It Is More Blessed To Give Than To Receive

Bible Book: Acts  20 : 32-35
Subject: Christmas; Stewardship; Giving
Series: All I Needed To Know About Christmas...

In 1988 Robert Fulgham wrote what quickly became a very popular book entitled, All I Really Need to Know...I Learned in Kindergarten. Thanks in part to it’s catchy title Fulgham’s book was on the New York Times best seller list for more than two years. I imagine many of you have read it. If not, you might have read one of the many copy-cat versions that have been written over the years. My favorite was: All I Really Need to Know...I Learned From Watching Star Trek.

The basic point of Fulgham’s book—and the copy-cat versions it inspired—is that many of life’s lessons are learned in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect. And—whereas I don’t agree with everything Fulgham says—I do agree with him on this basic principle because there have been times when I’ve seen it proven out in my own life. For example, as surprising as it may seem, seminary didn’t offer courses on some of the practical aspects of pastoral ministry. I mean, I didn’t learn things like how to run committee meetings in seminary. I learned that by trial and error—mostly error.

And—as you examine your own life I think you’ll see experiences that validate this principle because we do learn many of basic life lessons in surprising places. The problem with this kind of learning is that many times the lessons we absorb in this way are flawed because we learn them in the WRONG places—and that is certainly true when it comes to Christmas. Our fallen culture has distorted the message of this day of days such that people have come to have a very warped understanding of the true meaning of this holiday. For example: If we watch the business report on the news we would be told that Christmas is that annual holiday set aside to save the ECONOMY...because all the stores put their hopes for making a yearly profit during the month of December. After all, Black Friday is when they finally stop operating in the red...and begin to actually make money. So—for many people that’s what Christmas is. They have learned that it’s a sure-fire way to make a buck.

Others have learned that Christmas is a nostalgic season when we focus on Rudolph and jolly old St. Nick and Frosty the Snowman. They decorate their lawn with lights and inflatables to reflect this focus. They fill their homes with holiday music like: Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire and I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas. Now—don’t get me wrong. I love buying Christmas gifts. I’m glad it helps the economy. And, I approve of tinsel, ornaments, Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and unorthodox myths like Frosty and Rudolph. I even love singing the secular songs of the season. You should hear my rendition of Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer! The problem for me is that every year people seem to make Christmas less and less about Christ. In fact, if you attend your child’s Christmas music program in the public school you could conclude that Christmas is a time to avoid mentioning Christ at all costs.


Well, this advent, I’d like to do my part in trying to correct this faulty education when it comes to what we really need to know about Christmas. I want us to focus on what should be the Focus of Christmas—Christ—by looking at things Jesus said that help us to grasp the fullest implications of His birth. My prayer is that these sermons will make not just Christmas—but your whole life—merrier. This morning we begin by looking at something the Christ of Christmas said to the Apostle Paul. It’s one of those rare places in this New Testament book where the ink on the page is red. I’m referring to Acts 20:35. Listen as I read beginning with verse 32. Paul says,

32 - Now I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

33 - I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing.

34 - You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.

35 - In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

I think this text is a great place to begin in correcting the flawed “Christmas education” we get in today’s world...because for the vast majority of us Christmas has become a time to GET. We begin learning this “lesson” when we’re little TV commercials and Christmas wish-book toy catalogues and department store Santa’s and computer pop up ads and even parents....encourage us to make a list of the things we want to GET under the Christmas tree.

But—please don’t brand me as a Scrooge. I have enjoyed getting—for 56 Christmases now—but in our text Jesus said that true joy—the BEST joy—LASTING joy—is found not in getting—but giving. This morning I want us to look to God’s Word in order to educate ourselves as to why this is so—WHY it is indeed better—more blessed—to GIVE than to RECEIVE.

(1) And the first lesson we must learn to fully understand Jesus’ words is that RECEIVING...GETTING MORE and more and more—will never make us truly happy.

