The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: G

Previous Index Next

Giving (IC)

"It is more blessed to give than to receive." Here we have a principle that is beautiful as well as being true. It is partly recognized by almost everyone, although too often it is only seen in its least important aspect and applied in the worst possible way. The most selfish and shameless of profiteering traders might quote the saying as he gives a penny to the child of one of his victims. Possibly even then he would need someone present to witness the gift before he would be conscious of any blessedness in the act. Many times the saying has been applied to gifts under circumstances only differing in degree from this extreme illustration.

Of course, the principle applies to money just as the exercise of charity involves a proper use of the unrighteous mammon, but it is only one phase of the matter and by no means the most important. Money has almost ruined the word charity, so that to most people it expresses an idea as cold and hard as coins and as soiled and ragged as treasury notes. In the same way the blessedness of giving is pictured in many minds after the manner found in a child's book of illustrated proverbs the affluent and well-dressed man giving a coin to the ragged child, blessed because he gives the cold coin of cold charity instead of being subjected to the humiliation of receiving it.

Even with money there is a possibility of blessedness in giving, far beyond the reach of such a picture. It is found by the one who distributes without ostentation, one who with delicacy and tact does good by stealth, making charity the warm and human power that it ought to be. One who is kind and not puffed up with the pride of possession, but with a recognition that all riches come from God, uses his wealth as a trust, with God as the only witness.

The principle, however, can be applied more effectively in other fields where it has not often been recognized. Human life is a long round of giving and receiving. The idea is popularly expressed in the words, "give and take". Many philosophers have been wise enough to perceive that one of the great causes of toil in human life has been the greedy desire to take without giving. Such selfishness ends by being self-destructive. Those who persistently refuse to serve become parasites no longer capable of serving, while those who bear a burden too heavy for their strength may have their life of service unduly shortened. It can hardly be described as a matter of giving then. Their service is taken from them until the very life has been thrown away. There is no blessedness in that, either for those who take or those who have all taken from them. True blessing is found in free giving and receiving, the giver being more blessed of the two.

It has perhaps not often occurred to men to apply this principle on the spiritual plane, yet that is where it proves most completely true. There are many vigorous men who have only grasped the principle on the lowest plane of thought and perhaps have not applied it correctly even then. They can make their way in life and will take care not to be beholden to anyone. They would not take gifts; they are independent, so they think. Then when they feel the insufficiency of the flesh and need some spiritual help they are often harshly critical of those who minister. They want spiritual food and think that someone ought to have it ready for them, dished and served and almost predigested. They want to take and are not prepared to give anything.

Such men sometimes think that they give all that is required of them in giving money. This has been one of the great errors of Christendom, the attempt to buy that which is "without money and without price". It is true that the apostle Paul says something regarding spiritual and carnal things which seems to suggest reciprocity in these matters. We must not put his teaching upside down, however. He says that Gentiles who are partakers of Israel's spiritual riches have a duty to minister in carnal matters. He certainly does not suggest that carnal wealth can buy the spiritual treasures. The two kinds of riches are on a different plane. The currency is different and there is no known rate of exchange. The wealthy man who goes to his chapel with a feeling that he can purchase anything and a readiness to give of his abundance if the service pleases him, is not likely to receive any real spiritual food. He is not in the right condition to appreciate it. Possibly husks please him best. If so he can buy what he requires.

The fact is, it is hardly possible to receive true spiritual ministrations without first giving or being ready to give. This is seen if we think of three different types of men such as might be found in any community going to a Sunday morning service for the breaking of bread. The first goes as a matter of custom but in a very critical spirit, neither radiant nor receptive. He expects the reading will be bad and the singing execrable. The exhortation is sure to be the last word in unprofitable dullness, and the whole tone of the meeting is depressing rather than helpful. The second man goes in a receptive frame of mind, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, anxious to obtain some good from the meeting, but never reflecting that he has any responsibility in the matter of giving. The third goes quite as hungry for spiritual food as the second, but anxious to give as well as to receive. He will contribute his full quota of the right spirit even if there is no opportunity to give in any other way. If there is further opportunity to give he will be found ready.

It seems certain that the first-mentioned member will gather no spiritual wealth even if an unexpected mine is brought to light. He will probably be a potent influence in bringing about the depressing atmosphere that he deplores. We might on first thought assume that the second will only receive, leaving all the blessedness of giving to the third. On further reflection, however, we must conclude that members of the second type actually give, even though they are not conscious of the fact. It is hardly possible to hunger and thirst after righteousness without giving. Imagine the experience of a hard worker who from a sense of duty goes to minister to the depressing ecclesia of which he has had previous and painful experience. Imagine the difference it makes in administering the Word if instead of an audience composed entirely of critical and groaning dead weights, he finds some new faces obviously intelligent and receptive, men and women hungering after righteousness in fact. They give a renewal of strength although they do not utter a word and although their only thought is a desire to receive.

