When giving becomes a selfish act
When we place ourselves in the role of “giver”, say as in charitable act, we place another person in the role of “receiver”. We get to feel good about ourselves, and they get to suffer the indignity of accepting a handout.
Who is more blessed?
Selfish… isn’t it?
What does it mean, “more blessed to give than to receive?”
Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive”, as reported by Paul in the Book of Acts (Acts 20:35). Paul quotes it to encourage the Ephesian elders to support “the weak”, by earning sufficient money to do so.
But was he saying, “Please be generous because it will bless you“? Or was he saying, “be careful in this, because by giving money, you will in fact be blessing yourselves more than the people you support“? We can’t actually be sure.
“I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing. You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed.
– Acts 20:33-36
In any case, I see first-hand where a problem arises among those who are in a position to “give” to those who are unable to support themselves. What happens is that the “givers” are affirmed in their own self-worth at the expense of the person who is forced to accept a handout.
Not that there’s anything wrong with giving to fill a need. In fact, that’s a wonderful thing to do! The challenge is doing it in a helpful way, and that’s often very difficult. Here are some suggestions and ideas:
- If you’re feeding “the poor” in a soup kitchen, what about asking some of “them” for their help? If they have a role in providing food to the hungry they are suddenly and dramatically translated from the realm of “charity case” to the role of “community benefactor”. Furthermore they are currently living in a world that doesn’t value them. Find a way to making them a valued member of your team, and watch the transformation happen.
- If you’re giving money to someone who is homeless, don’t just chuck your money and walk by. Stop and talk! This is a human being. They have a story. They are ignored by thousands of people a day, and your five minutes of listening to them might literally be the difference between resolving to keep hoping instead of necking themselves.
- When someone thanks you for helping them, turn around and tell them something surprising, like “you’re worth it”. This takes the focus off you, and shines a very pointed light often at a source of real discomfort for many people: they don’t feel worthwhile! By saying this you are turning your charitable act into a powerful declaration that they actually are a worthwhile person.
- When you’re dishing out gifts to those who could not have afforded them, thank those people for something. Thank them for coming, and making your day. Thank them for their lovely smile. Thank them for something they said…
In other words, find a way to make them the giver. Become the receiver, and thereby switch the blessing around. It is more blessed to give, so let someone else have a turn.
In writing this, I am reminded of another article I wrote over two years ago. It touched on this theme too. Take a look: