A friend and I were talking about giving and receiving the other day. Not an exchange of gifts like at Christmas, but generously sharing from the abundance of our wealth with those in need. And those in need receiving what they’ve been given.
I’ll admit, I think I’ve been on the receiving end more often than the giving. When I was a kid, both my parents taught in Christian schools, and we were poor. There were months that the college where my dad was employed, couldn’t make payroll. I don’t know how often this happened, but I remember one occasion when someone left a bag of groceries on our porch.
Later when we moved to California, we children benefited from “hand-me-downs” from some of the other faculty, as I had from my older sister for a number of years.
As an adult, I received support from family and friends during my three-year short term missions experience in Guatemala.
Recently I’ve received money more than once when I needed it for odds and ends like rent and food, the gift of a brand new Kindle from writer friends and a used iBook computer—such valuable tools for a writer. Then there is food. One friend has regularly shared tomatoes from her garden or oranges or left over dishes from church gatherings. My former neighbors used to give me bread and tortillas from his work. Another family gave me plates of food when they didn’t use everything they’d prepared for a church get-together. In the past two weeks two other neighbors have given me plates of food.
And there’s been more. It astounds me a bit because I’m sure I don’t look like I’m starving! These people are sharing out of their abundance and because of their generous spirit. It’s an incredible blessing.
The thing is, that’s the way God wants the Church to work. Paul explained to the body in Corinth:
For this [sharing with others] is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, “HE WHO gathered MUCH DID NOT HAVE TOO MUCH, AND HE WHO gathered LITTLE HAD NO LACK.” (2 Cor. 8:13-15)
The truly amazing thing is that the person or church group who receives is not, in reality, the one who benefits most. Paul made this clear to the Philippians when he was commending them with sharing with him when he was in need:
Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. (Phil. 4:17)
When Paul reminded the Corinthian believers of their promise to give to the famine-stricken church in Jerusalem, he established some principles of giving:
* it should be bountiful
So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness. Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (2 Cor. 9:5-6)
* it should not be spontaneous but thought out and planned for according to each person’s ability to give
* it should be with a cheerful heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion
Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9:7)
Paul’s admonition builds to a crescendo, a tipping point: you promised to give, so plan on giving. Do so lavishly, not because you have to but because you enjoy giving. God will supply for you all you need so you can give to the needs of the saints. But more so, your giving will be an occasion for those believers to give thanks to God. And it will build unity among the Church because those who receive will be filled with warm feelings for those giving and will pray for them.
How cool is that! Receivers actually create an opportunity for givers to be blessed, to profit through God’s rewards and the receivers’ prayers. AND the occasion of receiving heaps thanksgiving on God.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written,
“HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR,
HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER.”
Now 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 everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. (2 Cor. 9:8-14, emphasis mine)
Both giving and receiving are part of God’s plan. It produces equality but the spiritual benefits and the glory God receives can’t be calculated.