documents were written without punctuation, so Paul may not be quoting Christ’s actual words but simply summarising the gist of his teaching. For example, ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Matthew 10:45). Or Paul may have heard a direct quote from someone like Peter.
Either way, the words are important and we need to remember them. After all, Paul chose to use his closing words to the Ephesian elders to underline this simple yet profound truth – that in God’s economy sacrifice brings reward.
The prime example is Christ himself who, ‘for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Hebrews 12:2). He could never enjoy ‘the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints’ without first suffering to redeem those saints from their sins (Ephesians 1:18).
We cannot suffer his cross but we can and must suffer his reproach (Hebrews 11:26). ‘Let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach’, says Hebrews 13:13. ‘For here we have no continuing city but we seek the one to come’. No suffering, no city; it’s as simple as that.
We know these verses, of course, but somehow they don’t get into our bloodstream. We are inoculated against them because we associate them with martyrdom or some dramatic renunciation of the world. Yet the truth they teach should be the oxygen of every Christian life – we are saved to serve, and that sacrificially.
Paul writes of the ‘sacrifice and service of your faith’ (Philippians 2:17). Write it as an equation if you like – ‘Faith equals service plus sacrifice’. Unless we understand this we shall never grasp the spiritual law expressed so eloquently by Proverbs 11:24 – ‘There is one who scatters, yet increases more; and there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty’.
Till it hurts
So, what does this all mean in practice? There are any number of applications. How many young Christians today consider the mission field or the ministry before they plunge into a more lucrative secular career? How many of us give sacrificially (that is, till it hurts!) of our time, our energy and our money?
What is our first priority in seeking a church to attend? Do we consider what we might give to a small but faithful company rather than what we might receive from a larger one?
Does the hard work of witnessing for Christ in our local community take precedence over the comforts of a more distant church which has more to offer in terms of superior environment and social infrastructures?
And once we are settled in a church, are we content to let others do the giving while we enjoy the taking? These are questions each of us needs to settle for ourselves. But before we do, remember – it is more blessed to give than to receive!