It is much better, however, that there should be conscious effort in giving, because then the work will be sustained in spite of disappointments. We have probably all at times fallen into the error of wanting merely to receive and then we have been disappointed. We have felt in need of spiritual help and the help has not been forthcoming. We have been sad and depressed and our whole being has cried out for the ministrations of someone with almost super-human qualities of insight and sympathy. No such being has appeared; ministrations have been on commonplace level. Possibly we have found that those with whom we have come in contact have expected to receive help with hardly a thought of giving. Then we may be inclined to complain. We seek the less blessed part and we fail to find it. In such distempered condition we are asking for such comfort as Christ gave to his disciples right under the shadow of the cross and just before they forsook him and fled.

Perhaps the side thought just expressed cuts to the root of the matter. In our distress we need the ministrations of one in still greater trouble but with the strength and will to help us in spite of it all. Ought we not to feel rather ashamed when such a truth is brought home to us? Surely we can imagine some of the disciples so feeling when they recalled to memory those last words recorded in the latter half of the Gospel of John. The Lord was giving when he had such need of receiving. He was comforting them as the last hours flew by to bring his supreme trial. It was still the more blessed part, but assuredly it was a hard one to choose.

The condition of mind we have just been considering is far removed from that healthy hunger for spiritual food which by its very zest and evidence of receptiveness gives strength to those who minister. Yet the same general principle applies. We must all be prepared to give such wealth as we possess and as God has filled our store. Babes in Christ are giving well, even if they only give attention. Men and women are expected to give more than this. Not only is it the more blessed part but often enough it is the only way of life. All kinds and grades of giving may be good, and it is good always to be receptive in spiritual things. The only wrong attitude of receptiveness is that unreasonable demand for superhuman ministrations and the carping criticism of the best that poor mortals can be expected to give.

Perhaps some readers would ask for some more practical suggestions as to how they can give. There is sometimes a sad tendency to suppose that the only gifts of service of any account are those that are open and prominent. As a matter of fact the value of such work is discounted just in proportion as it is alluring to the flesh. Surely there is no difficulty in finding work to fill up a hundred lives if we had them. Usually the best kind of giving is that most ready to hand, for in making such choice we really get to work instead of dreaming about what might be done.

We have heard of young sisters banding together for quiet, unobtrusive labours in rendering occasional help to overloaded mothers; cheerful, friendly visitors who would call on older sisters, not to waste time where it was already too scarce but to render help where it was needed. Such work required tact, of course. It would never be easy and certainly not attractive to the flesh, but it might easily prove a most blessed form of giving. In such everyday matters opportunities for giving can be found without any need for searching and often it is in such prosaic matters that hearts are most touched as well as hands being eased. The cup of cold water is an expansive symbol.

If brethren have a keen desire to give in the more prominent matters of ecclesial life there is ample opportunity for them. Give the right spirit and the right thought. Apply the golden rule when your duty is to listen and give attention. You may be called upon to pray or read; be prepared to give of your best then. Too often the harsh critic of ecclesial ministrations has failed utterly when he has been called upon to play the relatively easy part of reading. He has read from the book of the Law indistinctly and has not given the sense or caused those who hear to understand. If brethren are anxious to give in the work of the ecclesia let them learn to read well. Verily work shall be found for them and they shall receive as well as give.

Another instruction which surely applies to all kinds of giving is to be found in the apostle's words to the Corinthians regarding the necessary collection of money: "Not of constraint but willingly, for the Lord loveth a cheerful giver."

Perhaps we have not applied this admonition in any extended field, yet surely there is no reason why we should not. It is a principle and applies on every plane. Sometimes we have been guilty of rebellious gloominess in our work though not in the matter of money. We would give to the collections as we are able and give cheerfully, remembering the apostle's admonition. Then we might fail utterly on a more important plane and never reflect that we were at fault. "Plenty of letters this morning and not a single one of any interest. All miserable requests for lectures!" The rule should be, of course, to give such service as we are able and to give cheerfully, just as in the matter of giving money.

It is nearly always possible to give even though one should be so bereft of strength and substance that work of any kind seems out of the question. A brother who for many years has been bedridden and hardly able to move a muscle has more than once sent forth a cheering and strengthening message just when it was much needed. It is hardly possible that he can realize the potency of such giving. It reproves the false feeling of faintness on the part of those who are relatively strong. Such messages are a clarion call to all who are really alive. Truly there are men, magnificent animals, who on the spiritual plane need to be carried everywhere and there are human wrecks who help to do the carrying.

Ah, if only we could have an ecclesia with everyone intent on giving, what a transformation it would make -- brethren neither pulling down that which once they built nor supinely waiting to be fed; but all active, all giving and anxious to serve. A little fasting and special prayer in such a meeting might bring a direct message from Heaven as in the days of Daniel.


Previous Index Next