I am not a Bible scholar. No one is ever going to ask me to be on a Bible translation team. I don’t read or understand biblical Greek. I have written books, but none even close to being considered “academic.” But I do want to offer my interpretation of Acts 20:35.
The traditional rendering of this verse, from the King James Version, is
I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
Updating it a bit, we read the same passage from the Good News Translation as
I have shown you in all things that by working hard in this way we must help the weak, remembering the words that the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.’
I would like to offer this rendering of Jesus’ words, based on my personal experience.
“It is easier to give than to receive.”
I am a giver. I love to give of my time, efforts, and material goods to others. It makes me feel really good to give. I give because my Father in Heaven is a giver, and I take after my Dad. I give to others before they ask. I give to those who are not in need. I love to give give give.
But receive? That gives me the willies. And I know why. And I have tried to avoid dealing with this for many, many years. Oswald Chambers called me on it this morning in his daily devotional, My Utmost For His Highest.
The gospel of the grace of God awakens an intense longing in human souls and an equally intense resentment, because the truth that it reveals is not palatable or easy to swallow. There is a certain pride in people that causes them to give and give, but to come and accept a gift is another thing. I will give my life to martyrdom; I will dedicate my life to service— I will do anything. But do not humiliate me to the level of the most hell-deserving sinner and tell me that all I have to do is accept the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Pride. Damn Chambers. He had to go and use the “P” word. My pride fights against being on the receiving end of anything. Last night I bought dinner for one of my coworkers who didn’t have any money. She started to decline, but I told her not to argue, just eat. But me? I’d rather waste away than let someone buy my dinner. Pride. Ugly pride.
I’ll gladly help my neighbors rake their leaves, then mulch them so they don’t have to bag a big pile of leaves. But if someone wanted to come help dig pine needles out of my gutters? Thanks, but I’ll get around to it myself. Pride.
It is a lot easier for me to give than to receive. Better? Yes, because in being a giver, I can mask my need to receive. I want to do my share. My ugly pride keeps me from becoming a beggar. A destitute, homeless, pauper. That is just too much to ask.
As Robert Capon says in Between Noon And Three,
Lord, let your servants depart in the peace of their proper responsibility. If it is not too much to ask, send us to bed with some few shreds of self-respect to congratulate ourselves upon. But if that is too hard, leave us at least the consolation of our self-loathing. Only do not force us free. What have we ever done but try as best we could? How have we so hurt you, even by failing, that you should now turn on us and say that none of it makes any difference, not even our sacred guilt? We have played this game of yours, and it has cost us.
Cost us indeed. I can’t be a co-owner of my salvation. I don’t get to participate, other than to receive. God is heaven-bent on my freedom, freedom from my efforts to … to be or do anything. The only thing I am capable of doing that will impress him is to die. Yet I want to do more. I want to give, not receive. I want to impress him with my life, not my death.
We have to realize that we cannot earn or win anything from God through our own efforts. We must either receive it as a gift or do without it. The greatest spiritual blessing we receive is when we come to the knowledge that we are destitute. Until we get there, our Lord is powerless. He can do nothing for us as long as we think we are sufficient in and of ourselves. We must enter into His kingdom through the door of destitution. As long as we are “rich,” particularly in the area of pride or independence, God can do nothing for us. It is only when we get hungry spiritually that we receive the Holy Spirit. The gift of the essential nature of God is placed and made effective in us by the Holy Spirit. He imparts to us the quickening life of Jesus, making us truly alive. He takes that which was “beyond” us and places it “within” us. And immediately, once “the beyond” has come “within,” it rises up to “the above,” and we are lifted into the kingdom where Jesus lives and reigns.
Receiving is so very much harder than giving. Yes, my Father is a giver. Yes, I want to be just like him. But in the end, I must admit my poverty and become a spiritual beggar. Sigh …
So, what do you think of my interpretation? I really do think it is easier to give than to receive. My pride is very happy when I can give. How do I put this pride to death? I fear the only way is to become a taker. Taking what I cannot afford, what I cannot repay, what I desperately need but see no way to achieve. It really is true. God’s grace is given for free. My pride, knowing grace means its death, fights ruthlessly to prevent me from being a taker. I don’t see that this is going to be a struggle I can ever declare to be over. Not in this life.
So as the 25th of December approaches, and I shop for gifts I can gladly give to others, I hear a voice calling me to receive the gift I cannot pay for. I think this Christmas, at least for me, is going to be a time of death. Will there be life afterward? That is the gift my Father has for me. Oh why is it so hard to receive?