Paul credits Jesus with the statement that it is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). This is a counterintuitive truth, and flies in the face of everything our culture does. And not just our culture, but almost every western culture. Afterall, our economies are not based on giving. Instead, they are based on selling, turning a profit, and receiving a reward for creating a product or service. This isn’t just true at the collective economy level either. Almost no one individually gives away talents or time. Rather, they exchange them for something they find more valuable than what they deliver in exchange. While we romanticize the example of a person who divests himself of wealth to serve the poor, most of us don’t even remotely pursue such an example, and secretly recoil at the thought when presented with such a possibility in unimagined, real terms.
We should teach ourselves not to recoil at opportunities for such giving. Not because giving has actual benefits. It does. For instance, consider these benefits: Giving has been shown to improve mood. Giving helps us to be connected to people rather than things. People who give are popular. Giving can reward us with a sense of purpose. Giving benefits our communities and neighborhoods. Giving can be a balm of comfort to those suffering in need. Giving to others may inspire others to give to us when we are in need. Giving causes good people to be thankful for what they receive. Giving can embolden others to give. If such benefits are not why giving is better than receiving, then why is the voluntary, sacrificial release of wealth to someone else better than receiving from someone else?
Are there spiritual benefits that make giving better than receiving? There are. For instance, generous giving is a recognition of who actually owns everything (Psalm 50:10-11). Then, there is our duty to obey God. Giving is evidence of such obedience (Luke 6:30). Moreover, God is pleased by cheerful giving (2 Corinthians 9:7). The benefits of pleasing God are many.
While all of these benefits are good reasons for giving, none of them are the best reason. The best reason is that to give testifies to the world that we are made in the image of God, and are willfully assuming his attributes and following in the example set by Jesus. God gave his only son to ensure our eternal lives, and Jesus gave his life so that we could be reconciled to God (John 3:16, Galatians 1:3-4). It is better to give than to receive because in so doing, we are fulfilling Romans 8:29 and being conformed into the image of Christ.