The Spirit of Giving—in Ways That Count
GIVING has delighted multitudes of people. Time and again the words of Jesus Christ have proved true: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
You have probably experienced that special happiness many times. Have you noticed, though, that much of today’s giving does not result in joy? Why is this so? Frequently it is because people feel pressured into giving.
Innumerable persons and organizations today clamor for financial and other types of aid. Perhaps you personally have been the target of solicitations at your door, through the mail or by telephone, urging you to “give.” There is a slogan: “Give until it hurts”; and often it does.
Consider what happens during the Christmas season. Here is a time when much stress is placed upon giving. Newspapers and catalogs bulge with advertisements. Radio and TV commercials dangle before the public a dazzling variety of things that can serve as “the perfect gift.” People respond by buying and sending out millions of dollars’ worth of gifts.
One might expect that a season that lays so much stress on giving would be a time of special joy. But often it is just the opposite. The Seattle Times of December 25, 1973, carried the following dispatch from the Associated Press:
“If you get pangs of sadness at Christmastime, you’re not alone. In fact, psychologists find that the holiday of accentuated ‘joy’ often has just the reverse effect on many people.
“‘Christmas depression,’ it’s called.”
Why is this true? Could a reason be that there is something wrong with the spirit of giving at Christmastime?
Certainly there are many who give gifts at Christmas in a true spirit of generosity; and they enjoy it. Have you noticed, though, that much of what takes place during this season is not really giving, but merely the exchanging of gifts? Do not many people feel obligated to make up “lists” of relatives, friends and acquaintances? They know that these people will give them presents and will be expecting something in return. A feeling of compulsion takes away much of the joy of giving. And the financial and emotional drain of “Christmas shopping” takes another big toll.
A Christian Duty?
But is it not a Christian duty to give Christmas gifts? Do we not find the origin of this custom in the Bible with the “three wise men” giving gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus in a manger?
Did you know that the Bible says no such thing? The only persons who visited Jesus while he was still in the manger were Israelite “shepherds,” and they did not bring presents. (Luke 2:15, 16) It was not until perhaps a year or more later, when Jesus was a “young child” living in a “house,” that the “wise men” (who were pagan “magi” or astrologers) brought him gifts. (Matt. 2:11, 16) And the Scriptures do not say that there were “three” magi who visited Jesus. The number is not given; nor is the date of Jesus’ birth.
But if not in the Bible, where do Christmas gift giving and other customs of this holiday originate? The Encyclopædia Britannica (1974 edition) points out:
“The traditional customs connected with Christmas have developed from several sources as a result of the coincidence of the celebration of the birth of Christ with the pagan agricultural and solar observances at midwinter.” (Italics ours)
This reference work goes on to say that Christmas gift giving and the decorating of houses with greenery came from the pagan Roman festival of Saturnalia and the Roman New Year. And it adds: “December 25 was also regarded as the birthdate of the Iranian mystery god Mithra.”
Thus both Christmas gift giving and its other festive customs are rooted in paganism. Early Christians knew nothing of these practices.
A Better Spirit of Giving
This does not mean, however, that the Bible frowns upon giving gifts. On the contrary, Jehovah God, who “gives to all persons life and breath and all things,” sets the perfect example of unselfish giving. (Acts 17:25) Christians, in imitation of God, must “practice giving.” (Luke 6:38; Eph. 5:1) How can they do this in ways that really count?
Jehovah’s gracious gifts to man, including that of his only-begotten Son for man’s salvation, are motivated by love, not by any feeling of compulsion. (John 3:16) The apostle Paul counseled Christians to show a similar spirit when giving, saying: “Let each one do just as he has resolved in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”—2 Cor. 9:7.
Should generosity be limited to certain days of the year? Should it focus principally on close relatives and friends? Note Jesus’ words about God in the famous Sermon on the Mount: “He makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous. For if you love those loving you, what reward do you have?” (Matt. 5:44-46) Does God limit the rotation of the earth that results in sunrise and sunset to certain days each year? Does his earth provide sustenance only for those whom he “likes”?
Clearly, the Christian spirit of giving must extend beyond the circle of one’s family and friends; and it must be practiced from day to day, not just at certain times of the year. How much better this is than the once-a-year, synthetic “Christmas spirit”! It becomes possible to enjoy many opportunities throughout the year for delighting persons with presents that they did not expect. Since it is not a matter of exchange, a person does not feel “shortchanged” if he does not receive a gift. And any necessary shopping can be done with a single individual in mind and at a time when stores are less crowded.
