The Blessedness of Self-Giving
Acts 20:35
I have showed you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus…

"It is more blessed to give than to receive." Two principles of action are here contrasted. Egoism makes self the centre for inflowing streams. Altruism makes self a centre, but chiefly for distribution. And Jesus declares that action according to the latter principle offers to any moral being the more satisfactory results. We might argue this truth from the outcome of action to the contrary. The miser in his dreary counting-room, the self-lover torn with jealousy, the victim of overweening ambition, the spoiled child of luxury yielding to vice and perishing of ennui, the degraded recipients of misdirected charity, business rivals cutting each other's throats in obedience to an iron law of competition, employers and employed fighting for what they call their rights, and the State estopped from its high destiny by parties intent only on the spoils of office, are not to be called blessed even by poetic license of speech. Only as intelligence and morality prevail over brute instincts do men discern common interests and seek the common well-being. If humanity ascends into the Divine, it must be along this pathway of self-giving. If' God has ever drawn near to man, He has moved along the heavenly portion of the same blessed way. Was not creation itself a first step in "the royal way of the Cross," as a Kempis names it? Has not the whole course of revelation been a continued giving as men could understand and themselves impart what they were themselves receiving? Note three significant incidents in the ministry of Jesus. In the wilderness incarnate self-seeking promised, "I will give Thee the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them if Thou wilt fall down and worship me." Incarnate self-giving replied, "Get thee hence, Satan." And angels ministered to the Victor. By the lake side His own people were ready to bestow on Him a crown; but the strong Son of Man again held Himself only to giving, fortifying Himself in this purpose by a night alone with His Father in the mountain solitude. Soon another mountain saw Him transfigured. The Altar that bore the offering for the sins of the world was glorified to dazzling whiteness by its self-offered burden. After some such fashion it is possible to argue the superiority of the rule of self-giving. But in the practical stir of daily business and pleasure it seems little more than a vision of the beautiful, a dream of the land that is very far off. Paul was a bolder, loftier spirit. Both in theory and in practice he accepted the Master's opinion.

I. PAUL'S THEOLOGY WAS BUILT ABOUT THIS PRINCIPLE OF SELF-GIVING. The gospel as he conceived it was a story "of the grace of God." Every man looks at the mission of Jesus from the standpoint of his own personal experience. The vision on the road to Damascus is the clue to Paul's doctrine. That he, the violent persecutor of the followers of Jesus, should have been made to see in Jesus the perfect revelation of God's love to men, was an unmerited favour for which he could find no parallel. God's treatment of him, the chief of sinners, gave him a universal message. He might apply to the disciples' relation to God through Jesus all the legal formularies of Jewish councils and Roman courts. He might find in the ritual of Israel the type of Jesus' mediatorship. He might speak of the death of Jesus on the Cross after the fashion of the priests who delighted in the details of their bloody sacrifices. But all such special language was intended simply to describe the self-giving of God to His needy and sinful creatures. Symbols and comparisons of every kind were seized upon to convey this idea. He could even rise to the audacity of declaring that the Ephesian Church was part of "the Church of God, purchased with His own blood," yet the boldest imagery was inadequate to describe his vision of "the exceeding riches of God's grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." To this same "word of His grace" he turns as the last resort after all his care and reminiscence and exhortation. God might sanctify the Church by imparting new knowledge, by providential interference, by spiritual contact. But mainly he must work by the story of grace.

II. Side by side with this self-giving of God to man Paul maintains THAT THIS SAME PRINCIPLE MUST ABSOLUTELY PREVAIL IN THE CHURCH. Great urgency characterises his repetition of this exhortation to the elders. "Take heed to all the flock," he says. "The Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the Church." "Watch ye." "Help the weak." "Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." What but a thorough-going adoption of the principle of self-giving could answer to such a charge? Doubtless those poor elders of the Church felt their hearts sink again within them, if indeed they at all comprehended the meaning of his earnest words. The pressure of self-seeking invades the body of Christ and paralyses many of its best intentions. Shall we not say, then, that the Church exists for the manifestation of the spirit of Jesus, to be the corporate incarnation of the life of God? "This is obviously God's method. When He would bring about an elevation of the world He never effects His purpose by a pull at once at the whole dead level of humanity. He has always set to work by giving special gifts to a few elect souls, and through their means leavening the whole of humanity by degrees." The local Church is to be the constant expression of the mind of God for the world's redemption. It is to be a centre of moral and spiritual health to the changing social organism. It is not a mutual benefit association, a moral insurance company, a religious creche, or even an organisation for the maintenance of public worship. It is all this by being more, a body of servants of Jesus pushing the kingdom of God's grace intensively and extensively.

3. Our lesson contains illustration by practice as well as by theory and exhortation. Paul could declare with full sense of his responsibility that he was "pure from the blood of all men." No person in Ephesus could rise up and say that Paul had not cared for his soul. With lowliness of mind, with tears, with trials, coveting no man's silver or gold or apparel, but caring for himself and his companions by daily labour at his trade, he gave himself to teaching publicly and from house to house, going about preaching the kingdom. He shrank from nothing that was profitable to either Jew or Greek, declaring the whole counsel of God and admonishing everyone night and day with tears. How intense, too, the flame of his devotion still was that had burned so brightly in Ephesus for three years! He was going to Jerusalem under constraint of the Spirit. They should see his face no more. Just what was to befall him he did not know. Only as he went on clear warning came in every city that bonds and afflictions of some sort waited for him, and yet the course marked out for him in God's grace allured him more than it frightened him. He would accomplish it at any cost. The spirit of self-giving utterly triumphed in him as in his Master. He gloried in his tribulations. He rejoiced in his sufferings in behalf of the disciples. One cannot but feel after this review of the apostle's conception of the Christian faith and practice that the principle here commended is fundamental to Christianity. More than any other it voices the essential truth of the religion of Jesus. Herein the religions of the nations fail to stand the test. Strip them of their superstitions and falsehoods, and they are powerless to control the mighty passions of mankind. Christianity alone seizes upon the hearts of men and makes appeal to grateful love, because it is neither a philosophy nor an ethical code nor a scheme of life, but a simple story how God gives Himself to men, in intimate and loving ways, for the removal of their weakness and misery and rebellion.

(J. R. Gow.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

WEB: In all things I gave you an example, that so laboring you ought to help the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

The Blessedness of Liberality
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