Think about all you receive on a daily basis. What comes to mind? You might receive a compliment from your spouse, perhaps a paycheck, or maybe a meal cooked for you? On some days - like your birthday - you might receive more. And it’s fun to get stuff, right? I like it when people tell me they like something I did, or when I receive money or gifts. But Paul is challenging us in these words from Acts 20:35, that our attitude toward giving and receiving is yet another way where Christians get a chance to look different from the rest of the world.
To those of us raised in the church, giving seems second nature at times. We tithe (with minimal grumbling), we volunteer with nonprofits (as long it doesn’t take up too much time on Saturday), and we donate our (gently?) used items to Goodwill when we’re done with them.
Now, imagine you’re from a culture where for decades you didn’t do any giving. You received what the State thought you should receive -- the exact same amount of money, apartment space, etc. as most people you knew - so why give? In being a passive recipient, you had all you needed - no more, and probably rather less. So did your neighbor, and her neighbor, and each worker in the machine. That was the reality of living in a Communist state (like Romania was from after WWII through 1989; incidentally, the photo to the right is gilded bathroom the Dictator Ceausescu enjoyed while he razed his people's homes and moved them to squalid apartment blocs).
Can you see how Paul’s Acts 20 statement presents a unique opportunity to teach and minister in Romania and other post-Communist cultures today? For decades, people kept their head down and didn’t give. They didn’t give money or time. They didn’t give thought. They didn’t give trust. One of the missionaries we spoke with in Romania shared Acts 20:35 as a verse he’s internalized throughout his time ministering here. He challenges the Romanian students he works with to think critically about problems, to give trust to their teammates, and to give time back to their community through Impact Clubs.
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You know, there’s a lot I could say to close this post, and honestly, I’ve been struggling for like 3 days with the best way to do so. I could write for pages and pages about joyful giving… I could say that you, American Christian, should be an example in all kinds of giving… I could reflect on how amazing it is that the gospel presents us with unique ways to engage with and challenge the culture around us…
In the end, though, what I think I want to challenge you to remember is what Paul says toward the end 2 Corinthians 9 (and see also Jesus’ similar point about “the least of these…”). When you give to your church, your neighbor, or your spouse, you aren’t really giving to them — you’re giving to God. When you’re behaving selfishly, you’re not denying the blessing to your neighbor, you’re denying the God of the Universe. So whether you have tithed since your first allowance, or you’re just starting to volunteer in your community, God sees that, he blesses it (again, see 2 Cor. 9), and He makes it into a beautiful, diverse harvest.