The Blessings of Giving

Several years ago I heard a story on NPR about an experiment in which people were given a small amount of money and told to spend it—some were told to spend it on themselves, while others were told to spend it on others. Later that day, the leaders of the experiment asked the participants to gauge their happiness, and, surprisingly, those who used their money on other people rather than themselves reported being much happier. This reality is counter-intuitive. In fact, one of the leaders of the experiment asked a group of college students what they thought would result in more happiness—spending money on themselves, or others. The students overwhelming chose themselves, but, again, the reality was exactly the opposite.

In Acts 20, Paul is speaking to the elders of the Ephesian church, preparing them for his departure. He concludes his address with these words: “I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35). This is curious, as these words of Jesus do not appear in any of the four gospels. What this tells us, then, is that Jesus taught about the blessing of giving, and that this teaching was well-known in the early church. Our friend David Roseberry, in his new book Giving Up, likens this teaching of Jesus to a modern “meme,” noting how pervasive the practice of generosity was in the early church, and he notes that, among all that marked the early Christians as distinct in the Roman Empire, the “attitude that was shared, accepted, taught, practiced, and encouraged might have been the one that is kept out of sight today: generosity” (68).

As we conclude our season of stewardship on Sunday, I’d encourage each of us to ask a simple question: Do we believe that it is, in fact, “more blessed to give than to receive”? Jesus said it, the early church practiced it, and, today, it is scientifically proven to be true. Yet, I’m sure that I’m not alone in failing, most days, to live it out. What might it look like for each of us to take steps, whether small or large, toward living out this counter-intuitive teaching of Jesus? I’m quite sure that many of you have stories of how this principle has been true in your own life, and, as I reflect on times that we’ve sacrificially given, I can report the blessedness that comes, often in surprising ways. I hope and pray that, over this next year, each of us would be able to tell more stories of blessing as we seek to take Jesus at his word.