Why Does the Book of Acts Say It's Better to Give Than Receive?
- Stephanie Englehart stephaniemenglehart.com
- 2021 26 Mar
A quick google search of “#blessed,” brought me to the top three Twitter accounts that had used the hashtag over the last 8 hours. One individual tweeted their Covid vaccine appointment information with the hashtag “#blessed.” Another stated he was “#blessed” in being able to attend a father-daughter dance at a local country club. While the third person felt “#blessed” because Twitter created a mute button. Each of these situational tweets describes the idea of being “#blessed” by receiving something, but when Jesus says we are blessed in Acts 20:35 He isn’t referring to us receiving—Jesus is telling us that giving is more “#blessed” than receiving.
What Does Jesus Mean by It's Better to Give Than Receive?
The word blessed, or sometimes translated ‘better,’ comes from the Greek word makarion which means happy. In Acts 20:35 the apostle Paul is speaking to the church of Ephesus when he quotes Jesus by saying: “‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” When Jesus says our giving is more blessed, He’s telling us that there is more happiness or joy to be found in God when we give, rather than when we receive. This saying from Jesus is not recorded in the Gospels but was most likely passed onto Paul by those who heard Jesus teach. We know from John 21:25 that Jesus did and said many things that are not recorded in the Bible. Therefore, we need to look at both Jesus’ example throughout the Gospels, and the context of Pauls' speech in Acts 20 for the meaning of the phrase.
Paul’s Speech to the Ephesians on Giving
When Paul quotes this famous phrase in Acts 20:35, he is reminding the Ephesians church and elders of how God has worked in him to testify to the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24). As Paul made his last trip to Ephesus, Macedonia, and Greece, he sought to collect an offering for needy Christians before delivering it to his final destination, Jerusalem (Romans 15:22-29). With Paul's last words to the Ephesians, he commends them in the word of grace, and uses his own life and ministry as an example of how we ought to give generously.
“And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” - Acts 20:32-35
What Should Christians Be Giving?
Paul specifically states that we are to work hard to help the weak, most likely referring to the poor or those in need of assistance to care for themselves. As Paul is speaking, he is not simply seeking encouragement and prayer for the poor but is calling the church to give financially to those who are in need. The New Testament calls for us to give to both the family of faith and outsiders (Galatians 6:10). Our words to the poor and weak—whether inside or outside the church—are deemed worthless, if no practical action is taken to help them (James 2:14-17). Therefore, when we consider what Jesus meant when He said it’s more blessed to give, our giving must not only be in the spiritual and emotional state but practically with finances and resources. God calls all people to steward their resources wisely for the sake of the gospel, and to help the poor, weak, widowed and orphaned (1 Peter 4:10-11, James 1:27, Proverbs 19:17).
Jesus’ Example of Generous Giving
Jesus’ life and ministry demonstrated Acts 20:35, as He took care of those inside and outside the faith both spiritually and physically. He calls believers to give sacrificially as He gave up the riches of heaven in order that we may receive part of His inheritance. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Like Paul, Jesus taught that we should use our financial resources to help the poor and needy (Luke 10:29-37; 18:18-25). Rather than investing our resources into our own interests, we invest ourselves into the lives of others for the sake of the gospel. This means that as we give, we do so unattached from our earthy things, knowing that the work of the Lord is more important than storing up earthy treasures (Matthew 25:34-40; Luke 6:30-38; 12:15-21). Jesus, in Mark 12:41-44 taught sacrificial giving as more worthy than giving out of our excess:
“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” - Mark 12:41-44
Why Is it Better to Give Than Receive?
It is more blessed to give than receive because our giving kills our self-centeredness, takes away the love of money, and fuels our mission to help those in need. Because we have been given everything we need in Christ, we don’t need to expect anything in return while giving (Matthew 6:9-13, 19-34; Luke 12:22-34). We become happy or blessed when we pick up our cross and deny ourselves, as Jesus taught in Luke 9:23.
1. Giving Kills Self-Centeredness
Paul mimicked this very teaching in Acts 20:24-25, as he said: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
We can give of our time, talent, and treasures to those in need because of the work of the gospel of grace that God does in and through us. Every gift of resources that is offered kills our selfishness a little bit more and places a deeper dependence and faith in God. When we trust that it is more blessed to give, we are putting our faith in the promises that God will never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8). We trust that He provides for all our needs, just as he provides for the birds of the air (Matthew 6:26-34). We must believe that when we give, He is for our good, and uses all things for His glory (Romans 8:28). Our giving will never be in vain, especially when we give with a joyful heart. 2 Corinthians 9:6-9 speaks of generosity in this way:
“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.”'’
2. Giving Removes the Love of Money
It is more blessed to give than receive because joyful giving expresses our happiness and contentment found in the promises of God. When we give, we entrust all resources—that He has provided—to God to use as He wills. This cheerful, content giving removes our love of money and things and seeks to love God first. When we love God and His word more than money and the things of this world, we break the bonds of attachment that we have to greed and covetousness (Hebrews 13:5). John Piper in his sermon 'I Entrust You to God and to the Word of His Grace' says it like this:
“If you believe that the wealth of God's grace and the glory of his inheritance are so immeasurable that giving is more blessed than getting, the root of covetousness is severed, and the branch of greed dries up and dies. Every shepherd in the church of God should have a noble indifference to money. Peter said to the elders in 1 Peter 5:2–3, "Tend the flock of God that is in your charge not for shameful gain, but eagerly.” So the Word of God's grace empowers the elders for their work by severing the nerve of covetousness and taking away the love of money and things. That's what happens if you believe the Word of grace that "it is more blessed to give than to receive.”’
3. Giving Fuels our Mission
God created us to be conduits for His grace. When we give, we reflect His sacrificial generosity. Our sacrificial giving of finances and resources will naturally provide opportunities to not only help the poor and needy but make people rich in Christ as we “preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ” as Paul spoke of Ephesians 3:8. When we consider giving to those in need with our time, talent, and treasures, the proclamation of the gospel follows. Being a conduit for God’s grace means we graciously give of both our resources and the hope of the gospel. Our giving fuels our mission as we look for needs around us, and opportunities to share the hope we have in Christ. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 charges us to set our hope on our heavenly inheritance, and to be rich in good works on earth:
“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 that which is truly life.”
The grace of the gospel is driven more deeply into our hearts and minds when we set our hope on God and give freely reflecting Him.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Zaikina
Stephanie Englehart is a Seattle native, church planter’s wife, mama, and lover of all things coffee, the great outdoors, and fine (easy to make) food. Stephanie is passionate about allowing God to use her honest thoughts and confessions to bring gospel application to life. You can read more of what she writes on the Ever Sing blog at stephaniemenglehart.com or follow her on Instagram: @stephaniemenglehart.
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