What Can You Give to Others?
“But what can I give to others?” someone may ask. Actually, meaningful gifts need not be costly; in fact, gifts that delight people’s hearts often cost practically nothing.
What mother, for instance, is not thrilled if her little boy brings her a flower that he personally picked? And do not feelings of appreciation overflow, often causing tears of joy, when a husband surprises his wife with a necklace, a pin, a bouquet of flowers, or some other small token of his love? And is not a husband delighted when his wife cooks his favorite dish?
Practical gifts, too, can be inexpensive. The Bible contains the fine example of Dorcas, a Christian woman of the first century C.E., whose “gifts of mercy” evidently included making garments for needy widows. (Acts 9:36, 39) Could you do something similar for someone in need?
The Benefits of Sharing
The truly Christian spirit of giving includes what is mentioned at Hebrews 13:16: “Moreover, do not forget the doing of good and the sharing of things with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
Do you own an automobile? Likely you know persons who would be overjoyed at an occasional offer of transportation somewhere or of a pleasant ride in the country. Perhaps you know someone who seems to be “working around the clock” to complete some needed household repairs or other necessary work. Would he not appreciate the offer of a helping hand? And what about running an errand for someone elderly or infirm? Simply offering to share your possessions or skills can lift another’s spirits, and yours too.
Time is another resource that you can share with others. Do you know persons who suffer from loneliness, or who have been bereaved in some way? Paying such persons a visit and lending a sympathetic ear to their problems may do a world of good, and it costs you nothing.
Value of Spiritual Giving
Jesus Christ pointed to the most important of human needs when he said: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need, . . . Happy are those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, since they will be filled.” (Matt. 5:3, 6) Jesus recognized man’s need for spiritual things as most important and he devoted his earthly life to caring for this need of his hearers, teaching them the truth about God. He instructed his followers to do the same thing. Could you share in this sort of giving, sharing with others what you have learned from God’s Word?—Matt. 10:5-7; Luke 10:1-9; Matt. 28:19, 20.
Today millions of persons throughout the earth are gaining Bible knowledge that God has made available without cost. (Isa. 55:1; Rev. 22:17) Jehovah’s witnesses delight in giving time and energy to help interested people to study the Word of God. How satisfying this work is! It gives people real purpose in life, hope for the future and infallible principles for happy living!
Giving Within the Family
Perhaps the most important area for true generosity is right within the family. Here, too, the need is seldom for material gifts. Many families are well off materially and yet are unhappy. How can family members give to one another in ways that really count?
The Bible contains the finest counsel obtainable for happy family life. Concerning married couples, we read: “Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it.” (Eph. 5:25, 28) “The wife should have deep respect for her husband.” (Eph. 5:22, 33) Applying that counsel averts the strained relations that ruin homelife and frequently lead to separation and divorce. But it takes giving on the part of each toward the other.
When there are children, parents must also think of giving to them in ways that really count. This includes providing their offspring with food, clothing and a place to live. But it also involves much more. You have probably noticed that children given ‘everything they want’ often do not respect their parents. What children really need is for parents to give of themselves. Youngsters ask where things came from and why they are here. Will you take the time to provide truthful answers to their questions? Will you fill their need for love and companionship? Doing so will pay rich dividends in happiness, for both them and you.—Eph. 6:4.
Children, too, must learn to give. Of special importance is heeding the counsel of the apostle Paul: “Children, be obedient to your parents in union with the Lord, for this is righteous: ‘Honor your father and your mother.’” (Eph. 6:1, 2) But giving on the part of youths toward their parents involves more than just obedience. It includes appreciation for all that they do for the family and loving consideration for them as individuals.
Surely to “honor” parents also includes continued interest in them even after the children have left home and set up their own families. But have you noticed that people today often do not want to be bothered with their sick or aging parents and grandparents? Without sufficient reason they may ship them off to nursing homes to wither away in loneliness.
People who practice giving with the right spirit and in ways that really count are truly happy. It leads to domestic joy and contentment as well as meaningful relationships with others, especially Jehovah God. And you need never fear that freely giving will lead to any lack on your part, for Jesus assured: “With the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you in return.”—Luke 6:38.
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Giving is supposed to bring joy. But joy is often lacking at Christmas. Why? Could it be that something is wrong with the “spirit” of Christmas giving?
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Did you know that the “magi” who brought gifts to Jesus did not find him in a manger? They arrived long after his birth when he was a “young child” living in a house.
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You can have the joy of giving even if you cannot afford to buy gifts. Did you know that?