There once were two men who lived in a small town in the South and who were as different as night and day. So different from each other were they that even their names reflected the variance. Now in this southern town it was the custom to call people by an abbreviated version of their first and middle names. For instance, a person named William Robert Smith would be called Billy Bob Smith. Well, this same custom held for these two men.
The name of one man was Cecil Lester Giver. To the town folk he was known as Cec Les Giver. The other man’s name reflected an additional southern custom of using an old family last name as a first name. He was Haverford Benjamin Given, affectionately known as Have Ben Given.
These two, Cec Les Giver and Have Ben Given, had adjoining lots in a comfortable middle class neighborhood. They also were members of the same church. But with these and with the spelling of their names any similarity between the two ended.
Mr. Cec Les Giver was known by everyone in his church and town as a very giving person — generous to a fault. Each fall during the stewardship campaign he was the one who urged the congregation to give until it hurt. In fact, that was his personal motto, “Give until it hurts.” And he did just that. The problem was that his giving hurt those around him. For you see, the more Cec Les Giver gave, the more unpleasant he became and the more determined he was to give even more next year. It was as if there was some invisible force driving him to give and give. Although it seems impossible, the more he gave to others the smaller his love became. Cec Les Giver was far from a cheerful giver.
One other observation must be shared about Mr. Cec Les Giver. While he could and would give to any cause that caught his attention, he seemed unwilling or unable to give anything to himself. Even more striking, he was unwilling or unable to be given anything by anyone else. It wasn’t that he had no needs. It seemed he had no ability to receive.
If, as it is said, the person who goes through life unwilling to give is unfortunate, what is to be said about the person who lives his whole life unable to receive? I can’t be sure, but I have wondered if this inability to receive was not the cause for Cec Les Giver’s distrust and disdain for his neighbor, Have Ben Given. You see, Have Ben Given had no problem receiving gifts and enjoying them. He was a recent widower. So people from the church and neighborhood frequently delivered casseroles and cakes to his door.
Whenever gifts came to his door, he greeted them with joyful thanks. That meant a lot to the givers. Have Ben Given had an uncanny way of making everyone who helped him feel good about their help. Those who knew him well described Have Ben Given with two words: joyful and thankful.
Of all the causes to which Cec Les Giver gave, Have Ben Given was not one of them. When his wife suggested that they invite their neighbor for a meal, Cec Les Giver vetoed the idea for this reason: “Anyone who would so gladly and continually receive gifts from others must be a lazy, weak free-loader. Hasn’t that Have Ben Given ever read in the Bible that ‘It’s more blessed to give than to receive?”
As I pointed out already the spelling of their names, Giver and Given, was quite similar. Because of this they appeared next to each other in the church directory. Thanksgiving was approaching and a new deacon in the church had been assigned to deliver a fruit basket to Mr. Have Ben Given. In looking up his address in the directory the deacon mistakenly copied down Mr. Cec Les Giver’s address and then took the fruit to Mr. Giver instead of Mr. Given.
Well, by the way Cec Les Giver chewed out the pastor the next day, you would have thought that deacon had committed the unpardonable sin. Mr. Giver stormed into the office of Reverend Feet shouting that he had never been so insulted in his life. “How could anyone mistake me for that free-loading Haverford Benjamin Given,” demanded Mr. Giver. “Why I’ll bet he doesn’t even pledge to this church — or if he does, it isn’t much. When he puts his hand out to others it is always empty. When I extend my hand to others it has something in it!”
Although he didn’t share the information, Rev. Feet knew that Have Ben Given was one of the biggest contributors to the church and that Cec Les Giver was not.
Cec Les Giver continued his tirade. “This church would be much more Christian if you preached more sermons on Acts 20:35. And in case you don’t know that verse, I’ll quote it for you, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ I read that verse every morning.” Cec Les Giver then added his interpretation of the verse. “That means that we in the church must give until it hurts.”
He turned to leave, then stopped. “And another thing,” he added, “this church would be more Christian if we spent less time praising and thanking God for things in our Sunday prayers and concentrated more on the needs of the world around us. In fact, if we were truly people living under the cross, we would not even meet for worship this coming Thanksgiving Sunday. Instead, we would use that time to engage in some project to help others.” And with that Cec Les Giver walked out of the pastor’s office.
Alone again at his desk, Rev. Feet looked down at the pad of paper containing thoughts he had scribbled in preparation for Sunday’s Thanksgiving service. First he reread a question he had framed. “Must one be able to give before one can receive or must one first be able to receive before one can truly give?”
