“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Not that receiving is bad in any way, but giving at God’s prompting far surpasses it. Some months ago, He prompted me to give some of my time and go to the hospital to visit an older lady that I barely knew. I felt so awkward asking where her room was, and even more so peeking into it and greeting her. Yet it turned out that talking with her and seeing her positive attitude encouraged me more than anything else would have at that point.
Throughout the Bible God weaves a command to give. Take Deuteronomy 16:17 for example:
“Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you.”
What has God blessed you with? What talents has He entrusted to you? What material blessings? What wisdom and insights? What unique experiences? When it comes to giving, we normally think of money. Certainly, that’s one way to give, but there is so much more to giving than just cash! Over the past couple years or so, God has been laying on my heart that every gift He gives me is not just a gift – it is a responsibility to use it to give to others. Proverbs 3:27 says,
“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”
If He has given me a love for drawing and painting, then I have a responsibility to find a way to use it in a way that will honor Him and bless other people. If He has given me the ability to write stories, then I have no excuse for letting it sit by the wayside unused, or worse yet, used to glorify something other than God. If He blesses me with more income than I know what to do with (and I have minimal expenses in my current situation) then I have a responsibility to likewise bless others with it. I discovered an entry in my journal from mid-February that said this:
“God provides, and He does so exceedingly above all we ask for. The reason for this is because He doesn’t *just* want to provide for us. He wants us to turn around and pass it on to others.”
Isn’t that how the church impacts others for the kingdom? It’s taking our blessings, no matter how small, and turning them into someone else’s blessings.
With that in mind, let’s look at a couple passages.
Philippians 4:16-19 – “Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
2 Corinthians 8:1-5 – “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints – and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.”
For a bit of background, Philippi was located in Macedonia, so when Paul wrote to the Corinthians he was very likely writing about the Philippians, amongst others. So what do we see from the Philippians’ manner of giving? They gave
- Generously, even beyond their means.
- First to God, and then according to His will, to the service of the saints.
I’m fascinated by the fact that the Philippians were probably extremely poor, yet, like the widow and her two mites, they joyfully gave everything they possibly could because God called them to.
A man named Scott attended a Bill Bright conference once, during which Bill challenged the people there to give one million dollars for the Great Commission. Scott couldn’t take it seriously because his business made less than $50,000 a year. When Bill asked Scott how much money he’d given away in a year, Scott answered, “We gave $17,000, about 35 percent of our income.” Bill immediately challenged him to give away $50,000 in the next year. When Scott and his wife decided to trust God and go for it, they were amazed to watch Him provide. By the year’s end, they were able to give away the $50,000. So the next year they set their goal at $100,000, and again, God provided. Years later, they were giving away more than a million dollars a year, and they weren’t stopping.
What an amazing story! Scott and his wife did exactly what the ancient Philippians did. They gave year after year to God, beyond their means. Philippians 4:19 says,
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
When we commit to give and serve however God asks us to, He doesn’t leave us to scrape by and barely survive. He provides what we need and more, so that we are able to give exceedingly abundantly more than we ever imagined we could.
Luke 6:38 – “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
And as my group leader from STEP Advanced reminded us last year, “You can’t outgive God.” Let’s look at another passage.
2 Corinthians 9:6-11 – “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”
You know how there are laws of nature like gravity? There are also spiritual laws, one of which says that giving is like farming – the more you plant, the more you harvest. If you plant a stingy garden, you’ll be buying vegetables from other people before you hit December. Yet when we commit to give beyond our means, God increases our means so that we are fully able. And if giving is like planting, God is the supplier of the seeds and the increaser of the harvest.
About the same time as God started prodding me about visiting that lady in the hospital, He also started to prod me about the nursing home. (Can I add that I don’t really like hospitals *or* nursing homes?) I came back at him with an excuse that reminded me of Moses – “But God, I don’t know what I would do or say once I got there!” I kind of mentally crossed my arms and told Him that if He wanted me to do something like that, He would have to give me something specific to do. Not about to be put off, He returned almost instantly with a new thought – play piano there. (Just a word of advice – don’t ask God for something you don’t actually want Him to give you.) I was terrified when I showed up at the nursing home with my music book in tow. I fudged and fumbled my way through a list of songs that ended up being too short to fill an hour and so I had to repeat some of them. Quite honestly, I didn’t have much to give that day. But, God is the supplier of the seeds, and He is the increaser of the harvest. Even though I couldn’t see past my fumbles, He used it to bless people, and to bless me, not only by knowing that I had blessed the residents, but also by increasing my confidence. Since then I’ve played approximately every other week, and it’s always so sweet to see the residents’ appreciation.