Lasting joy—authentic blessedness—is not found in MORE.

There’s an old movie I remember seeing years ago entitled Key Largo. It stars Edward G. Robinson in the role that defined him. He’s a GANGSTER whose life is filled with violence and deceit. In the film he holds a family hostage. As part of the dialogue someone asks him what makes him want to live this kind of life but try as he might Robinson can’t answer this question. So, one of the hostages, played by Humphrey Bogart, SUGGESTS an answer. He says, “I know what you want. You want MORE.” Robinson’s face brightens as he says, “Yeah! That’s it! That’s what I want. I want MORE.”

The sad truth is this attitude is not just found in movie characters. It’s found in real people—some of whom are in this very room. In fact, the wanting of more has even been seen in life of the person behind this pulpit. ALL OF US have made the mistake of buying into the myth of more—the belief that if we RECEIVE and RECEIVE and RECEIVE — well, eventually MORE will be enough. This is why so many of us spend our lives looking for THE NEXT THING to get more of. It might be another fancier car or another promotion or another relationship. It might be the newest version of an I-pod or the latest version of a Tickle Me Elmo toy or the fanciest phone or laptop. It might be another bigger television with more “d” than the last....or it might simply more money. But—whatever it is—we keep hoping and believing that the next thing we get more of will be IT...the source of true satisfaction for our souls. And—for a few minutes or even hours on Christmas morning...maybe even for a few days afterwards, we think we have IT. We think we’re finally satisfied. The problem is this feeling always wears off and we find ourselves right back where we started—wanting to receive MORE.

Fifty years ago there was a woman who was the most admired female in the country. In fact, women around the world envied her and men at all levels of culture dreamed of her. She had beauty, money, and so much fame that even decades after her death many of her personal possessions brought high bids at a public auction in Southern California. But this woman—Marilyn Monroe—died alone—at her own hand. Here’s a question to consider: if Ms. Monroe had ONE MORE hit movie, ONE MORE magazine cover, ONE MORE sexual relationship with a powerful man, would it have been enough? Would she have been happy—would she have been fulfilled enough such that she wouldn’t give in to the despair that led her to end her life? I don’t think so....because even the people in history who have had MORE of anything they wanted have learned that MORE never brings us satisfaction.

King Solomon is a perfect example. He had more wives, more money, more homes, more fame—and he learned that more is a myth. Do you remember his words? He said that “Striving to GET more is no better than chasing after the wind.” It never satisfies our wanting.

I’m reminded of a time years ago when I had to take Keflex for a sinus infection. About two days into the dosage my entire body was covered with hives. All I wanted to do was scratch—and I did—both because it felt so good—and also in the hope that more scratching would lead to the satisfaction of less itching. But it didn’t. The more I scratched—the more I itched. And if you’ve had hives or poison ivy or whatever—you have learned that no one ever made an itch go away by SCRATCHING. Similarly no one ever made the “itch” for more go away by GETTING. As Solomon said, it is a pointless pursuit. It only frustrates us and increases our hunger for REAL satisfaction.

You’d think mankind would learn this lesson because study after study has validated Solomon’s conclusion—showing that getting more does not mean we will be more happy. One of the most interesting studies focused on lottery winners and it was done by Dr. Ronnie Janoff Bulman and her colleagues. They compared 22 winners of major lotteries to 22 average people and also to 29 victims of sudden paralysis. Over time the lottery winners reverted to their pre-lottery levels of happiness or depression...and in fact wound up no happier than the 22 “average people.” These lottery winners—people who suddenly had MORE money than they had ever dreamed of having even lost much of their ability to extract joy from small pleasures. On the other hand, the paralysis victims were not nearly as unhappy as might be expected. Once they got over the shock of their misfortune, they were actually more capable of experiencing joy from small pleasures than the lottery winners. And although it’s hard to believe, they were actually more optimistic about their prospect for future happiness than the lottery winners. Studies like this should remind us that as God’s Word teaches, one place happiness is not in GETTING MORE...but rather by learning to be CONTENT with less...CONTENT with what God gives us. Happy people can say with the Apostle Paul, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him Who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

