Jesus said and did many things, a lot of which is recorded in the four Gospels of the New Testament. But not everything Jesus said and did was written down (see John 21:25). The apostle Paul rarely quoted Jesus, but one statement that must have been passed on to him through ‘oral tradition’ (it’s not recorded in the Gospels) is Jesus saying this:
“It is more blessed to give than receive.” NIV
“You are far happier giving then getting.” The Message Bible
“More blessing come from giving than receiving.” CEVActs 20:35.
Paul used this statement as the foundation for his life of generosity. In the city of Ephesus, where he had lived and ministered for three years, he had worked hard with his own hands – to meet his own needs and to help other people (see Acts 20:32-38).
Jesus is saying that we are far happier, better off, fortunate, and blessed when we are in the giving mode than the receiving mode. This sound unnatural, doesn’t it, even counter-cultural!?
Well-known Jewish psychologist, Martin Seligman, an influential leader in the positive psychology movement, tells a story in his book on Learned Optimism about lecturing students in university on the subject of happiness. He gave them an assignment of doing two things during the week – (1) something pleasurable for themselves (e.g. eat a hot fudge sundae, or see a movie) and (2) something for others that had no personal benefit (e.g. work in a soup kitchen, give flowers to someone, or help an elderly person across the street). They were to measure their emotions before, during, and after these two seperate events.
The students returned from their assignments and unanimously noted that when doing something pleasurable for themselves there was a sudden spike of positive emotion that quickly faded away. However, when they did something for others, their positive emotions built up toward the event and then lingered long after.
They could have saved all the work by just listening to Jesus! Yes, it is true – we are far happier when we are giving out to others than when we are self-obsessed. It’s a fact of life.
In what ways are we happier giving than receiving? That was the subject of my message at One Community Church last weekend where I spoke on this teaching of Jesus. You might want to listen to the audio online (26 minutes) OR check out my new podcast. Enjoy!
Finally, may you find great joy in looking out for others this coming week and serving them in love. You will be glad you did.