What Is the Bible’s View?
‘Showering’ with Gifts?
WHO does not enjoy receiving a gift, especially something needed? Yet is it not a richer joy to give a needed and well-received present? As Jesus said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
Sometimes, however, questions or problems arise regarding gift-giving, particularly when a local custom is involved.
As an example of a local custom of gift-giving, in Australia some folks have the practice of holding a “shower tea” for a woman shortly before her wedding. In North America this is called a “wedding shower,” and there are also “baby showers.” Friends and relatives come together for an evening to enjoy association and refreshments and to “shower” the woman, or couple, with gifts that are to help in facing the new circumstances of setting up a household or the arrival of a new baby.
Perhaps where you live “showers” are not the custom, but it may be the practice to bring flowers or fruit when you visit a friend in the hospital or when you are invited to someone’s home for dinner. How do you feel about gift-giving in these situations?
Wise Counsel from God
The Bible contains much encouragement toward generosity. We read: “The generous soul will itself be made fat, and the one freely watering others will himself also be freely watered.” “He that is kindly in eye will be blessed, for he has given of his food to the lowly one.” (Prov. 11:25; 22:9) John the Baptist advised: “Let the man that has two undergarments share with the man that has none.” And Jesus urged: “Practice giving, and people will give to you. . . . For with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you in return.”—Luke 3:11; 6:38.
It is not Scripturally wrong modestly to identify oneself as the giver of a present, if one chooses to do so, perhaps in an accompanying note. (Compare James 1:17.) But with regard to gift-giving Jehovah gives counsel that takes into account human imperfection. For instance, there is the danger of giving a present so as to bring glory to the giver. Jesus thus advised: “When you go making gifts of mercy, do not blow a trumpet ahead of you, . . . do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, that your gifts of mercy may be in secret; then your Father who is looking on in secret will repay you.” (Matt. 6:2-4) How wise and kind! If the identity of the giver is to be announced publicly, one may be tempted to give beyond one’s means, perhaps in order to match the value of the gifts of others. How true is the proverb: “There exists the one that is pretending to be rich and yet he has nothing at all.”—Prov. 13:7.
Also, the Bible does not recommend generosity or gift-giving that would encourage laziness. It says: “Make it your aim to . . . work with your hands,” for “if anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.” The apostle Paul explained that he personally labored ‘so as to avoid putting an expensive burden on others.’—1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:8-12; Eph. 4:28.
“Showers” and Other Gift-giving
If an expectant mother or soon-to-be-married couple definitely is in need, you can appreciate how it might be kind and thoughtful to give gifts that will make the adjustment easier. Sad to say, sometimes persons stage “showers” for quite a different reason. For example, one woman wrote to a newspaper columnist concerning a “shower” that had been held for her fleshly sister. Regarding one of the twenty guests who attended, she said:
“We checked and double-checked each gift and card and couldn’t find a thing from this woman. She deliberately came empty-handed, . . . We were all shocked.”
The newspaper columnist replied in part:
“I’ve received hundreds of letters from women who say they have been invited to as many as four or five showers for the same bride. They view the whole shower scene as a gigantic ripoff, and I must say, your letter lends a great deal of validity to their complaints.”
Yes, though a “shower” can be a nice opportunity for association, refreshments and gift-giving, it can also become a mockery of the Christian spirit of generous giving. What a pity it would be if persons concluded that their presents were more important than their presence! The error of putting all the emphasis on gifts can be appreciated when we realize that someone who is invited might not be able to afford a gift or might plan to give something at the wedding or after the child is born.
At some “showers” the giver of each present is identified before the others present. This can embarrass anyone who has not brought a gift. And it can lead to comparisons of presents from those of little means and those who are rich (or pretending to be so). (Jas. 2:1-9) How much better is it not to identify the givers by name! Following Jesus’ counsel against publicizing the giver kindly avoids embarrassment or comparisons and so promotes a happier, more Christian spirit. Concerning giving to needy Christians in the first century, Paul wrote: “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.
Keeping that divine advice in mind will help to prevent any ill feeling toward someone who does not bring a gift—be it to a “shower,” when visiting patients in the hospital, when coming for a meal or at any other time when local custom may involve a gift. How much better it is to let a present be an expression of ‘love without hypocrisy’ rather than a mere formalism because of some local custom!—Rom. 12:9, 13.
Nor, when our motives are guided by God’s Word, need there be any sense of competition. If you were in the hospital, would you not appreciate a single daisy or an orange brought by someone lovingly interested in you more than a bouquet of orchids or a case of fancy fruit given by someone out of “duty”?—Prov. 15:17; 28:6.
Similarly, there is no need for anyone to feel that he must give an “equal” gift in return for something received. One woman explained that when a friend came to her home for a meal and brought ‘a bracelet and earring set, a box of chocolates and a bottle of champagne,’ she felt that she would have to equal that in going to that person’s home for a meal. But why should she? Individuals’ circumstances differ. Even if they did not, is it not the sentiment that is truly important? We see this in Jesus’ commending the poor woman whose gift to God was only two small coins.—Luke 21:1-4.
When our gift-giving and our thinking are in harmony with such perfect counsel of God, truly it is a basis for happiness—for both the giver and the recipient.