Is it more blessed to give than to receive? Says who?

How often have you heard a sermon about tithing based on Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive”?

This is another example of a text ripped horribly out of context.

More Blessed to Give

In the passage, Paul is providing instructions to a group of elders from Ephesus. In the preceding verses, (Acts 20:33-34), Paul reminds them that he has not been paid with gold and silver, or even with clothing, but has provided for his own needs, as well as those who travelled with him. He did this so that he and his companions would not have to accept payment from anybody in Ephesus.

Paul Provided for his own Needs

From statements Paul makes elsewhere, this seems to be his normal approach to ministry. He made tents for a living, to provide for his needs while he traveled and taught in the churches (cf. Acts 18:1-3; Php 4:14-16). And notice again that in verse 34, Paul not only provided for his own needs, but also for the needs of those who travelled with him! Though we often hear of “Tentmaking pastors,” I have yet to hear of one who not only provides for himself, but also for the other members on his team!

After his description of his own ministry, Paul instructs the Ephesian elders to follow his example. He tells them that they also should labor with their hands as he has, so that they can support the weak (Acts 20:35). While some believe that the weak are those who do not understand why an elder should get paid to teach the Scriptures, it is also likely that the weak are those who are unable to provide for themselves.

By working with their hands, the elders can not only provide for their own needs without depending on the financial support of others, but also help provide for the physical needs of those who are unable to work, people like orphans, widows, and the sick, or even those who minister with them, but who are not able to work.

Who Gives to Whom?

The closing statement of Paul is a quotation from Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” This does not mean, as many pastors preach, that the people in the pews are more blessed when they give to the church than when they receive from the church. Quite to the contrary, Paul is telling the spiritual leaders of the Ephesian church that it is more blessed for them to give to the needy in the church, than it is for the elders to receive.

A proper understanding of the context reveals that pastors cannot use this verse to encourage greater generosity in tithing, but instead, the pastor should give sacrificially from his own income to help the poor and needy in the church, as well as those who partner with him in the ministry.

So ironically, the very passage that pastors use to encourage their people to give, is actually saying that he himself should be the one to give. When pastors preach “It is more blessed to give then to receive” the people in the pews should stand up and shout, “You first!” for that is the instruction Paul is providing in Acts 20:35.



Comments

  1. says

    This is one of the best explanations I have seen on this passage! Of course that may be because we understand it similarly.

    Every time I’ve heard the passage used in a sermon the idea was to give more to the church, and of course the preacher would be getting part of that. I agree that the idea is to give to the poor and needy, and that the elders should lead in doing that.

    My understanding of elders is that they should be the more spiritually mature believers who should lead by example rather than control, exert power and tell others what to believe, how to live and what to do. The idea of working with their own hands and leading by giving to the poor and needy seems to have been all but forgotten by all.

    • says

      Sam,
      Leading by example, rather than by coercion or guilt trips is definitely the way to be an elder, according to Scripture.

      Anthony,
      You are right. Even if someone wanted to a bi-vocational pastor today, the responsibilities that many churches lay on the pastor often make bi-vocational ministry next to impossible.

      • Ant Writes says

        One church I pastored at, the senior pastor was a teacher and never held office hours (but his assistant pastors did), untl the denomination’s main office told him he had to :)

    • Ant Writes says

      It’s another guilt-based method of instruction, which Paul himself NEVER used. I was a tent making pastor, primarily because I never made enough as a pastor, but I was never a senior pastor..I left during my “promotion”. However, I don’t think I would have had the time to be a tent-maker w/ all the responsibilities of a senior pastor.

  2. says

    Interesting post.

