Giving and receiving are a large part of our holiday season. At Thanksgiving, we focus our attention on all the blessings we’ve received over the past year. But even before the turkey and pie are gone, we start planning for Christmas and the many gifts we’ll exchange. We’ve all heard Jesus’ words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), but have you ever wondered why this is true?
Generosity isn’t a trait we’re born with. When we come into the world, our focus is on receiving: We think only about having our immediate needs met, as any parent of a newborn will tell you. But in time, children begin to enjoy giving. That’s why they pick dandelions for their mother and offer them as if they’re a priceless treasure. In the same way, we can learn to enjoy giving to the Lord. At first, our contributions may be small because they’re based on what we think we can afford. But as we experience God’s faithfulness in supplying our needs, our trust grows and we’ll be more willing to give generously.
In 2 Corinthians 8:1-6, the apostle Paul describes a group of believers in Macedonia who had learned this truth firsthand. When they heard about the economic needs of the Jerusalem church, they wanted to help. Paul used their example to encourage the Corinthian church to do the same. By applying four biblical principles found in these verses, we can benefit from their example, too.
1. Generosity isn’t based on abundance. Sometimes we think we’d give more if we had more. But in reality, if we aren’t generous with a small income, it’s doubtful we’ll be charitable with a larger one. From all outward appearances, these Macedonian Christians had nothing extra to give. Although they were living in poverty and going through great affliction, they had an abundance of joy and a wealth of liberality (2 Corinthians 8:2). They voluntarily gave not only what they could afford but even beyond their ability (2 Corinthians 8:3).
2. Generosity flows from a heart of compassion. Maybe the reason the Macedonians were so open-handed is because they knew what it was like to be in need and had experienced God’s faithfulness to them. Once they heard about the saints in Jerusalem, their hearts overflowed with compassion, and they begged Paul for the honor of participating in the support of those brothers and sisters (2 Corinthians 8:4).
How often do we look at giving as a privilege?
How often do we look at giving as a privilege? Maybe we’re happy to buy Christmas gifts for loved ones, but do we delight in contributing to the Lord’s work? Does the passing of the offering plate or the announcement of a need in the church bring a sense of duty rather than a spirit of joy? Remember, “God loves a cheerful giver,” not one who gives out of coercion or a sense of guilt (2 Corinthians 9:7).
3. Generosity isn’t limited to material things. Sometimes at Christmas we limit gift giving to items that can be tied up with a bow. This could lead some of us to spend more than we should. However, debt doesn’t prove devotion. Some of the best gifts cost us nothing. For example, offering our time to serve others or to listen and encourage them is a wonderful way for us to demonstrate love. Similarly, we may think giving to the Lord is limited to financial contributions, but Scripture enlarges that perspective. Paul says the Macedonians “first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8:5). The Lord delights more in an obedient, surrendered life than He does in contributions offered from an independent spirit (Mic. 6:6-8).
Giving ourselves to the Lord means surrendering our rights, preferences, and desires in order to do His will, whatever that may be. Sometimes He might convict us to give financially, but He may also lead us to show hospitality, help someone, offer encouraging words, or present the gospel to those who don’t know the Savior.
Debt doesn’t prove devotion. Some of the best gifts cost us nothing.
4. Generosity is empowered by faith. Every challenge in life is an opportunity to deepen our confidence in God. But sometimes we’re reluctant to trust Him when it comes to finances, even though He’s given us some amazing promises. For instance, Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” How must the Lord feel when we say, “I believe the Bible, but I don’t trust what God says about money and giving?” Has the Father ever under any condition failed to keep a single promise from His Word? No! Then why won’t we trust Him and give joyously, liberally, and eagerly?
Remember, generosity is an attribute of God, and when we give, we reflect His image in us. So this holiday season, consider all that God has given you: breath in your lungs, the love of family and friends, the fellowship of a community of believers, the prayers He’s answered, and His faithfulness in keeping His promises and providing for your needs. Then let your gratitude overflow into generosity toward others—and not just with your money or material goods, but your time and attention, too.
Adapted from the sermon “How to Give” by Charles F. Stanley