By Dr. Jim Sulliman
There are four different types of “giving,” and all are important, but the effort required in each of them varies greatly.
In the United States, each fall, we turn our attention to “thanks” giving. Amid our Civil War, President Lincoln sought to unite our country by declaring his intention “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Years before he made that proclamation, various states had set aside different dates to thank God for His incalculable blessings. And many, many years before that, it was spelled out in scripture, where we are told…
“In all circumstances give thanks.” (1 Thes 4:18)
A second “giving” is when we share our abundance with others. An illusion of generosity is sometimes created when we observe people giving great numbers of dollars to a particular cause when they, in fact, have far more money than they need. I have long been amused by people who go on and on about how kind and unselfish a person was by leaving large sums of money to individuals and organizations in their will. Not to diminish their acts of kindness, but what else were they to do with it after they DIED?! I think God might be a little more interested in how we loved, served, and cared for one another while we were alive. What we leave behind should be a reflection of THAT. I’m not sure that living an entire life of selfishness with no concern for others’ welfare is countered by leaving all we have to the Church.
In a perfect world where everyone puts the love of God and caring for those in need through no fault of their own, materialism has no place. We see what that looks like in the early Church.
“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.”
(Acts 2: 42-45)
While this might sound a bit like socialism, it is actually “Christianism.” In fact, it is very similar to what mothers and fathers do each day with all their children, providing for each according to their needs while demonstrating love and encouraging responsibility and growth. If everyone recognized that we were all one family through Christ, the world would be a different place.
“Sacrificial” giving is one of the most important types of all. It is sometimes said that “it is not so much what a person gives that matters but what they have left.” There is no doubt that this kind of giving is important for God to see in us. Jesus makes that clear when
“He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth very little. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” (Mark 12: 41-44)
In so doing, the widow fulfills Jesus’ admonition that we find in Mathew (18:2-3) “He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.’” Just as a child puts complete trust in their parent to care for them, so too has the widow entered into her “second childhood.” She has lost her husband and perhaps her only means of support and chooses to hold on to her Father rather than her money.
We read, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mt 19:23-24). Why would He say this? That it is almost impossible for a wealthy person to go to heaven? Perhaps because it may reflect that one who is rich values wealth ahead of others’ needs. Perhaps because it is a reflection of selfishness. Perhaps because it is harder to engage in sacrificial giving. No matter how “rich” someone is, they can always give their greatest gift… the gift of themselves.
Finally, we have what may be the most important and difficult of all the givings… forgiving. It is the one spelled out to us in the prayer that Jesus gave us, and whenever we say that prayer, we tell “Our Father” exactly what we would like for Him to do:
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” (Matthew 6:12-14)
Given those words, how can we not forgive everyone everything?
It might be good for us to include in our prayers of thanksgiving what we have received from God’s abundance, the sacrificial giving of Jesus, and the forgiveness of our sins.
Submitted by James R. Sulliman, Ph.D. Individual, marriage, and family therapist in Abilene, TX. “Live life courageously.