I’m reminded of an old Peanuts comic strip that showed Snoopy laying on his dog house on Thanksgiving day. He’s upset that Charlie Brown is enjoying a huge turkey dinner while he’s stuck with cold dog food. But then he smiles as he comes to a wise conclusion. Snoopy says, “It could have been worse. I could have been born a turkey!” Now—if SNOOPY can learn this lesson...that it could always be worse...shouldn’t we be able to as well? Let’s drill ourselves on it a bit. Let’s remind ourselves it can always be worse. Today when you leave the church and head out to your car—as you put the key in the ignition and begin to think, “If I only had a BETTER car...” — instead say to yourself, “It could be worse.” Say it with me—with some passion!

Okay...then when you drive to your neighborhood and pull in the driveway and look at your house and you are tempted to think, “If I only had a NICER house...”...tell yourself, “It could be worse.” When you turn on the television to watch the ball game and you think, “If I only had a BIGGER screen...” tell yourself—with passion, “It could be worse...” Tomorrow when you women wake up and look over at your husbands lying there next to you and think, “If only...”

Now—I’m not saying that to be successful or wealthy is a bad thing—it can be a wonderful calling—a great blessing of God that enables you to enrich the lives of others. And that leads me to a second principle that is found in Jesus’ statement. Remember? Our Lord said that the greatest blessing is found not in receiving but in GIVING.

(2) You see, GETTING...RECEIVING won’t make you happy—but GIVING to meet the needs of others will.

Its just like the old saying that goes, “Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from their own lives.”

And let’s admit it—isn’t it FUN to see the joy that our gifts to others brings? On Christmas morning, don’t you look forward to seeing the joy that the gifts you got for others bring them? Doesn’t it make you good to see them thrilled? Sure it does. Well, this is a principle that TRULY happy people have embraced. In fact, I have never known someone who was a truly giving person who did not also have a smile on their face. GIVING and JOY seem to be a package deal. You see, as eternal beings made in the image of God, we were made—we were designed—to find joy in doing things of ETERNAL significance—like GIVING. Let me put it this way. Getting doesn’t last—but GIVING to help PEOPLE does.

In his book It All Goes Back in the Box, John Ortberg tells of a pastor who preached a sermon in which he stood in front of his congregation with a roll of stickers in his hand. Behind him on the platform were tables filled with props that represented the stuff of our lives—a Matchbox car to represent our love affair with the automobile, a dollhouse to represent our homes, a tiny desk that was meant to represent our careers...a wardrobe full of clothes...a checkbook...a television. You get the idea. Well, the pastor roamed the stage and placed a red sticker on each item and as he did he explained to his congregation that they might not be able to see it from where they were sitting, he told them that each red sticker contained the same word: TEMPORARY. The pastor said, “Everything that I’m putting a sticker on is temporary. It will not last. It will fade away.

We invest our emotions in them because when we acquire it, it gives us a little thrill. And we think the thrill will last. But it does not. It fades. And eventually so will what we acquire. If you are living for what you see up here, then you are living for what is temporary. Temporary satisfaction, temporary fulfillment, temporary meaning. IT will come to an end—but YOU never will. So IT will only leave YOU with a terrible emptiness.” After he said this the pastor plastered red stickers on everything sitting on the stage...pronouncing with his hands the ultimate fate of the greatest goods this world has to offer.

Now, think about this. TEMPORARY is a word that never appears in ads on TV or in the temptations that play out in our minds. But the pastor was right wasn’t he!?

Well, when he finished his pink sticker placements the pastor said, “There is only one thing in this room that is NOT temporary. There’s only one item that you will be allowed to take with you from this life into the next.” He had a little girl join him on the stage, and he put a BLUE sticker on the collar of her dress, saying, “When you get to the end of your life and take in your last breath, what do you want your life to have been about? What will make you truly happy? What will make you rich toward God? PEOPLE—letting God use you to love and help people in His name.”

Listen! Wise people build their lives around what is eternal and squeeze in what is temporary. Most of us do the opposite. In fact, take a moment to examine your life—your schedule. As you do put an imaginary red sticker on the things that are temporary and an imaginary blue one on the things that are eternal. Then back up and do an imaginary scanning of your life. What color of sticker is most prominent—blue or pink? You know, if we were to do a study—we’d find that the people with the most BLUE stickers in their lives are much happier. They would consider themselves much more blessed...than the people with more RED ones. You see, as I said, we were made in the image of GOD—and God is a GIVER. As James says, “Every good and perfect GIFT is from above...coming down from the Father.”

Our Father designed you and me. He programmed GIVE—not to RECEIVE. We were made to invest in PEOPLE—not things. That’s where the true JOY is—because when we GIVE to meet the needs of others—we are acting like God. When we focus on others we are joining our Heavenly Father in His eternal work.

Now—this is going to sound like I’m bragging—but I’m not. I’m just telling you about this because it excites me. It’s already making my Christmas a merry one. Every year—like many of you—we Adamses struggle to find the right gifts for our extended family. And when you get to our age and have been doing this for year after year after year—it can get hard to think of things to give our family that we haven’t already given them. For example, we think things like, “I can’t give mom a sweater—did that last year. Can’t give our niece a doll...did that year before. Can’t give my brother that DVD. He already has it, etc.” So this year instead of giving each other MORE of things we really don’t need—things we don’t have room Sue’s family we have covenanted to pool the money we would have used to buy gifts for each other to pay for a new home in Haiti. The North American Mission Board is heading up a ministry called “Haiti Rebuild” to construct homes lost in the earthquake. These homes cost $2,000...and we think that with the entire extended family giving we can raise the necessary funds. The cool thing is NAMB is using Haitians to do the work so they’ll not only get a new home—they’ll learn skills that will enable them to have an income. We are far more excited about GIVING to this...than RECEIVING more things. Plus—I won’t be spending hours walking through crowded malls! Nor will I get home Christmas night and have to unload the car with all those gifts we don’t have room for! You might want to consider doing something like that with your extended family—as a way to have a truly blessed Christmas....because in giving we in essence touch eternity. And you don’t have to give $2, of yourself—your time—can be a great blessing to others for years to come. In fact, you and I won’t know the full impact of our GIVING to help others until we get to Heaven because GIVING of yourself can be the gift that keeps on giving!

