Does Sympathetic Understanding Mark Your Giving?
THERE is true happiness in giving; in fact, more so than there is in receiving. As Jesus once said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” But that follows only if our giving is unselfish and governed by wisdom.—Acts 20:35; 1 Cor. 13:3.
Yes, if we would do the most good with our giving we must be both unselfish and practical. That requires of us empathy. Empathy means to be able to imagine ourselves in the place of others and to think and feel the way they do. Christian empathy goes a step farther. It gives the other party credit for wanting what is best for him. It not only seeks to please its neighbor but seeks to please him “in what is good for his upbuilding.”—Rom. 15:2.
God’s Word, the Bible, shows that God is the Giver of every good gift and of every perfect present. He is the very personification of love; all his giving is marked by empathy. For example, he gave the sons of Israel one day’s rest in seven. That showed empathy, for while he himself never tires, he could well imagine how much imperfect man would appreciate a sabbath. At the same time he was most practical with it. Man does not need to rest every second, third or fourth day. Nor did God give man only one day in a fortnight or in a lunar month.—Jas. 1:17; 1 John 4:8; Isa. 40:28.
That God’s giving is marked by empathy is also seen in that he made the most common those things that man needs most: sunshine, fresh air, food and water. More than that, our loving Creator placed in man a variety of hungers and thirsts and made provision for satisfying these; yet wisely not without His requiring man to put forth some effort so that man might appreciate his blessings, and also not without wise regulations governing man’s enjoyment of things.—Gen. 2:15.
When the first man showed ingratitude God did not at once wash his hands of his earthly creatures but made provision for redeeming them, and that by a provision that showed the greatest empathy. In fact, no greater expression of empathy was ever given, nor could be given, than that of God in sending his Son to die for our sins, that believing and obedient ones of mankind might be restored to God’s favor and enjoy everlasting life.—1 John 4:9, 10.
Second only to that gift is God’s Word, the Bible. What help it gives to imperfect humankind, throwing light on the past, present and future, acquainting man with his greatest Friend and guiding man in the way that is best for him!—2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
If our giving is marked by empathy, then it will not merely be governed by our viewpoint of things, but we will try to see things from the viewpoint of the one to whom we wish to give something; it will be marked by empathy. Otherwise, we may fall into such errors or pitfalls as giving merely that which we can most conveniently give, or that which we ourselves like best, or that which has the most show connected with it, actually deceiving ourselves.—Jer. 17:9.
Parents, unless careful, may easily come short. If their giving is marked by Christian empathy, which seeks to please in what is good for the other person, they will not pamper their children. They will not be content with giving their children spending money but will be interested in how they spend it. They will not merely provide a television set for their children, or money to go to a movie, but they will make certain that what the children view is wholesome, constructive and educational.
The same applies to husbands and wives. A wife who has empathy, Christian empathy, will not humor her husband in his follies; such as encouraging him to eat more when she knows that overeating is one of his weaknesses. Conversely, the husband will not flatter his wife on the hat she bought when he knows, deep down in his heart, that it makes her look ridiculous.
Friendships should also be marked with empathy. A man who can afford fine neckties may give a needy friend a fancy five-dollar tie. But if his needy friend does not have a decent shirt to go with it, empathy would indicate a more modest tie and giving a shirt also. We may not altogether ignore the basic needs of others in our spontaneous expressions of generosity. The luxury may be the more flattering to give, but the more practical may do the more good.
It goes without saying that empathy does not limit itself to fine words when there are material need and the means to supply that need. Fine words are fine in their place, “as apples of gold in silver carvings,” but fine words are vain and useless if they are made to substitute for fine deeds.—Prov. 25:11; 1 John 3:18.
If empathy marks our giving, we will also consider the manner of our giving. How do we give? In a condescending manner, or in a way that shows we expect to be repaid with flattery? Empathy has no such price tags attached to it.
Empathy wisely keeps a balance. It appreciates the importance of sentiment in giving and yet at the same time it will avoid the extreme of becoming overly sentimental, mawkish, gushy. Jehovah God lets sentiment enter into his giving. How so? In that he made everything beautiful and well arranged in its time, including his Word the Bible. Sentiment shows in little things, the way we give a gift, how it is packaged, the personal touches we add, yes, the very nature of our gift can show that we understand. All this indicates empathy.—Eccl. 3:11.
Good timing in giving is another mark of empathy. There is a time for every purpose under the sun. In times of stress, in particular, does a little mean a lot, in either spiritual or material aid. Empathy chooses the right time for an encouraging compliment and for the word of rebuke.—Eccl. 3:1-8.
And perhaps most obvious of all, if empathy marks our giving we will not only give with liberality, according to the occasion and our means, but we will also give cheerfully.—Rom. 12:8; 2 Cor. 9:7.
So let us imitate the great Giver by letting empathy mark our giving.—Jas. 1:17.