When Taking Is Giving: A Lesson on Food and Love

child giving yellow flowers
Image by lassensurf from Pixabay

What Do I Even Take From You?

That dagger was thrust at me by someone I love very much. Someone close who declines invitations for meals. Someone who doesn’t realize that sometimes to receive is to give—that sometimes not to take is to take.

Honestly, before this week I hadn’t realized it either. I had never thought about giving and taking this way. Not until I learned a new word.

Enter lambano. It’s a Greek word occurs about 260 times in the New Testament. About half the time, lambano is translated “receive,” as in Matthew 7:8, “Whoever asks, receives,” and Matthew 20:10, “He received a denarius.”

Nothing to write home about. But there’s more. Lambano is also translated “take,” as in Matthew 5:50, “If anyone wants to take your tunic,” and Matthew 10:38, “Take up your cross.”

Yes, and? Why does lambano deserve its own post? And what even does it have to do with my dagger wound?

What you don’t take is what you take.

Picture a chubby little palm holding out dandelions, or yellow forsythia blossoms. Not to receive them would be cruel.

What did you even take?

I answered the one I love with tears first. Then this.

You took my joy. By not taking, by not eating with me, you deprive me the pleasure of giving.

Because sometimes the best gift we can give is lambano—to take and to receive. Conversely, sometimes the most heartless thing we can do is not to take a thing.

Which reminds me of The Count of Monte Cristo. I read it 20 years ago, but that scene is etched. Near the end of the book, the Count attends a banquet at his enemy’s home. He will not eat a bite of the rich food offered to him.

Why? Because to eat his food would be a sign of friendship. To not take was to take. Not to eat was a dagger.

God is eager to help.

God wants to feed his children. “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it” (Psalm 89:10b) God himself told the Israelites. He wants us to take food and help, to receive life and health from him. “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). Our Father “hears prayer” (Psalm 65:2), and listens to our pleas (Psalm 66:19).

He wants us to call to him because he wants to give us his help. Our cries for help don’t bother God.

The Psalms in particular celebrate God’s eagerness to hear and help his people in their “day of distress” and “time of trouble.” David testified that God had been to him “a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress” (Psalm 59:16, also 9:9; 37:39; 41:1).

David Mathis, “God will Answer in Your Crisis

If God calls us to call upon Him and He is eager to give us help, then it’s not a big stretch to think that not receiving his help might actually grieve him (Ephesians 4:30). I’ve written before how “grieve is a love word.” You can’t grieve people who don’t love you.

Which brings me to the dagger.

Taking is giving.

Meals, time, love—this is what I want to give. My dear, when you don’t receive these from me you take.

This little dagger wound and grief is a gift in that it helps me love God more. The perfect Father knows infinitely better than I could ever imagine what it is to have dear ones refuse to receivefrom him. (See Isaiah 30:1-22.)

At their peril they refuse to to take his food, his drink, himself.

All day long, he held out his hands to a rebellious people (Isaiah 65:2). All the while he offers food that will satisfy and water that will quench to the the end (John 6:35, 4:14).

But his people won’t all receive.

What then?

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.

Isaiah 30:18a, NIV

Our generous God wants to give. So our good Father longs to give, and in godlike fashion, he exalts himself to show us compassion.

And he waits for us to take.

God wants to give, so take.

The world’s religion are summed up in the idea that you must give something to appease the gods. But the essence of Christianity is the exactly the opposite. We are invited not to give, but lambano, to take.

We can’t bring anything to save or commend ourselves to God, but we can take the salvation He offers.

One of the very last sentences in the Bible includes lambano, take.

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

Revelation 22:17

What an invite! C.H. Spurgeon notes, “All the prophets of the Bible, all the apostles of the Bible, all the threatenings of the Bible, all the promises of the Bible, gather themselves up, and focus themselves into this one burning ray, ‘Come to Jesus. Come, and take the water of life freely.’”

Who could imagine such grace?

So come, take, eat.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said,

“Take, eat; this is my body.”

Matthew 26:26, ESV

It’s More Blessed to Give Than to Receive? Really?

giving flowers

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ 

Acts 20:35

Meg’ll like that, I thought, tucking in a gift card with the note. Meg is my friend’s daughter. She was turning 10.

But as I sealed the envelope, the old unfair bee stung. Even if she never remembers us on our birthdays.

The Word For Weary Givers

Don’t grow weary in doing good. For at the right time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. -Galatians 6:9

Why am I always the giver, the initiator, the one who remembers? I love to give, but why does it feel like I give more than I get?

It might be partly a love language thing. Words and gifts might be more my native tongue than, say, service or touch. When I start begrudging giving, that might play a wee little part. But language isn’t the main thing.

I know that because almost instantly the living, dividing Word moved in. It shoved me off the dark horse racing off to Self-Pity Land. I’ll tell you what God said.

Shut Your Mouth, Girl. And Open Your Eyes.

I am unworthy- how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. -Job 40:4

Abigail, stop. Halt den Mund! What do you have that you did not receive? Start seeing your gifts, my girl!

See the health and peace you’ve had all these COVID-19 days. See the family who loves on your sons. Give thanks that you and Jim have jobs. Remember your friends. Rejoice at the rhododendrons and rhubarb.