Moving on…Let’s look briefly at Matthew 6:19-21.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Remember how in Philippians 4 Paul mentioned he sought “the fruit that increases to your credit”? The footnote in my Bible calls it “the profit that accrues to your account”. In other words, giving produces treasures in heaven for us. The earthly reward pales in comparison with the coming heavenly reward awaiting us when we reach the other side.
Talking about giving is one thing, but practically speaking, how can we apply it? What does it look like to give like the Philippian church did? What does it look like to give regularly, according to your means and even beyond, to God and through Him to other people?
1. Give yourself to God first. “…and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” (2 Corinthians 8:5) God can’t use you fully until you give yourself fully to Him, including talents, physical resources, etc. Like the old hymn says,
”All to Jesus I surrender;
all to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
in His presence daily live.”
When you surrender everything to God, you must then seek His will about how you use it. This includes how you spend and give what He has given you, whether it is time or money or brainpower or emotions. Therefore giving everything to God also requires seeking His presence diligently and listening for His direction. The Lord says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) He honors a heart that desires to honor Him with everything, and if you seek Him to learn how to use the gifts He has entrusted to you, He will follow through.
2. Give according to your means (or beyond). “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord…” (2 Corinthians 8:3)
2 Corinthians 9:6-7 reminds us:
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
You have a choice how much you are willing to give. When you start by giving everything to God and seeking how He wants you to use it, you will begin to decide to give how much He wants you to give. Set goals according to what you hear from Him and commit them to Him, asking Him to provide the means to meet the goals. Remember Psalm 37:5,
“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act.”
Giving beyond your means sounds foolish according to our human understanding, and it is nerve-wracking to think about jumping into. Setting smaller goals and working up to bigger ones like Scott did makes the leap less intimidating. The point is to honor God, and if you commit your way to Him He will honor every baby step you take in that direction.
3. Give regularly. A habit of giving reminds us that our money is really God’s, and prevents us from idolizing it. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 says:
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of what is truly life.”
Rich is a comparative term. You may think you are poor, but someone else will view you as richer than they are. As a result, basically everyone is rich compared to someone else, and I think that these verses can apply to us all. We all have something to give, even if it is not money. Some people are rich in abilities rather than money. They can use those talents as a way to give richly even if they don’t have much money to give. Some people have a huge heart for hurting people. They can give richly by extending love generously, whether or not they have money to give. Peter and John had no money to offer the beggar outside the temple, but they gave him what they did have – the gift of healing by the name of Jesus. A monetary gift would have helped the beggar for a short while, but healing ultimately blessed him far more. (See Acts 3.)
So give regularly, whether you choose to give out of your income or your time, out of material blessings or talents. God originally instituted the regular tithe to remind the Israelites that everything they had came from Him, and the same is true for us. A habit of giving produces a life of thanksgiving to God.
Before we wrap up, let’s look at a couple warnings about giving.
1. Your heart must be in it. 2 Corinthians 9:7 instructs that,
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Richard Braunstein said, “It is possible to give without loving, but it is impossible to love without giving.” And we can see that in action in Acts 5:1-10, in which Ananias and his wife Sapphira gave money with the intent to look good, rather than out of a sincere heart, and as a result God punished them to make them an example for the church. Giving anything in order to look good or because someone else weaseled you into doing it is not honoring to God because it didn’t come from a heart wholly surrendered to Him.
Deuteronomy 15:10 – You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. [Emphasis mine.]
2. Do not ignore the Holy Spirit’s prompting. How many times have I done this one! Ignoring the Holy Spirit leads to a chain reaction. Here’s how it works. The Holy Spirit’s job, you could say, is to teach and instruct and guide us.
John 14:26 – “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
However, we have a choice whether we listen or not, as made obvious by this verse:
James 1:22 – “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
What happens when you hear the Spirit’s prompting and fail to do it?
James 4:17 – “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
And sin, in the long run, makes it more difficult to hear the next time. That is “Quenching the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19)
Giving is a way to honor God, and it is a joy and a blessing to watch God work through it. I would encourage you all to consider: what things has God given to you that He is asking you to in turn give away?