A Theology of Christmas Presents (3)

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Introduction

As we continue our consideration of the whole question of gift-giving at Christmas, we have been studying the background. What does the Bible teach about giving and receiving generally, and how can we apply these general principles to specific situations—like our Christmas shopping and our presents?

So we started with the ultimate gift of Christ, the unspeakable gift that God gave to us, and how that relates to the training God puts us through (in tithes, offerings, and celebrations) in order to equip us to imitate Him. We then moved on to the nature of giving, and how the Lord taught us it was more blessed to give than to receive. But we also noted that to be blessed in giving is also to be a receiver. And so this week we are going to examine the nature of receiving in greater detail. Next week we will look at the goodness of the material world.  

The Text

“And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat” (Matt. 10:7–10).

Summary of the Text

In this situation, Jesus was sending His disciples out on a preaching mission, and He told them to stay away from the Gentiles and Samaritans for the present (v. 5). They were instructed to go to the lost sheep of Israel (v. 6). The message they were to preach as they went was this—the kingdom of heaven is at hand (v. 7). They were told to give as they went, and to give in particular ways. They were to heal the sick, cleanse lepers, raise the dead, and cast out devils (v. 8). They were to do this because “freely they had received,” and this meant they should also “freely give” (v. 8). As their intake had been, so also their output should be. Jesus then tells them not to take any provisions along with them (vv. 9-10). In other words, they should expect to be given to as they went out on a mission that emphasized giving. Jesus taught this principle because a workman deserves his pay. This is quite striking because Paul quotes this saying of the Lord’s in his teaching on ministerial pay (1 Tim. 5:18). So Jesus is teaching His disciples a lifestyle of both giving and receiving and giving some more. This is like a reciprocating engine with plenty of fuel. This is a place where we can see the principle of give to get in order to be able to give some more.

Christian ministry is therefore a function of overflow. The reason many individuals in ministry “burn out” is not because of the demands of the work, or the nature of the work. Burn out is a function of intake/output ratios.

By Definition

We have already considered the fact that creatures are receivers, by definition. “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7, NKJV). Ponder this. What do you have that you did not receive as a gift? And if that is the case, what is the possible ground for any sort of self-sufficient pride? Or any form of self-sufficiency?

 

Gladness and Gratitude

There are many believers who are diligent in giving, but they have a very hard time in receiving anything—even thoughtful gifts. That initial impulse of self-reliance is good (Gal. 6:5), but the same passage also teaches us that we should bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). This is like breathing in and breathing out. We receive, which means that we are enabled to give, which means we need to receive again. Allow me to say it yet again—we give to get in order to give again.

It is frequently the case that when people have real trouble receiving help from others, it is because of a hidden root of pride. Someone who gives all the time might simply be generous. But he might also be very proud. He wants to be the alpha, the ring-giver, the one who bestows. He is haughty. He can give everything away to the poor, and still be a man of pride (1 Cor. 13:3).

What would you think if you got the perfect Christmas gift for your overly-pious son or daughter, and found that he had thrown it away without opening it? When you (understandably) asked about this curious behavior, he said that the only thing he really cared about was his relationship with you, and he didn’t want anything that might get in the way of that relationship. Value the giver, not the gift, you see. You might reply, and you might even be peeved when you replied, that his throwing away a perfectly good fifty dollar present might conceivably interfere with your relationship. You might even have to prevent your wife from chasing him out to the trash cans with a belt in hand. Pietism isn’t.   

Golden Rule

This kind of thing, this principle, is found everywhere in Scripture. I said in an earlier message that God gave us a set of training wheels in the tithe. But that is not the only training guide He has given us. He has given us our joy in receiving as a valuable indicator of how much joy for others we should seek in how we give to others. If you successfully destroy your own ability to rejoice in receiving, you are destroying one of the basic measurements of generosity that God has given us.

The golden rule operates this way (Matt. 7:12). The second greatest commandment requires us to love others as we already love ourselves (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:39). Husbands are supposed to love their wives as they love their own bodies (Eph. 5:28-29). We are to extend forgiveness the same way we want to receive forgiveness (Matt. 6:14-15). And so on, down the street and around the block.

So one of the disciplines you should set before yourself this Christmas in learning how to give is the discipline of setting your mind to rejoice in every gift you receive—every last one. Receive them with gladness. Receive them with gratitude. Receive them with humility. As you do, you are establishing a benchmark in your soul that will enable you to give to others as you ought to do. If you are a constant critic, with an eye always peeled for the inappropriateness of the presents given to you, you are actually damaging your ability to give. How you receive illustrates for the principalities and powers what kind of giver you are.

The Headwaters of All Receiving and Giving

And the central place where we are being grown up into true givers is here, at the Table of the Lord. To be a true giver, you must become a true receiver. “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread” (1 Cor. 11:23). True receivers are being equipped to give. You are filled in this meal, and then sent out into the world in order to overflow.

Now you have been taught before that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not simply cognitive head knowledge. They already knew it was wrong to disobey God. And neither did it mean the experience of sin because God Himself had the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:22). That tree was not an evil tree; it was the tree of maturity. Rather, the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was fruit that would equip them for dominion and rule, which is what they were destined for (1 Kings 3:10; 2 Sam. 19:35; Is. 7:14-16). Their sin consisted of grasping for that rule prematurely.

But here is the glorious thing. Adam disobeyed at that tree. The Lord Jesus obeyed on that same tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thus restoring all things, which includes restoring our access to the tree of life. And so we are summoned here every week to eat the fruit of that tree—His body which is broken for us. Receive it. And in the receiving we are equipped for dominion and rule, which is another way of saying that we are equipped to give it all away. Biblical fathers, biblical kings, biblical rulers, are generous.

“Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:21–23).

We have been given the world. Why did God do this? Why have we received the entire world? So that we might have the glory of giving it all away. And whatever direction we look, whether behind or before us, we see Christ—the generosity of the Father.

He died on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil so that we might die with Him there. He was raised to life on the third day so that we might walk with Him in newness of life. We now come to the tree of life (Rev. 2:7; 22:2, 14) through the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is a reversal.

In the Garden, we had continual access to the tree of life and the tree of dominion and rule was barred for us until we were grown up and were ready for it. But we disobeyed, grasped for that fruit prematurely, and so God barred our access to the tree of life so that we would not be permanently wrecked. He barred that way in mercy, so that our redemption would be possible. And when the time was right, when the times were fulfilled, He worked a miracle in the womb of a virgin, and our Lord Jesus Christ came in order to die on that tree and offer us the fruit of it, which opens the way back to life. And so, as we say at the Table every week, come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

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Andrew Lohr
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Jesus gave; His people give; yes. And we give what is in our own stewardship to give. Those who give by picking others’ pockets should read I Samuel 12: the rich man who showed hospitality by giving his guest the pet lamb of his poor neighbor “deserves to die” and ‘shall repay fourfold,’ said David. (The parable had a different point, but it used the foregoing to make its point.)