As a child in church, I remember hearing this verse from Acts 20:35 as more of a reprimand than a command. Don't take the last cookie for yourself. Give it to someone else. You'll be happier.
As a teenager and young adult, I heard many a sermon in the prosperity gospel movement about giving in order to receive blessing. In an oversimplification, giving equalled selflessness and led to prosperity. Receiving equalled selfishness and led to want.
Thankfully, as we grow in Christ, our understanding of the Word grows, too. We learn to view the oft-quoted verse in the less-quoted context. With time and study, I've come to love Jesus' words by way of Paul in a new, broader light.
Paul, setting a precedent for itinerant ministers and revival preachers, has traveled and preached all over Asia Minor. He finds himself in Ephesus and speaks to the church leaders. After recalling the joys and struggles of time he spent with them, he encourages them to persevere through the difficult times ahead. He offers loving advice. He reminds them of the cost they've paid to follow Jesus Christ: crucified with him. Help those who are weak. Let the Holy Spirit and not selfish ambition motivate their actions. Choose to give abundantly as they have received God's grace abundantly.
He preaches an awesome sermon too often reduced to one statement. His quotation of Jesus ends the speech. What happens next is even more powerful.
After he reminds them to give, Paul practices what he has said. He prays for them. He gives of his time and love.
Then the people turn around and give back to Paul. They hug him. They thank him. They express their love in tears.
He receives their love.
How different the story would have ended if Paul had stood up after the prayer and said, "Okay, I've given to you, and now it's time for me to go. I can't receive anything from you because it's better to give than receive. No reception for me! I'm a giver"
Instead the story is a beautiful cycle of giving and receiving. Yes, God calls us to give. God also calls us to receive what one another gives.
Last Sunday, the members of St. Luke UMC and Shipman Chapel gave a reception for their pastor who moves this month. At the start time, the pastor awkwardly asked someone, "What am I supposed to do?" She said, "Exactly what you're doing. Stand there, and let people come to you."
In other words: stand there and receive people's hugs and tears and words.
Pastors easily fall into the trap of giving time and giving energy and giving care and.... wearing ourselves out. Anyone in a caretaker's profession is familiar with such compassion fatigue. As blessed as giving is, we lack the energy to give if we don't welcome the gifts of others.
For three hours last Sunday in the St. Luke fellowship hall, I remembered the blessing of receiving. I am better equipped to give because of the love received from church and community members. What a greater blessing giving has become because of the love received.
all good things to each of you,