Generosity and the Bystander Effect

What happens when we witness generosity?

What happens when we witness generosity?

In Acts 20:35 Paul reminds his listeners that Jesus said, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”  This is counterintuitive. It is like saying that you will become rich by giving your money away. It’s bad math.  Yet there is something powerful here that saints and pagans have recognized for centuries. The self-absorbed person is wasting away. 

How does this work? Why is it more blessed to give than receive? Here are a few quick thoughts to motivate you to joyful service:

First, giving glorifies God. He is pleased when we share. Generosity is considered a sacrifice of worship. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Hebrews 13:16

Second, It also brings joy to us as we find a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives that is bigger than ourselves. As we give to others (either with service or sacrifice) we are working out the great commandment to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31). And that is what we were made for. And when we fulfill our created purpose, we take another step toward enduring happiness.

Finally, in Philemon v. 7 Paul writes, “For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.”  This is fascinating because Paul is telling Philemon that he has seen how his acts of love have refreshed the hearts of God’s people. And as Paul has witnessed this, his own joy has increased. Paul didn’t receive the gift, he was a just witness. And yet, by witnessing these kind gestures, Paul received a gift of a different kind. When we see others act in love and kindness we are moved to thank God. We find joy. We are comforted even if we are in the middle of tough times. We are challenged to do the same. Generosity is infectious and contagious. 

This phenomenon is another reason why giving is more blessed than receiving. When we give, we refresh two hearts: the heart of the person we are serving AND those who hear about the gift. 

The transaction of giving is bigger than the two people directly involved- the giver and receiver. God is also involved. But God has also determined that the effects of generosity are like a shock wave. When we give, we have an opportunity to impact everyone around us. Generosity reflects the character of God, and when we are representing his image well, blessings overflow to everyone around.