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Are You Generous? Understanding a Theology of Gift-Giving

Are You Generous Understanding a Theology of Gift-Giving

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On Christmas day, people all over the world exchange presents. It is a cultural event full of fun memories for most people. I like many aspects of the cultural Christmas, but sadly, it loses its meaning for many folks because of its secularization. For them, Christmas is about the economy, presents, or family conflict, negating the idea of a generous gospel in most of the world, which is why it’s vital to talk about a theology of gift-giving. Perhaps a refresher on sacrifice will recalibrate our minds to the primary reason for the season.

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Christocentric Christmas

Our culture no longer knows the Christo-centric purpose of Christmas. Happy holidays is their new way of talking about the celebration. I’m not suggesting the “evolution of the season” makes it wrong. Our family participates in many events throughout the year that are not Christocentric. Ball games, friend gatherings, and fall festivals are ways we live in God’s world and enjoy the benefits of His world. We can participate in the culture without craving the culture.

A heart governed by God’s Word can interact with the culture’s traditions to reach those who do not understand Christianity. Who knows, perhaps the Lord will provide opportunities for you to introduce someone to Jesus through your secularized activity with them. Paul indeed saw the wisdom in this perspective. Sometimes, he was willing to set aside his preferences to bless others. In 1 Corinthians 8:13, he said, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”

Of course, we want our children to experience the real meaning of Christmas, too. Understanding Christmas’s real purpose is harder for little hearts who wrap their idea of Christmas with presents. Communicating the biblical Christmas is a call to action to present a broader understanding of gift-giving. Children need to know the birth of Christ is not the complete Christmas story. His incarnation is the continuation of a more magnificent narrative that leads to a deeper relationship our Father desires for us. The Christmas story has many chapters.

An Ongoing Event

One isolated event on the 25th of December is devoid of the more abundant meaning of the gospel. Christmas without the rest of the story would end up on a large pile of man-centered traditions. A more mind-blowing gospel story predates the Christmas season. For example, in Genesis 3:15, long before Christ was born, God gave us a Christmas hint. This prediction of Christmas is why it means so much more than showing up at someone’s home, eating their food, swapping presents, and leaving. Imagine if Jesus showed up as a baby, and that was the extent of His relationship with us. We check the event off our lists. Maybe breathe a sigh of relief because it is over—for another year.

If Christmas is an abbreviated, exhausting event and that was the end of it, the celebrators are not celebrating the Christian Christmas. A broader view and practice of Christmas brings rest, not spiritual depletion and physical fatigue. The gift of the Savior was a premeditated act from eternity past (Ephesians 1:1-11). He was planned and positioned to come at a particular time, in a specific way, and for a specific purpose. Paul talked about the baby Jesus in Galatians:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5).

The point is that Christmas is not a singular event disconnected from the rest of our lives—or eternity. Christmas is a continuation of God’s redemptive plan for us. There would be no redemption story without a Christmas story, and there cannot be a Christmas story without a more extensive narrative. The Father had to bring the Son into the world in a particular way to fulfill the promise of Genesis 3:15. Enslaving sin had captured us and sentenced us to death. We needed a Savior. Jesus swallowed death with His death. He suffered so we would not suffer eternally. The Father’s Christmas gift to us was much more than a baby in a manger.

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Unpacking Christmas

  • What if our Christmas mirrored the entire gospel story?
  • What if our gifts were part of a more excellent story in someone’s life?

Rather than just giving someone a gift, which is the extent of a relationship with them, what if the gift was a continuation of an ongoing impact in the person’s life? Christmas would not be a moment in such a case but a long-form narrative about an ongoing relationship with someone. That is what Christmas is to the Christian. Christmas is one piece of a bigger story. It is a singular part of the Lord’s ongoing work in our lives. It is one gift connected to a more extensive plan that reaches eternity (past) to eternity (future).

It gets better! We can cooperate with God in something more significant than annual gift-giving. Baby Jesus was a beautiful gift, but His impact on our lives is more comprehensive than a seasonal moment. To understand how God can use us to impact another person beyond traditional gift-giving, we must know why Christ came. Notice how the Hebrew writer talked about the birth of Christ. Plainly stated, Jesus came to die to set us free.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Hebrews 214-15

Theology of Gift-Giving

  1. Christ died to Himself (Philippians 2:7-8)
  2. To destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8)
  3. So He could benefit others (John 3:16).

