Giving rebounds into our lives in a variety of ways, writes John Denne.
Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” And giving is about making a living on this planet where death rules. Research by Robert Coles (Children of Crisis, 2003) shows that whether we are rich, poor or disenfranchised, joy is not an attribute of any particular socio-economic group. Rather, it comes from service. Real giving is, therefore, about making a life joyous through service; there is really no other way to have lasting joy, and it's this that Jesus taught.
Jesus' fourth commandment
Luke 6:37, 38 records Jesus' fourth commandment. It says that He gave four commands—two negative, two positive. Jesus said, first, we are not to “judge”; second, “condemn”; third, we are to “forgive”; and, finally, “give.” This fourth command says: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” This commandment is about giving; it's about the miracle of generosity. If we have a generous measure when we give, we will receive generously.
Miracles do happen
The picture Jesus paints is from the marketplace. If we live generous lives, He says, it will be like us going to a trader who is selling grain or flour. We come to the trader to have our container filled, and the trader not only fills our container to the brim but presses the grain down and shakes the container to fit in as much as possible.
Furthermore, Jesus says, when we live generous lives, not only will our jar be full, but so will our lap. In Jesus' time and culture, the long cloth garments worn could be pulled up like an apron to form a basket in which to carry produce. Carrying goods in this way was to “have your lap full.” Jesus' fourth commandment says that when we live generous lives, not only will we get back “good measure” for what we give, but we will need more than our container to hold what will come back to us.
There is joy in having your lap full, but it comes from first of all being generous yourself.
Yes, it can backfire, but ...
Now of course it can happen that we can be generous and it can “backfire,” and we become the object and victim of a less-than-generous person. But as a general principle, when we give generously, we get more back than ever we give.
There was Peter …
The first person I ever influenced to follow Jesus was Peter. Peter was a paraplegic who'd been in a wheelchair for 30 years. He had contracted polio at the age of eight.
My family enjoyed many happy times with Peter. He would eat in our home. We would yarn and share stories. We would laugh together—there were a lot of laughs—go out to socialise, attend worship services, and act in concerts together. We would push him around the stage in his wheelchair.
Often, late at night, I would take him home to the institution where he lived, and because it would be too late for staff to help, I would get him into bed. But I'm sure that in giving to Peter, it did me more good than it ever did him. There was Peter, and together we were making life joyous on this planet of misfortune. The miracle was happening. I was getting back more than I ever gave.
I remember others …
I remember my mother, who lived to give to her children, her husband and community. She would say she received more love than ever she gave.
I remember when we were raising funds to build a significant building to serve the community's spiritual and social needs. A retired couple, with no home of their own, chose to give with joy and generosity, even when we encouraged them to look after themselves first. They had a belief in the mission of Jesus and the principles of His kingdom.
I think of a young businessman who generously spends most of his time joyously working for his local church while others run his business. With his skills, he could spend his time earning large sums of money. But he spends his time in more significant ways by investing in people.
I think of the wonderful response there was to those in need following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. Those of us who gave had much joy in helping those affected by the trauma.
I think of a new convert to Christianity who learned about the principles of returning tithes and offerings to bless others. He really struggled with returning God his portion, the tenth. In frustration, he said to God, “If You want to have some, then You can have the lot.” He then proceeded to put the whole of his week's pay into the offering plate at the next opportunity. Then, the following pay day, he found that he'd received a pay rise, with back pay that more than compensated his generosity. (I'm not suggesting this as an ongoing practice, however!)
I think of those who give up large incomes to work for people-helping agencies. They have the joy of their lap being full.
I think of a friend, a wealthy man, who is so keen to see Jesus come again that he sold his shares to provide for those who can't afford to receive Christian media resources. He has had much satisfaction from giving.
Those we really admire
Think of the people we really admire. Who are they? Are they those who live to get or those who live to give. The people I admire are my wife, my mother, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr, Fred Hollows, Sir Edmund Hillary and Simpson of Gallipoli, among others. But a far greater model is Jesus. Those who are the greatest givers are the greatest lovers, and their enduring status makes them the beacons for me to follow.
Where real “giving” resides
Giving doesn't reside in the domain of the rich or the reluctant, the stingy or the selfish. Nor does happiness. Real giving comes from the heart of God. That's what the Bible teaches. That's why the Bible says “God is love” (see 1 John 3:16-20; 4:7-12).
The gift of giving is available to all, but only real givers make a life joyous through service. We all need to put to ourselves the proposition made by Churchill: “Am I making a living, or am I making a life?”
Ecclesiastes 11:1 also expresses the miracle of generosity when it says, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.” Anyone knows that when one casts bread upon water that it goes soggy and decomposes. But when we are generous the impossible happens, and it comes back to us whole. When you give, “it will be given to you.”