The True Spirit of Giving

As the insanity of Black Friday shopping winds down, I thought I’d post some thoughts on giving. I imagine many people would say they give often. Christmas. Birthdays. Baby Showers. It seems opportunities and obligations to give crop up every few weeks.

But giving–real giving–is more than just buying a department store item and wrapping it up in a big, pretty bow for a friend. Giving is both an attitude and an act. If you have one without the other, it’s not really giving.

Let me explain: Real giving has a sacrificial aspect. It’s supposed to touch the recipient in a meaningful way and provide him or her with something of value. Needless to say, some people live their entire lives without ever engaging in true giving.

There are three types of givers: stingy givers, non-givers and cheerful givers. Nobody likes a stingy giver. Yet we’ve all seen people who fit the description. Anytime anyone asks them to volunteer or donate something, they grumble, sigh and roll their eyes. They may show up to an event with items in hand to give, but they aren’t happy about it. Whenever an item leaves their possession, they wince–as if parting with it is physically painful. They may even try to hold onto items, responding with a “Fine! Just take it!” whenever the person in need insists on claiming the desirable possession. Stingy givers make recipients feel guilty about taking the gifts they offer. They want the recipients to know they went through a lot of trouble to provide their service or items of value.

The greatest gift ever given was Christ’s blood shed for the sins of mankind. Imagine if Jesus had been a stingy giver. Could you see him dragging his feet as he walked the road to Golgotha? “All right, I’m going,” he would say. “But I want you to know that this is a big inconvenience for me! You guys owe me later.” Thank goodness that wasn’t his attitude!

Non-givers can also be pretty frustrating. They claim to love giving, but they never actually do it. They bemoan the plight of the poor and wish they could do something to help, but they ‘can’t.’ Or they ‘forget.’ “Oh, the canned food drive was this Saturday? I totally blanked!” they say. Or, “I would LOVE to volunteer, but I can never seem to find the time between work and the kids.” Non-givers seem really enthusiastic about giving, but nothing ever leaves their hands.

What if Jesus had been a non-giver? Perhaps he would have said, “Yeah, it’s terrible that so many people live separated from God because of the law. I’d love to do something about it, but I promised my friends I’d go to their fish fry this Saturday.” But that wasn’t him, either.

The third kind of giver is the cheerful giver. This is the kind of giver God says He loves in 2 Corinthians 9:7. Cheerful givers are the true givers. Their hearts overflow with generosity and compassion. When they give, there are smiles of joy on their faces. They give in spite of limited resources. They volunteer in spite of busy schedules. Giving is a routine part of their existence.

I have the privilege of knowing some cheerful givers. They live in a small town, have three children and often struggle to make ends meet. Up until recently, the husband was underemployed and the wife was very ill, requiring several expensive medications. They lost their house over a year ago due to hard times. Yet even in some of their most dire circumstances, they have continued to give out of their personal resources, buying meals for the homeless and donating winter coats to needy children. And they don’t try to draw attention to their generosity to make themselves look good, either.

Jesus was also a cheerful giver. Although he wasn’t exactly whooping and cheering when he went to his crucifixion, he went willingly with his heart full of compassion for all of mankind. He was neither stingy nor hesitant.

Matthew 5:46-47 says,

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

If you only give to those who are giving to you, of what value is your gift?

It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of the annual Christmas gift exchange and forget about real giving–the giving that Jesus calls us to and that he himself personified–sacrificial giving. Imagine what our world could look like if we all gave selflessly to those in need. Perhaps we’d be beating down the doors of the local soup kitchens on Thanksgiving night instead of beating down the doors to Macy’s or Best Buy. Want to live revolutionary? Be a real giver.

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