In Part 1, we looked at the first part of Acts 20:35: “It’s more blessed to give.” But what about the second part, “than to receive.” Again, we’ll look at context and compare this portion of Scripture with other God-breathed words. To start with, we simply won’t comprehend this concept if we make no aim to become free from covetousness. If we have over-active “wanters,” then nothing can truly be better than receiving, can it?
This passage of Scripture was written in a society far different from our own, in which expert marketers strive to ensure all children become inebriated with materialistic fantasies and pumped for “Christmas wish lists” — to the point of requiring early-December purging of closets and play room simply to make room for the upcoming onslaught of more stuff. Such mayhem would be the farthest from first-century believers’ wildest imaginations!
I’m not going all anti-capitalist here, but it’s factual according to Acts 4:32 that the early church was something of a voluntarily socialist community. This communal lifestyle within the church spoke well of their ability to truly see God as their Shepherd (Psalm 23:1). It also allowed them to emulate Paul in His lack of covetousness.
In 1 Timothy 6:8, Paul encourages the young pastor-in-training to be content with the basics of life: food and clothing. If you’re already content in Christ, you don’t crave gifts: Instead, you can enjoy even the basics as the “added bonuses” that they are (Matthew 6:30-33). Job had that concept down, and that’s what likely enabled him to praise God despite his great losses (Job 23:12).
As we continue to consider how covetousness intersects with this whole giving/receiving tension, let’s look back at what giving is said to be, compared with receiving: “more blessed.” In the Bible, that word “blessed” (2 syllables) means happy or fulfilled. It often, though, refers to future promised reward — not immediate gratification. Like the hope people listed in Hebrews 11, Christ’s followers were and are living for an unseen future reward that’s as real — really, much more real! — than anything we can imagine finding under our expertly decorated Christmas trees or in our perfectly hung stockings (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Trusting God to bless us in His time takes faith. Craving God and His Word and His mission more than we covet possessions takes counter-cultural resolve. Whether we hang our trees from the ceiling or subscribe to many of our culture’s normal traditions, we demonstrate our faith by refusing to believe that our soul’s deepest needs will be filled with anything but God. If we’re convinced that nothing else satisfies our heart’s longings, we simply won’t thirst for things; instead, we’ll desire Him.
When we do, it will be far easier to understand how giving can be better than receiving — and to trust our Good Shepherd to supply our needs now and reward us in His way, in His perfect time.
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