In his book, The Noticer, Andy Andrews illustrates this principle with some true historical facts. He says that a man named Norman Bourlag was 91 when he was informed that he had been personally responsible for saving 2 billion lives. This is a picture of Norman. He was the guy who hybridized corn and wheat back in the 60's so it would grow in arid climates. Well, the Nobel committee, the Fulbright Scholars, and many other experts have calculated that across the world—in Central and South America, Western Africa, across Europe and Asia, throughout the plains of Siberia, and America’s own desert Southwest, Bourlag’s work has saved the lives of over two billion people—lives that would have been lost to famine—and of course the number is increasing every day. But Bourlag’s amazing “gift” to the world started long before that. In fact, Bourlag can’t take all the credit for those saved lives because the person who made Bourlag’s work possible was a man named Henry Wallace, Vice President under FDR. You see, Wallace used the power of his office to create a agricultural research station in Mexico with the sole purpose of finding out how to make corn and wheat grow in such climates..and he hired Bourlag to run it. So Wallace’s giving was a part of all this. But—the credit also has to be shared with someone else—a man named George Washington Carver. You see Carver—a brilliant scientist in his own right who discovered 266 products that can be made from the peanut and promoted the idea of the victory garden in WWII...Carver had a friend at Iowa State who let his six-year-old boy go on botanical expeditions on weekends with Professor Carver. Through these weekend expeditions, it was George Washington Carver who gave this kid, Henry Wallace, a vision about what could be done with plants to save humanity. So really, Carver also had a hand in saving 2 billion people and counting from starvation. But...we have to go further back still because the credit for this gift to the world must be shared with another person...a simple farmer in Diamond, Missouri, named Moses Carver. Moses lived and farmed in the mid to late 1800's. Moses had a wife named Susan. They lived in a slave state but didn’t believe in slavery themselves. In fact, Susan Carver’s best friend was an African American woman named Mary Washington. Well, one cold winter night a horrible thing happened. Some of Quantrill’s Raiders attacked and kidnaped Mary and her infant son George. In an attempt to rescue them both Moses sent out word and arranged a meeting with the kidnappers offering to pay a ransom to get Mary and little George back safely. When the meeting was set Moses rode his horse—the only one he owned—to the rendevous...which was several hours away. It was a cold January night and when he arrived he found four of the raiders wearing masks and holding a burlap bag. They told him that Mary had been killed but that they would trade Moses his horse for the contents of the burlap bag. Moses suspected what the bag contained so he agreed and dismounted. They threw the bag to him and rode off. Moses opened the bag and sure enough the infant George was inside—cold and nearly dead. Moses unbuttoned his shirt and put the baby inside next to his skin to get him warm. Then he closed his shirt and coat and walked all the way home...praying all the way. Well, that little baby lived and Moses raised him as his own. He gave him his name and provided him with a good education. So, Moses and Susan Carver, adoptive parents of George Washington Carver, had a hand in saving 2 billion people and counting from starvation.

I was thinking...I wonder how many of those billions have heard and responded to the gospel—simply because they were able to live long enough to do so? I wonder how many of those Christians...shared their faith with others? I mean, the eternal implications of Moses’ act must be amazing!

Now—I can’t promise that your giving will have that kind of impact...but I can promise that it will bring you the joy that you long for!

So—MORE won’t make us happy. Giving will...but there’s one final principle I have to point out—a basic fact that helps us learn and experience all the implications of Jesus’ words.

(3) Giving sacrificially instead of receiving selfishly—gets us what we really want in the first place: a deeper relationship with God.

Let me put it this way, when we focus on giving to others we get what we have wanted to find under the Christmas tree all along—we get what Adam and Eve lost...we get a closer walk with our Creator. Here’s how it works. Giving can be costly. I mean, many times meeting the needs of others forces us to dip deeply into our bank accounts. But that’s okay because it puts us in that blessed position of having to trust God to meet our needs. And the glorious news of Christmas is that He will. As Paul puts it in Romans 8:32, “He Who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” If God will give You His Son—don’t you think we can trust Him to provide for our other needs? Of course He will. In fact, over and over again in the Bible God says that He will do exactly that.


In 2nd Corinthians 9:8 Paul says, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” Psalm 37:25 says, “I was young and now I am old but I have never seen the righteous forsaken or his seed beg for bread.” My favorite is in Matthew 7:11 where Jesus says, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” When we give sacrificially, relying on Him to take care of us—we link arms with God Himself—and nothing is more blessed than that!


Father God,

Forgive us for the ways we foolishly seek happiness. Forgive us for drinking from the wells of this world. Speak to us today—and point us in the direction of true joy. Guide us such that we find the blessedness Your Son talked about in this text. Help us to be GIVERS instead of GETTERS. Lead us to experience the joy this Christmas that is found in joining You in Your great work. I ask this in JESUS’ name. AMEN

As we stand and sing, we invite you to respond publically or privately in any way that God leads.


Let the PEACE OF CHRIST rule in your hearts
since as members of one body you were called to peace.
Let the WORD OF CHRIST dwell in you richly
and whatever you word or in deed
Do it all in the NAME OF CHRIST giving thanks to God the Father
through Him.