God didn’t audibly say those words, but through his Word he called to me. Give thanks, my Girl. Open your eyes. I’ve given you so many gifts.

Because we’re all givers and takers.

We’re All Givers And Takers

You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. -2 Corinthians 9:11

Paraphrased: We are receivers so that we can be givers. God gives us gifts- financial, spiritual, uncanny memories for birthdays and anniversaries-so that we can channel those gifts to others. But there’s more.

Christians are given grace and give grace so that God will get thanked. God made us to get and then give, so that he will be praised. What’s deadly is to let his love flow into your life without finding an outlet in love for others. Receiving is not bad. It’s not- getting is also a blessing. It’s just that Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Jesus, who came to earth to give his life (Mark 10:45) and told his disciples, Freely you have received, freely give (Matt. 10:8).

Which brings me to a big reason giving is more blessed.

Why Giving Is More Blessed

From his abundance we have all received one blessing after another. -John 1:16

Giving reminds me that I live by the grace of a giving God. The God who so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son. When we give we are blessed because it we are becoming more like our giving God.

Talk about perspective. Selfish me says, Why put yourself out for them? Why initiate and spend your time on them? They don’t bother with you.

That’s sin talking. Sin does something terrible to me. Sin turns me in on myself, Paul Tripp says. It makes me obsessed with my wants, my needs, my feelings. I want, I want, I want, I want, I want. Sin turns me inside out. Focusing on how much we give and how little we get is a sin (1 Thess. 5:18, Phil. 2:14).

When you give- forget, when you receive- remember. That’s a truth.

And the truth of a giving God’s turns us right-side out again. It did last week after I sent Meg’s birthday card. So next time giving feels more like sting than blessing, let’s remember God’s truth.

It really is more blessed to give.

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7

Zippy

April 1, 2000- August 23, 2012

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. 
Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Just a pet, I know.  And an “outside” pet, at that.  Still, like our friend John sympathizd, “There’s no good way to lose long-time pet.” And I am not a dog lover.  I didn’t think.

Zip followed her nose out of the safety of “the fenced in yard.”
As hours, then a day passed,
Hope mingled with impending sense of doom.
But maybe…like in Homeward Bound…?

A day and half later…
A knock on the door,
Neighbor reports Zip, alive but “not able to move” in the ditch.
Frantic calls to Jim at work.
Apple pie still in the oven, very al dente tortellini on the stove.
Boys hurried into van -confused, sad.
Thirty second drive to the neighbor’s ditch.
Assessment- alert,stable, but badly injured in the hindquarters.
Grim.

Reaching down, stroking, calming sweet Zip…

Our first dog.
Traded her blue and brown eyed sister pup for her.
A very good trade, 12 years ago.
At the end of my first year of work.
Before kids.
The first one I told when, home alone,  I “got the call.”
That our first son, Sam was born in Korea.
Enthusiastic running companion all these- gulp- 5000 miles!
(Checked math, yes: 10 miles x 50 weeks x 10 years=5000.)

Now, gingerly hoisting her 55 pounds into the van.
Countless adjustments as she’d yelp when I moved her.
Still, trusting eyes.
Gentle Zip.
Grateful she’d eat a slice of bacon and sharp cheddar.
En route to vet.

Shots.  X-rays. Bones badly out of joint.
Sadness.
Tears.
Tender goodbyes.
Final strokes of silky black muzzle.
You’re a good girl, Zip.

Now home without Zip.

I can’t eat because I’m just too sad, says Gabe, when Sam offers snacks.  What about her dog treats?  Her bowls?  (Between 5 year old sobs) I want a new dog, Mom.  When can we get a new dog?

No, Gabe, now is the time to think about Zippy and how much we loved her and how good she was.  It’s not the time to think about getting another dog.

Or is it?

Maybe Gabe’s response, self-centered as it is, really is the better, or at least equally good Christian response to loss. To jump right in and love again, to give the heart away, again.

The past two days I tear up at the strangest times.  I feel lonely.  When I head out for a walk, and see the open gate.  Or stranger still, when I’m clearing plates after dinner or draining the grease off the ground beef.  You see, Zippy was a dog blessed by frequent and many table scraps and I was blessed by a dog who cleared plates beautifully, allowing me to rest my mind that “nothing was wasted.”

Today I read, “Loneliness is the illusion we are tricked into feeling when we stop thinking of others and think only of ourselves . . . it’s a disease and we can fight it the moment we chose to put others before us.”  Hear, hear!

Or like my mom always said, when in the throes of pre-teen, cliquey girl angst (and periodically in the midst of sinful adult friendship envy), “If you want a friend, be one.”   Or, “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35)

So, what better way to heal the hurt, to fight the disease, than to share a meal?  Remember the apple pie and pasta?  Our pastor’s wife had her first baby a week earlier, and I had offered deliver a meal the evening we said good-bye to Zip.  By God’s empowering grace, I managed to choke back tears long enough to get out a call from the vet’s. 

Could I come an hour late with dinner, I asked, due to a pet emergency?

An hour later, pasta, peas and pie delivered. 
Smiles, congratulations and cuddles with a sweet new baby, Hans Noah.

Teary and blessed, to give and to have received.