August 22, 2014

Tis Easier To Give Than Receive

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.

Chambers concludes,

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?

 

 

 

Comments

  1. That’s me too. Today I found myself considering going late to a Christian Union event so I would get there after they had eaten and would only be able to help with the washing up.

    I find I am happy to take things if I think I have earned them. I have no qualms about spending my ‘own’ money on coffee, cakes, books etc, but far less happy to have someone buy something for me. (And I really like cake)

    Its often confusing. My church believes that we are saved by Grace, not by works. But the minister often says that we ought to tithe as well, and that we are commanded to do so (are we?). On top of that, there’s this whole range of Christian activities that one ‘ought’ to do – go to prayer meetings, read the bible, evangelize to one’s friends, and so on. What place should these things have in a christian life?

    I read a quote the other day – (paraphrased) God makes no demands of us. He asks nothing, requires nothing. All these ‘christian’ things we do are totally unnecessary, unless you want to know God. They work on you, not vice versa.

    A question for the older imonks. We hear a lot about ‘discipleship’, and growing closer to God, or becoming more christlike, or more ‘Holy’, and how these things are an essential part of the christian life. My question – does it happen? Is one more like Christ than one was were ten years ago? Essentially – does one sin less, give more, is one more willing to serve and follow where Christ leads?

    • 2Cr 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things [done] in [his] body, according to that he hath done, whether [it be] good or bad.

      My favorite. Why we need to join the pastor in his latest ‘mission’, so we all can get the really good reward. “I don’t just want to go to heaven, I want to earn a special place!”

    • Kerri in AK says:

      You asked:

      “We hear a lot about ‘discipleship’, and growing closer to God, or becoming more christlike, or more ‘Holy’, and how these things are an essential part of the christian life. My question – does it happen? Is one more like Christ than one was were ten years ago? Essentially – does one sin less, give more, is one more willing to serve and follow where Christ leads?”

      In my own experience of the roller coaster ride I call my spiritual journey, I find I’m as much a sinner as I’ve always been. Since sinning can be described as “taking your eyes off God”, I don’t think I’ll ever be off the hook. However, one thing I have noticed is that I’m much less stressed over my sinfulness. Oh, I don’t like or want to sin but I’m human and have free will so it’s a matter of time before it happens again. When it does, I pick myself up, brush myself off, ask for forgiveness and press on with life. I don’t think God is too put out by my sinfulness because, well, he knows I’m human and not perfect. But, boy, is it grand when all I’ve got eyes for is God. Talk about incentives not to sin!

      Also, the older I get the more I’ve noticed how relaxed I’ve become about giving and receiving. Maybe it’s because I’m living with a bunch of Franciscan brothers but if someone (whether I know them or not) asks me for help in the form of a hand with something or some spare change or whatever, I find that I’m not running the request through my judgment filter first. If I’ve got the time or the spare change I give it. As for receiving, I receive with thankfulness any thing or any gesture of assistance. Since I’m willing to be give I feel it equally important to not just receive but to ask for help if I need it. As Christians we are called to love one another and be in fellowship with one another. If you can’t ask for help where’s the love and fellowship? Our cultural conditioning of encouraging self sufficiency and not needing any help is just one enormous lie. I reject that. I had to live 50 years to be able to take a step away from what I heard all my life but I now see it for what is. And I reject it.

      I’m not Jesus so the best I can do is aim for where he was pointing. “Christlike” and “holy?” Depends on how you define that. My sister tells me that I’ve become more merciful as I’ve aged and I have noticed that I listen more than I talk. As a flaming extrovert my entire life and one who always knew where we were going and how to get there, I’d have to say that God has had some influence and my behavior has changed. Jesus was pointing the way back to loving union with God through his ministry, death and resurrection and I’ve found that’s become a desire of mine as well. I’m about to embark on exploring licensed lay ministry, something I wouldn’t have even paused over three years ago, because I feel that’s where I’m being lead. I think that’s the way I can share how awesome and unconditional God’s love is because once you accept that, there’s no going back. All the recent discussion about Julian of Norwich resonates with me and I think I’m finally ready to read what she had to say.

      Mind you, this is my own experience and may be unique to me. Your mileage may vary…

      • +1

      • > “We hear a lot about ‘discipleship’, and growing closer to God, or becoming more christlike,
        > or more ‘Holy’, and how these things are an essential part of the christian life. My question –
        > does it happen?