It was the old debate all over again. “Must we give to others in order to receive God’s love or must we first receive God’s love in order to be able to give to others?”
Further down the page he noticed two little formulas he had composed: With grace, there can always be giving from gratitude; Without grace, there can only be giving from guilt.
The faces of Mr. Given and Mr. Giver came to his mind. “Have Ben Given illustrates how a person who has learned to receive is able to give with a sense of freeing gratitude. There is joy in his giving. Cec Les Giver proves that when one is unwilling to receive he is able to give only out of a sense of driving guilt. There is no joy, no thanks in his giving.”
“These two would make a great story,” thought Rev. Feet. But he didn’t think the pulpit was the place to tell stories so he went back to writing his sermon. Rev. Feet knew that in time Cec Les Giver’s anger over the fruit would subside, but he had no idea how to help him discover that there can be a joy in giving which comes from realizing we have been given. Our giving must arise from our gratitude for the grace we have received.
He thought about the verse “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” “That is true,” he thought, “but in our self-sufficient culture it is so much easier to give than to receive, so much easier to give to others than to receive from them, so much easier to give to God than to receive from Him.”
Well, Thanksgiving Sunday arrived. Rev. Feet was a bit anxious about his sermon on the gratitude handicap, given the incident with Mr. Giver. Have Ben Given was in church that morning with a smile on his face, receiving and giving handshakes of welcome. Cec Les Giver was also present even though he objected to any special emphasis on giving thanks. As the congregation sang the opening hymn, Now Thank We All Our God, Cec Les Giver stood silently staring at the words of the hymn as if those expressions of thanksgiving were in a language foreign to him.
When the time came for the sermon he casually glanced at the title “Receiving Until It Hurts.” “What a contradiction,” he thought. “A good Christian sermon would be titled ‘Giving Until It Hurts’.”
Rev. Feet began his message with a simple declaration: “It may be more blessed to give than to receive, but it is also a whole lot easier.” He paused a moment then said it again. “It may be more blessed to give than to receive, but it is also a whole lot easier” (Fred Craddock, Preaching).
“Easier to give than to receive?” puzzled Cec Les Giver. “How can that be possible? Easier to give than to receive?” His mind began to work. He thought of the people to whom he would be serving a turkey dinner at the Rescue Mission later that week. “For whom is it easier?” he wondered. He had always assumed it was easier to receive the meal than to give it. But having never been on the receiving end, how could he say? “What would it be like” he asked himself, “to have no resources except the charity of others?”
He looked around at the people in the church. He saw his neighbor Have Ben Given. He pictured all the meals people had given Given, all the meals Given had so gladly received. “For whom is it easier?” he wondered. “To receive a meal was one more reminder of his widower’s loneliness. Perhaps it is easier to give than to receive in some cases,” he proposed. “But,” he quickly reminded himself, “what about Jesus’ words ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’?”
His eyes focused upon the cross, that ultimate symbol of giving, that object which best expressed his “give until it hurts” motto. The sermon title flashed into his mind again, “Receiving Until It Hurts.” “For whom is the cross easier?” he wondered. He had always concluded it is easier to receive God’s love than to give it. But then he realized that receiving is an expression of admitted need and accepted dependency. “Is it possible to be so brash as to think that one doesn’t need God’s love, doesn’t depend upon divine grace?” He was the answer to his own question and he knew it!
His thoughts were interrupted by the preacher’s invitation to pray. The sermon was over. “It must have been one of Rev. Feet’s rare short sermons,” he mumbled to himself. As soon as the minister ended his prayer, Cec Les Giver rose to his feet and said, “Excuse me, Pastor, since it is Thanksgiving Sunday, I wonder if we could sing again Now Thank We All Our God?” The congregation nodded with approval.
As the music started Cec Les Giver looked around the congregation. His glance met the eyes of his neighbor, Mr. Have Ben Given, standing across the aisle from him. Each smiled at the other. Each moved toward the other. But then against all inclination, Cec Les Giver stopped and stayed put in his pew allowing Have Ben Given to approach him. The latter put his arm around the former.
Accepting this hug, this gift, was one of the hardest things Cec Les Giver had ever done. And yet he stood still and received the hug until — it hurt. With tears filling his eyes he joined Have Ben Given in singing “Now Thank We ALL Our God.”

Share This On: