Giving UP Giving: The Long Game – Part 1 in our Giving UP Sermon Series

Who is Sampson and what does he have to do with this picture?
Who is Sampson and what does he have to do with this picture?

Let me share with you the true story of a guy named Sampson.

Sampson wanted to be the “Clinton of Illinois” and set his sights on winning a Senate seat.  No one thought him a likely candidate.  But he had a lot of determination.  Sampson ran for a seat in the state legislature at only 23 years of age…and lost with a resounding 8th place finish where only the top four won a place.  After operating a completely failed business, he tried a second time and took second, this time earning that seat.  Serving eight years, he decided to go national and try for that Senate seat he had his eye on.  He was up against two very strong opponents – Shields and Trumbull.  Both had been state Supreme Court justices and Shields was the incumbent.  But in the first poll, Sampson was ahead with 44% support, Shields had 41% and Trumbull only at 5%.  But then a fourth candidate entered, Gov. Joel Matteson who quickly took the lead.  Shields withdrew and Matteson was on top 44% to Sampson’s 38% with Trumbull holding on at only 9%.  It didn’t look good for Sampson, so he did what no other politician would have done – he withdrew from the race and threw his support behind Trumbull.  Despite having clearly the larger percentage of the vote, Sampson fell on his sword and gave the race to Trumbull who won 51% to Matteson’s 47%.[1]

But why would Sampson do such a thing?

Why would he sacrifice his own position to another opponent?  The thing is that Sampson’s goal once Matteson entered the race was not to win, but to stop Matteson from getting that seat.  He had suspicions that Matteson was crooked.  Reports about Matteson attempting to bribe influential voters was enough to convince Sampson that Matteson was not going to be good for the country and he and Trumbull, while political opponents shared common ideology about the development of the state.  So for the good of Illinois and the good of the country, Sampson withdrew.  Good thing, too.  A year later, Matteson was indicted for fraud after cashing outdated checks to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.  And as for Sampson?  After a second failed attempt at the Senate, he finally got a seat with the support of many of those who had originally opposed him.  His generosity, his willingness to sacrifice for others, had earned him a great deal of respect.  And in 1999, C-SPAN conducted a poll of thousands of people about Sampson and about three dozen other politicians who vied for similar political office and he came out at the very top as having the highest evaluation of any of them.  Sampson, or rather Sampson’s Ghost, was a pen name this politician used in letters.  His real name was Abraham Lincoln.[2]

Adam Grant's Give and Take
Adam Grant’s Give and Take

Adam Grant, the youngest tenured professor at the Wharton School of Business, used this example.

He wrote about it in his groundbreaking book, Give and Take, and in it, he writes that the best way to succeed in business is to have a giving mentality.  The best way to succeed in business is to have a giving mentality.  He found that there are basically three types of people who inhabit our professional lives – givers, takers, and matchers.  Givers, takers, and matchers.  As you can probably guess, givers are those whose primary focus is not on themselves but on helping others.  Whether it’s co-workers, clients, or random people asking for help, givers love to help other people, not expecting anything in return but because they believe in the philosophy that life is about giving to others.  Takers believe in that old maxim by Mark Twain who said, “The principle of give and take; that is diplomacy – give one and take ten.”[3]  Takers can sometimes act like givers, but generally only in the short run.  They are likely to give to people they feel are their superiors while often forgetting about those who helped them make their way to the top.  Matchers are status quo type of people.  They give but generally to curry favor, bank a future favor, or to repay a favor.  They are happy to give, but don’t like being indebted to people or have people too indebted to them.  As Walsh noted, there’s a little bit of all three of these in all of us and they come out in different ways at different times, but those whose primary mode of operation is as a giver often end up being very successful.  On top of that people who are givers generally have people rooting for them to succeed and will often sacrifice for them to see them move ahead as opposed to takers who are always having people gunning for them.

As you can imagine, giving takes time, energy, and effort.

Often times givers are at the bottom of the workplace success ladder.  They often score lower and do not perform as well as takers and matchers.  In a study of 600 medical students in Belgium, the students with the lowest grades had unusually high scores on giver statements like “I love to help others” and “I anticipate the needs of others.”  They went out of their way to help their peers study, sharing with them what they knew and often filling the gaps in other people’s knowledge.  They sacrifice their own time, energy, and effort, sometimes at the cost of their own performance so you’ll often find givers at the bottom of the success ladder.  Do you know who you’d find at the top?  GIVERS!  Givers are generally at the top of the success ladder as well.  How can that be?  It turns out that over time, givers who are successful learn how to manage their time most effectively to be both true to their core (as a giver) and to succeed.  Often times it is BECAUSE of their giving that they achieve the success that they have.  People have long thought that raw talent and chance opportunities determined our success, but as more and more studies have been conducted, other factors like hard work and giving have been found to be more influential than chance, luck, or talent.

But this is nothing new to God.

God wrote the playbook on success far earlier than Adam Grant.  He even gave us that knowledge in the Bible.  We’re going to read a short quip this morning from the Bible to illustrate this, so if you have a Bible or Bible app on your phone, please go to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 6, beginning with verse 37.  Luke 6:37 and 38.  This takes place right after he chooses the twelve to be his apostles.  He begins to teach them immediately and a gathering of his disciples crowd around him while Jesus shares these life lessons with us.  He talks about giving right after he talks with them about loving their enemies and this is what he says. 

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

This is just one of many verses God uses to talk to us about the power of giving.

At first, the verse doesn’t seem to go that way.  In fact, the little chapter subtitle is “Judging Others.”  At least it is in my Bible.  But looking closer at it, both of these verses are really about giving.  “Do not judge, and you will not be judged” is just another way of saying that you should give the gift of grace to others because you will need that grace yourself from God.  “Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned” is another way of saying that we should give the gift of mercy because we need God’s mercy to get into Heaven.  And “Forgive, and you will be forgiven” is along the same lines.  There isn’t a one of us that doesn’t need God’s forgiveness.  Then Jesus sums it up with verse 38.  “Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Jesus re-emphasizes here the importance of giving and offers an example that the people of his day would be familiar with.  A person going to market would often bring a cup or bowl to measure the grain he was purchasing.  Grain wasn’t sold by weight but by volume so after agreeing on a price, the seller would then fill the bowl to the top.[4]  A “good” measure was one where the seller would make sure you got your money’s worth.  After filling the bowl, they would press it down, then shake it to settle any loose grain, and then pour more grain until it was running over and then literally pour that into your lap.  You would usually come to market with a loose fitting tunic for just that purpose, to carry things like grain back to your home.    Since the seller would fill the bowl to overflowing, it would be too hard to carry without spilling in the bowl.  This is the kind of abundance we should be giving to others.  “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

What Adam Grant discovered was something God’s been trying to tell us for centuries.

Give and it will be given back to you in abundance. Don’t you find that this is true?  When you get exceptional service at a restaurant, don’t you tend to give a larger tip?  Maybe even one that is MORE generous than usual? Sometimes when people give freely without strings attached, we give more in return, not because we feel obligated, but because we feel so loved by their generosity and willingness.  There is one caveat.  Giving must come from the heart. As Grant describes in the book and I’m sure you’ve experienced in your own life, there are plenty of fakers – people who pretend to give or maybe even convince themselves that they are giving out of concern for others, but are really only giving for what they get out of it.  When we give in order to receive, if that is our purpose, we will be found out.  People can smell authenticity.  You may be able to fool them for a while, but eventually people are able to tell.  The abundance that comes from genuine giving is because of the goodwill and love that genuine giving generates.  Not because of the giving alone, but because we are naturally drawn to people who are so willing to help us and others for no other reason than they want to.  And this ties in to the character of God who is the most generous giver, and God is pleased when we behave in ways that mirror him. More than a generous giver, God loves a genuine giver.  More than a generous giver, God loves a genuine giver.  Because it’s not about the amount you give, but the heart in which you give it.  Challenge yourself this week to be more giving in every way, to give more of your time, effort, energy, and gifts.  Because God is waiting to pour back into your lap the measure in which you give to others.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


[1] From the book Give and Take by Adam Grant pp. 11-17.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Op.Cit., p.1

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