The Gospels do not record this familiar saying of Jesus. Paul quoted it and Luke wrote it down, and so it is preserved to us.
"It is more blessed to give than to receive;" that is a fundamental truth; it is axiomatic. Yet it is much disbelieved. The simple-hearted are incredulous; sin and selfishness doubt it and despise it: maturer judgment understands and assents to it; but only piety practices it. Maybe it would be better to say that this is a much believed and unpracticed truth.
WHAT IS IT TO GIVE?
First - It is not a thoughtless, hasty indulgence or soft selfishness. A man sees a beggar; he is touched by a quick, shallow pity, and tosses a penny to be rid of his pity. That is not giving; it is a bribe to conscience; it is a cheap way to buy yourself off from duty. You hush up regret, you purchase job-lots of self-righteousness, and you get the needy off of your hands at five or ten cents a head. It is the mistake of your life to call this charity.
Second - The giving of this text is not that interchange of presents customary at Christmas times and other occasions of joy. These are not Christmas gifts, they are Christmas courtesies. I would not say a word against this beautiful custom; it might be well to offer a caution against sinful extravagance, and the burdens pride imposes on those too poor to enjoy this expensive pleasure, and also against a mercenary feeling of reciprocity that unconsciously arises; the only criticism I offer is, let us not confuse these courtesies with charity, and misname an interchange of presents-giving. In Luke 14:12 - Jesus says that we should not invite choice companions and rich neighbors to dine with us, if we do it in expectation of a return of the courtesy; but, if we would be truly charitable, call in the poor and the suffering who cannot recompense us. It is so much easier to practice courtesy than charity; and men have been prodigal in presents who never did any real giving in all their days.
Third – The bequests of the dead are also falsely called gifts. You can only give what you have; when you are dead you do not have it, hence you cannot give it, hence you can give only while you are alive. One relinquishes all he has at death; he can leave it, but he cannot give it. Our text is to be practiced by living people, not by dead ones; it is not an epitaph for tombstones, but a rule for the field and workshop and counting-room and study. Oftentimes avarice holds on hard to its hoardings till death comes to loosen the grip; then the scheming brain proposes a last shrewd bargain on the brink of the grave and would purchase the fair name and fame of charity by some popular bequest. I say in all fairness that is not giving.
I am not saying anything against bequests. It is better for a man to leave his money in the right place than in the wrong place; if we will not give right while we are alive, let us leave it right after we are dead. Bequests have greatly blessed the earth, and are to be greatly praised; but this post-mortem charity is not nigh so blessed as for a living brain and a loving heart to give and receive, and rejoice in the blessing of the giving.
Fourth - Real giving is to render salutary service. Jesus says, (Matthew 5:42): "Give to every man that asketh of thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away." In plain English that means to render salutary service to every man, in gift or loan. You must always give; but you are under no obligation to give what is asked; your duty is to give only that which is helpful. Your best gift to sloth and lust may be not to give at all and force them to honest toil and clean living. In the verse before us Paul exhorts us to economy and industry that we may have the means to help those who cannot care for themselves; he does not tell us to give undiscriminatingly and unwisely. In this sense alone he quotes Jesus as saying: "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
We can give not only what have, but what we are. It is a great thing to give money, but it is a greater thing to give yourself. The secular definition of charity is too narrow; it is restricted to money; it should be broadened to the larger spiritual thought and include men as well. Self-impartation is the best and worst of all gifts. It is a singular fact that we are stingy with what we have, but we are generous with what we are. Every man is delighted to see himself repeated in his fellows. We give money, but we give heart, soul, character as well. Peter met a cripple at the Beautiful Gate and said: ''Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk;" and he handed the omnipotence of God to that dying beggar. Jesus was not a charity agent disbursing funds to the needy. He was strictly a self-giver. "Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich." No material wealth was his to obscure his purpose and interfere with his plan to give himself to the world. Is it not a law that all great self-givers must be poor? Does not the giving of what we have often prevent the giving of what we are? And sometimes we must lose all we have to learn to give ourselves. And that is the highest giving. What does the world need, money or men? It needs men most; for your wisdom and love to flow its rich, red current into failing brains and fainting hearts, that is the greatest need. This is true giving. Whether ''the weak” of our text be those who are frail in body or faith, give them your money, but better give them yourself in helpful, saving service.
[From The Baptist Argus, November 11, 1897. p. 3, via Baylor U. digital collection. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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