If we model the gospel in our lives (Ephesians 5:1), it will follow a similar logic:

  1. We die to ourselves.
  2. To help others destroy the works of the devil in their lives.
  3. So they can benefit from our generosity—our cooperation with God in destroying the devil’s works.

The greatest gift to anyone comes when we die to ourselves so we can help them to be free. The most significant contribution we could ever give anyone is the daily death of ourselves for their benefit. There is no greater love than dying for a friend (John 15:13). That is how we mirror the gospel to others. That is at the heart of a theology of gift-giving. Don’t you think that is far better than giving a necktie to someone?

Hebrews 2:14-15

  1. Christ was born—He took on flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14).
  2. He had to go through the door of death—a man born to die (John 6:38).
  3. The door of death and His subsequent resurrection enabled Him to destroy the devil’s works (1 John 3:8).
  4. Once the devil was rendered impotent, He delivered us from our sin (Ephesians 2:1).

What does this process mean to you? If you set aside your preferences, expectations, and comforts, you can help another person to know Christ more effectively (Philippians 2:5-7). Christ set aside who He was and what He had to rescue us (Philippians 2:5-8). We can cooperate with the Lord to help destroy the works of the devil—the actions that keep people bound to sin. To help a person untangle themselves from sin is the best gift we could ever give. This application of the Hebrew text is our calling.

  • Do you know someone bound by sin?
  • To make it more challenging, do you know an annoying person bound by sin?

If you want to help them, you must be like Christ. You will have to set aside your preferences to serve them. To destroy means to make it inoperable. This gospel privilege is an opportunity to search the Spirit to hear (Hebrews 3:7) what He would say concerning cooperating with the Lord to help make inoperable the works of the devil that is active in others. Let me share with you three typical examples of people who need our authentic, gospel-giving sacrifice to help them overcome the devil’s destructive works.

Giving Gospel Gifts

  • A husband who seeks to satisfy his desires more than he wants to nourish and cherish his wife needs to learn how to walk through death, which would teach him how to love his wife practically (Ephesians 5:28-29).
  • A wife who struggles to respect her husband because her “marriage dream” is more important than his sin-entanglements will have to walk through death to help him (1 Peter 3:1-2).
  • A son born into a dysfunctional family will have to walk through death by setting aside his longings for a healthy Christian home while asking God to use him to model the death of the Savior in his home.

All three of these individuals must decide if they want to live the life of the Savior in a practical but challenging way or want their self-focused desires met. The Savior set aside His desires for our greater good. Our self-sacrifice is a profound gospel application that challenges us to the core of our practical Christianity. What do I need to set aside to help deliver someone from sin?

I am sure Jesus preferred an uninterrupted relationship with His Father, but He saw another kind of joy. That joy motivated Him to endure a cruel death to rescue a fallen race (Hebrews 12:2). We can’t save people. Still, we can emulate the gospel as we daily die to ourselves (1 Corinthians 15:31). We can practically apply the life of Christ to others by how we set aside our desires for the greater good of those in need.

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Deferred Hope

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11-13).

Gospel-motivated gift-giving does not mean you won’t receive the desires of your heart. Setting aside your preferences does not say you have forever relinquished your hopes and dreams. There is coming a day when the Savior will see the whole fruit of His hands (Philippians 2:11; Hebrews 12:2; Ephesians 5:27). Setting aside your desires means you can’t get what you want now, but you are not letting go of your desires. You are putting your preferences off for a season.

God will not withhold His lavish love from you. He will always fill the desires of your heart—in His time and in His way. Your point of focus must not be on what you want but on what you can give while trusting the Father to provide what you want in the way He chooses to give those things. My hope for you this Christmas is that your gift-giving goes far beyond gift exchanges on Christmas day. May your gospel gift-giving impact lives throughout the year, especially those closest to you, for generations to come.

Call to Action

  1. Who close to you needs your help? Will you partner with them for the long haul? Will you keep pouring yourself out to them?
  2. Some will say, “If I pour myself out to someone, they will harm me.” Of course, they can. I’m not suggesting you place yourself in a vulnerable position that brings harm to you. You do what depends on you with guardrails. There are two ditches to avoid: Not caring about someone caught in sin and putting yourself in harm’s way. Each situation and relationship needs courage and caution.
  3. Will you identify someone you can come alongside to help untangle them from temptation or sin? What might that mean as you think about a specific person? Perhaps you will need to die to yourself, so you can enter their life to help them mature.

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