        Yes

        > Is one more like Christ than one was were ten years ago?

        Yes.

        > Essentially – does one sin less,

        Maybe not. One is certainly more conscious of ones own sin. I realize how much of what my younger religiosity was pompous gas bagging, and how culpable I am for many unfortunate circumstances. How callous I am. And was. One can’t even begin to address these things until one first is truly aware of the. I’d not hesitant to same I am “slower” now than I once was, which is a diminishing of callousness, wisdom in part must start with being slower.

        Discipleship isn’t about becoming more “holy”. It is about learning the truth, and naturally we don’t like much of what discipleship will lead us to finding. That is why it is discipleship, and not recreation.

        Discipleship is learning to love others through the grief that is our own nature and world. It isn’t a path to “victory”, it is a path to a bit more peace, and a bit more is all that this life in this world may accommodate. But even a bit of peace is a cause for Joy.

        > give more, is one more willing to serve and follow where Christ leads?”

        Certainly.

  2. “So, what do you think of my interpretation?”

    I think it rocks. Well done, Jeff. We have become so convinced of sefl-sufficiency in this age (ala American Individualism) that it kills us (me!) to accept anything at all; and yet we breathe and our heart beats uncontrollably all because of grace and a thousand other gifts we’ve been given and take for granted.

    We are horrific bundles of pride and contradiction when we need to receive Jesus like little children.

  3. Well, I am a bible scholar, and what Paul said was “Giving is more makárión than getting.” That word makários, the one Jesus used in the Beatitudes, means happy, well off, fortunate, blessed, or what we nowadays would call “awesome.” Hence it is more awesome to give than get.

    Is “easier” a good translation of makários? In the context of Acts 20, where Paul is quoting Jesus to describe his situation to the Ephesians—he paid his own way, he paid for his partners, he demonstrated hard work, he never did it for money—it doesn’t look like it. It looked like just taking a bunch of offerings every time Paul went somewhere, instead of working a second job to cover his own bills, would have been way easier for Paul and his team. Paul didn’t take the easy route. That’s why he told them all this. So no, I can’t say you interpreted it properly. Sorry.

    It’s only easier to give than get when you’re suffering from that pride issue you’re writing about. And how well I know that issue: I’ve been fighting it for years. In part it’s pride. In part it’s also to justify looking down on the leech-like, entitled behavior lots of people in our culture have nowadays. And in part it was to avoid relationships: If you don’t owe anyone anything, you have no connection to anyone. If they owe you, they’re the ones beholden, but you can still opt out of continuing your relationship further. It’s very control-freakish behavior. I have issues, you see. So for me it’s easier to give than get—but God wants me to get, from others as well as him. I mustn’t hog the blessings for myself.

    • Like this. Not too sure that “easier” is what Jesus is getting at when HE says “blessed” or “happy”. I think your point is on target about our difficulty in receiving, but I’mnot sure this is the verse to support it.

      GregR

  4. Profound stuff, Jeff! And I like what the above three commenters say, too!

    When difficult questions or concepts like this come up, I always like to look to Jesus to see how He modeled behavior. In terms of giving, I think we would all say Jesus was the perfect “giver”: giver of faith, of healing, of compassion, of time, of teaching, ultimately of obedience, love and life. So there is our “giving” example.

    But how about Jesus as “receiver”? How was He at receiving, and how might we model that? I’m racking my brain to come up with examples: he receives baptism from John and the Spirit from his Father; there’s the woman that dumps nard over his head. It seems to me that he isn’t much in “receiving” mode, but when he does receive, he does so graciously.

    Can anyone else come up with examples of Jesus “receiving”, so that we can examine how we might follow his example?

  5. THIS: 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”

    O so hard to walk through that door and admit to some, especially in my family of successful & wealthy folks, that I am indeed destitute. (Guess that must be my pride at work) That kind of admission in my small corner of the world is considered poor self esteem or loser talk. As I have heard one to many times: You are too hard on yourself. So, for me it depends on the company I am in if I am going to name my true condition. My hope is that Jesus knows the truth about every square inch of my heart, that it is a heart divided by depravity and a itty bitty bit of glory.
    I love that you are a giver Jeff. I bet the folks that you give to appreciate & remember your kindness. I am not a biblical (or any type) of scholar so I cannot answer your question: What do you think of my interpretation… However, I appreciated your candor and the comments so far.