    I think pastors should definitely lead by example when it comes to giving as they should do in all areas of Christian living

    @Ant Writes if you check out 2 Cor 8 & 9 I think you will find Paul had absolutely no hesitation in using what we readily call guilt & manipulation in getting the Corinthians to fulfill their financial commitment to the poor saints in Jerusalem. He has no qualms about bringing the generous Macedonians to the Greeks & saying “don’t embarrass me or yourselves with your stinginess” – this is ultra strong leadership by the church planter! What would be the reaction today if we used ethnicity as a means of pressuring people to fulfill their pledge to the poor?

    • says

      John,

      Do you really think it was guilt and manipulation? I guess I’ve never read it that way.

      Even if so, it probably wasn’t guilt and manipulation the way we think of it today. They lived in a honor/shame culture, which operated under different values and ways of encouraging proper behavior. Maybe Paul was appealing to their honor in order to keep them from shame.

      Ours is not an honor/shame culture in the same sense, and so the same methods don’t carry over too well.

      • says

        Yes you’re right Jeremy the culture of the day was strongly honor/shame & it’s interesting to see Paul use it unequivocally.

        I’m on a sidebar here, away from your original post, but there is a connection I think.

        It’s Paul’s willingness to be provocative about money while writing a reconciliatory letter that I find most challenging.

        2 Cor follows his harsh letter (now lost) that he fretted had broken his relationship with the Corinithians, yet here he isin a follow up letter unabashedly asking for the money they pledged & using ethnicity as a basis for motivation!

        I think there’s a underlying leadership value of courage here especially when it comes to raising money for the needs of the church in other nations, as Paul was doing.

        • says

          John,
          You are absolutely right about the leadership value of raising funds for the needs of other churches, especially those in other countries, but possibly even for those in our same town that are fulfilling a function of the body of Christ which we are not. Rather than compete with them and start our own ministry, maybe we can joyfully support their mission and ministry by sending them aid in the form of people and money.

    • Ant Writes says

      Also, he may have just used old Jewish guilt. You need to be a Jewish mother to properly utilize that method :)

  3. Anthony Jeffords says

    I really agree wholeheartedly with the little post and that is what the scripture says to me. But, I have a big kicker for you, I am a Pastor and have been pastoring for six years, I’m also 4th generation owner of a business that has allowed me to pay for all of the ministry and pay for staff as well. And, I’m not saying this because it’s begrudging at all, I will continue to give as God has allowed me. God has allowed me to build and pay for a new 9,000sqft Church building on a major Interstate and I am continally blessed by God, he knows my heart intenetion. We have had wonderful revival with many salvations and Baptisims. But, I do notice this there seems to be no committiment within the people. Congregational numbers will range from 45-100 and then fall for a couple of weeks to 25-30. I have a great core on top of the paid staff of that are real workers for Christ, that I’m continually blessed by seeing there zeal and heart felt desire to work for God. I’m now beginning to see ,However; that even beyond connection which is vital for people groups to grow, they must also have a stake in ownership not just of their ministries but for their own committment levels to improve. I agree with the translation but disagree after six hard years that the shepherd is the one who gives all never expecting from the sheep.

  4. Leon Archer says

    Anthony, No wonder you have so little commitment from your congregation. Have you forgotten Christ’s own words recorded in Matthew 6: 19 -21? ( For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Mt 6:21) You have pretty much made it abundantly evident to them that their treasure is not needed. What you have is “your” church YOU paid for, “your” staff that YOU pay for, and my suspicion is that you probably call the shots too. What would you do if they came to you and said, ” We want you to keep paying all our bills, but we want a different man as our pastor”? I’m sorry, but you remind me in a way of the rich young man who came to Christ and asked what he must do to be saved. If Christ had told him to give away half of what he owned, my guess would be that he would have done it gladly, but Jesus basically told him to rely only on Him. He told him to give away ALL he owned and follow him, but the rich young man turned away and left. I wonder just how committed you really are. The really sad thing is that your church doesn’t depend on your faith or the faith of members who are willing to sacrifice, it depends on you keeping your good paying job. I don’t really question your desire to serve the Lord, only your methods and your lack of understanding. By the way, I’m not a pastor; although, I have served at times over the years as an elder. I live on a limited income, but from that I give approximately 15 percent in tithes and missionary offerings. God has never once failed to meet the needs of my wife and I. We love Him, we worship Him, we try to follow His leading as closely as we can, and we give of what we have to support His work worldwide. We prefer to build up treasure in Heaven, not here on Earth. Your congregation has been crippled.

