It Is Better to Receive than to Give

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Cantate 

April 29, 2018

John 16:5–15

We teach our children it is better to give than receive. And how important that is. We are by nature beings that are turned in on ourselves. From our first moments of life our whole being is concerned with our whole being. Little children like to say, “Mine.” And what is not theirs they want to be theirs. They want to get. Getting presents is a lot more fun than giving presents. We teach them well that it is better to give than receive. We rightly help them see the value and joy of giving, thinking about others and not only yourself. 

But this isn’t only a matter of morals and virtue. Our Lord Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than receive.” We receive this word of our Lord from Paul in the book of Acts in speaking to the pastors in Ephesus. He speaks of the Word, particularly the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the shedding of His blood, that he had proclaimed to them and that they ought to continue to proclaim to the people of God. He says that “the Word of His grace is able to build you up.” In this way he had ministered to them and in this way they ought to minister to the needs of others, remembering the words of our Lord Jesus, that He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Paul has captured the intent of these words of our Lord. And it is why Jesus can also speak of our situation as He does in the Gospel reading, which we could describe as, it is better to receive than to give. Paul understood that it is only by receiving that we can truly give. He knew well that what we receive from our Lord is the Word of God, and particularly the Gospel. In speaking to His disciples in the upper room on the night in which He was betrayed our Lord was preparing them for when He would no longer be with them. But He said that this was to their advantage. “For if I do not go, the Paraclete,” or as it is translated in our Gospel reading, the Helper, “will not come to you.”

This one, He says, the Spirit of Truth, is the one who will lead you into all truth. Then listen to what He says about the Holy Spirit: “For He will not speak from Himself, but whatever He hears [from Me] He will speak.” For the Holy Spirit, who is God Himself, it is better to receive than to give. He is fully God along with the Father and the Son and yet has nothing to give, nothing to offer, but what He has received from the Son. Jesus says, “The Holy Spirit will glorify Me because He will take what is Mine and declare it you.” The Holy Spirit recognizes that though He is fully God Himself He has nothing to offer us that is not already present in the Son, Jesus Christ.

And what that is is the Gospel. In the previous chapter of John Jesus says, “Already you are clean because of the Word I have spoken to you.” This is the power of the Word of God. It makes sinners clean. It forgives their sin. You are clean because of the Word Ihave spoken to you. It is what He has done. It is what you have received. It is better to receive than to give. We witnessed this last week when Natalie was Baptized. She will not remember that she was Baptized. She was not aware of what was going on. She did not give anything to her Lord. It was all receiving on her part. The Lord gave to her water and His Word. He forgave her sins and created in her new life. For Natalie it was better to receive than to give because she had nothing to give and everything to receive.

The author of our Gospel reading drives this point home in his first epistle. In chapter 4 he says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son as the sacrifice for our sin.” What could we possibly give to God? Our sin? Our unbelief we were born into? No, He is the one who has given, we are the ones who have received. When it comes to your eternal destination, it truly is more blessed to receive than to give. Giving to God whatever it is you think you might have to offer Him will land you in hell. 

In your Baptism you were the recipient of this gift of God’s Son, the sacrifice for all of your sins. James says in the Epistle, “By an act of His will He brought forth in us the Word of truth.” This work of salvation in you is the work of God the Father through the Word of truth. This word of truth is the Gospel. That’s what Paul calls the word of truth in Colossians 1. It is the word of God that saves you. He is the one who gives, you are the one who receives. 

So how does James go on to speak of this new life, this new creation God has brought about in us? We ought to be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. How many times do you want to give rather than receive? Give your opinion, your wisdom, your help. Instead, be quick to hear. Be ready first to receive from others and slow to speak. How often have you reacted in anger at others instead of receiving what they have done to you as the bearing of your cross your Lord has called you to bear? How can you be quick to anger with them when you yourself so often act in hurtful ways toward others? 

James does exhort the giving of something you have to offer. He says, put off filth. That’s something you ought to do. There’s nothing you can give apart from that. It is what is in your heart from birth. So, there’s nothing else you have. “Receivewith meekness the implanted Word which is able to save your soul.” The implanted word is that Word rooted in you, first given you in Baptism. There is nothing you have done to save yourself. The Word of God, the Gospel, is what saves your soul. There is nothing you give, nothing you do—only what you receive, only what God gives. 

Paul and James and the other apostles spoke this way because they were direct recipients of this Word of Truth. They themselves received the Gospel, they were given it, they claim nothing they did for their salvation. And there is nothing new. What God has done in Christ is what He had always been doing. Listen to the same word of God from the Old Testament reading: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” It is what you receive, not what you give. Which is why Isaiah goes on to say, “Sing praises to the Lord, for Hehas done gloriously.”

It is better to receive than to give. But really, it’s not that it’s the better way, it’s the only way. Salvation is in Christ alone, not in yourself. You are saved because God has given you salvation in His Son. And because you have salvation guess what you get to do?

You get to give. You have not done anything to save yourself. But because you have been saved you have plenty to give. That it is better to give than to receive is because you have first received. John says in his first epistle, “We love because He first loved us.” It is joy to draw from the wells of salvation and it is joy to give to others in the way we have received. It is joy to love as we have been loved by our lord. 

The gift of the Holy Sprit Jesus said He would give has now been given. Jesus rose from the grave. He ascended to heaven. He has given us the Holy Sprit. The Holy Sprit has taken what is the Son’s and given it to His apostles. The Holy Spirit has declared to them all that Jesus wanted them to know. And by the Holy Spirit it has been written down. You have everything you need, for salvation and for living in your salvation. It is better to receive than to give and because of that it is better to give than to receive. 

Our prayer upon receiving our Lord in His Sacrament is that it would strengthen us in faith toward God and fervent love toward one another. He having given you His body and blood, you receive. You having received, you give. Your faith toward God is strengthened and your fervent love toward others is increased. Everything then your Lord does for you is a blessing: for you and for others. For Him it is always more blessed to give to you than to receive. Amen. 

SDG