A pastor breathed life into the phrase “He’d give you the shirt off his back” when he gave this unsettling challenge to his church: “What would happen if we took the coats off our backs and gave them to the needy?” Then he took his own coat and laid it at the front of the church. Dozens of others followed his example. This was during the winter, so the trip home was surely less comfortable that day. But for dozens of people in need, the season warmed up just a bit that day.
When John the Baptist roamed the Judean wilderness, he had a stern warning for the crowd that came to hear him. “You brood of vipers!” he said. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:7–8). Startled, they asked him, “What should we do then?” He responded with this advice: “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same” (vv. 10–11). True repentance produces a generous heart.
Because “God loves a person who gives cheerfully” (NLT), giving should never be guilt-based or coercive (2 Cor. 9:7). But when we give liberally, we find that it truly is more blessed to give than to receive.
The little boy was only eight when he announced to his parents’ friend Wally, “I love Jesus and want to serve God overseas someday.” During the next ten years or so, Wally prayed for him as he watched him grow up. When this young man later applied with a mission agency to go to Mali, Wally told him, “It’s about time! When…
Several years ago when the Southern California economy took a downturn, Pastor Bob Johnson saw not only difficulty but also opportunity. So he scheduled a meeting with the mayor of his city and asked, “What can our church do to help you?” The mayor was astonished. People usually came to him for help. Here was a minister offering him the services of an entire congregation.
Together the mayor and pastor came up with a plan to address several pressing needs. In their county alone, more than 20,000 seniors had gone the previous year without a single visitor. Hundreds of foster children needed families. And many other kids needed tutoring to help them succeed in school.
Some of those needs could be addressed without much financial investment, but they all required time and interest. And that’s what the church had to give.
Jesus told His disciples about a future day in which He would say to His faithful followers, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance” (Matt. 25:34). He also said they would express surprise at their reward. Then He would tell them, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (v. 40).
God’s kingdom work gets done when we give generously of the time, love, and resources He has provided us.
In 1891, Biddy Mason was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in Los Angeles. That wasn’t unusual for a woman born into slavery, but it was remarkable for someone as accomplished as Biddy. After winning her freedom in a court battle in 1856, she combined her nursing skills with wise business decisions to make a small fortune. As she observed the plight of immigrants and prisoners, she reached out to them, investing in charity so frequently that people began lining up at her house for help. In 1872, just sixteen years out of slavery, she and her son-in-law financed the founding of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles.
Biddy embodied the apostle Paul’s words: “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’” (Acts 20:35). Paul came from privilege, not slavery, yet he chose a life that would lead to his imprisonment and martyrdom so that he could serve Christ and others.
In 1988, benefactors unveiled a tombstone for Biddy Mason. In attendance were the mayor of Los Angeles and nearly 3,000 members of the little church that had begun in her home over a century earlier. Biddy once said, “The open hand is blessed, for it gives an abundance even as it receives.” The hand that gave so generously received a rich legacy.
Many charities that help people with various needs depend on donations of unwanted clothing and household items from those who have more than enough. And it’s good to give away unused things so they can benefit others. But we are often more reluctant to part with things of value that we use every day.
When Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he needed continuing encouragement and the companionship of trusted friends. Yet he sent two of his closest comrades to help the followers of Jesus in Philippi (Phil. 2:19-30). “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon . . . . I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare” (vv. 19-20). And, “I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs” (v. 25). Paul freely gave to others what he most needed himself.
Whatever we feel is “most valued” in our lives today could be of great benefit to someone we know. It may be our time, friendship, encouragement, a listening ear, or a helping hand. When we give away what the Lord has given to us, He is honored, others are helped, and we are blessed.
Packing groceries into the trunk of my car, I glanced at the vehicle next to me. Through the back window, I could see baskets full of bright red tomatoes—shiny, plump, and better looking than any I had seen in the store. When the car’s owner appeared seconds later, I said, “What great looking tomatoes!” She replied, “I had a good crop this year. Would you like some?” Surprised by her willingness to share, I gladly accepted. She gave me several free tomatoes to take home—they tasted as good as they looked!
A television commercial I enjoy at Christmastime shows two neighbors in a friendly competition with each other to see who can spread the most Christmas cheer. Each keeps an eye on the other as he decorates his house and trees with lights. Then each upgrades his own property to look better than the other’s. They then start competing over who can give the most extravagantly to other neighbors, running around cheerfully sharing gifts.
It made no sense for a widow to donate her last few coins to a corrupt institution in Jerusalem, where scribes who were dependent on those gifts “devour[ed] widows’ houses” (Mark 12:40). But in that woman’s act, Jesus saw a moving display of the proper attitude toward money (vv.41-44).
Outside my office window, the squirrels are in a race against winter to bury their acorns in a safe, accessible place. Their commotion amuses me. An entire herd of deer can go through our back yard and not make a sound, but one squirrel sounds like an invasion.