  5. Leon Archer says

    Jeremy, I wanted to address your first post. I truly feel sorry for your inability to look at the entirety of what the scriptures say about giving. You take part in paying the salaries of our country’s leaders, because man’s laws say you have to but you stiff the man who shares God’s word with you. I am not going to make a judgement about where your heart is, your faith, nor how God views your position; it’s not mine to make, but as far as your position, I believe you are wrong.

    • says

      Leon,

      What exactly about this position do you think is wrong? I advocate people giving money to those who labor at preaching and teaching, but as free-will gifts, not as mandatory tithes, as gifts of appreciation to supplement their income, not as the sole source of receiving a salary.

  6. Todd Fizer says

    Actually, I don’t know how Paul did tent making and everything else But he also wrote (1 Cor 9:7-12 see Below) I have recently graduated from seminary, which is $50,000 in tuition alone, not including books and expenses during those years and time away from a good job. Also, I worked 17 years as an engineer. So, if I was in this for the money, I would have stayed in the engineering field. But I see that many people want it both ways. Some people think it is horrible to pay a salary to a pastor. The pastors should get a “real job” and at the same time we need to deliver great sermons, visit homes regularly, care for problems in the church community, etc. etc. (so many things) I work primarily with refugees and that is extremely time consuming with the language and cultural differences. If I didn’t sleep, I might be able to do it, but I need at least 6 hours of sleep a night. Everyone has an opinion – God Bless

    1 Corinthians 9:7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? 8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

    • Edwin Pastor FedEx Aldrich says

      Todd,

      I agree with pretty much everything you said(except the spending $50k to become a pastor, but that is another issue. I have went the last several years working in ministry to the very poor in an urban inner city, and have owned a small business to support myself and my family. I am now an ordained pastor (without seminary or the insane debt that accompanies it), and I am pretty sure the people I work with will never be able to support me. I am now working on raising support partners and finding new ways to do tent making and I know how difficult this is.

      That being said, I do think that most pastors get it wrong when they teach on giving. They either focus on giving as an obligation to God, or as a means of getting something from God. I believe that the bible teaches us that God wants us to be generous and cultivate an additude of giving as we are led by His Spirit. God wants us to give out of love and a desire to help the work of His kingdom continue, not because we are afraid of “stealing from God” or because we want to plant a seed so we can get more back from God.

      I could go on for pages on this, but I agree that Pastors have a right to receive support from their ministry, but God calls us to give up our rights, all of them, to bring others to Him. I think there is a line between having the right to be supported and expecting a certain level of suppprt. I think all pastors and full time ministers should be mind full that we are called to give up our lives for the sheep, not to enrich our lives at the expense of the sheep.

      Pastor FedEx,
      Set Free Ministries,
      Colorado Springs, CO

  7. Rick says

    I’m a tent-making pastor and I provide for the members of my team as well. So now you’ve heard of one guy who’s doing it. Yay!

    • says

      Awesome! That is so rare! How do you make sure that they don’t take advantage of the situation, and that you don’t “Lord it over them” to get them to do what you want?

      • Rick says

        Haha I guess it never occurred to us that those were viable options. All money is God’s anyway; we’re just stewards of it.

  8. Debera Mackenzie says

    I love giving… it brings joy to my heart to be able to serve… but receiving is another thing altogether. Remember when Jesus washed the feet of His disciple? They were somewhat taken aback if I recall the passage correctly. To receive what Jesus gave could be a humbling experience. I think the verse has to do with human nature…. to give feels a whole lot better than to get.

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