I have trouble taking gifts. I find the whole ordeal uncomfortable. In the wake, and now in the fleeting shadow, of my 30th birthday I have been dealing with this uncomfortable ‘feeling’.
As I searched out my motives and analyzed my actions I wrongly and prematurely concluded that I was not being selfish, but rather just trying to act in humility. However, interestingly enough, the more I prodded the more sick I got. The more I let my conclusions air dry, the more I noticed their imperfections.
I concluded that I was acting in humility because I was trying to refuse things that would give me personal benefit…this has to be humble right?! Well, would this same logic work for those who would refuse the free gift offered by God to a sinful world? Are they acting in humility? No. In fact, it is quite the opposite of humility that causes folks to reject the gift of God in Christ; it is pride.
As I put my own motives on the operating table I see fingerprints of that same pride smudged across my life. I tried real hard to talk myself out of it; however, the charge is true. The same seed that sprouted and took form of a violent and bloodthirsty mob calling for the murderous crucifixion of the perfect God-Man Christ Jesus, is indeed present in me and shows itself in my pseudo-humble rejection of gifts. It is the same thing!
Why do we have such trouble with gifts?
First let me define what I mean by gift by saying what it is not: a gift is not something that must be paid back either in funds or in deeds; rather a gift is something that is freely given and so therefore to be freely received: hence the word gift!
-Is it because we believe that others will feel like we owe them?
-Is it because we feel like we need to pay the gift giver back?
-Is it because we feel like we are without needs?
Notice how we often try to mitigate the grace shown by saying things such as, “You didn’t have to” or “Why did you do this?!” or my personal favorite, “You shouldn’t have.”
The answer to all of these questions is, “But, I wanted to, it is a gift!”
Perhaps it is here in our efforts to mitigate the free gifts from our friends and loved ones that we see a window into our souls in terms of our response to the free gift of God in Christ Jesus.
I have made five troubling personal observations concerning the improper receipt of gifts (or generosity):
- My resistance to gifts declares my own self-sufficiency
- My resistance to gifts declares my own selfishness
- My resistance to gifts declares my own ungratefulness
- My resistance to gifts undermines the givers intentions
- My resistance to gifts reveals an incomplete understanding and appreciation of grace
The first four observations: self sufficiency, selfishness, ungratefulness, undermining giver’s intentions are all characteristics of unbelievers with the free gift of the gospel! What am I saying when I mitigate the goodness of gifts? Am I not acting like an unbeliever?!
Nestled in the middle of “serious” sins such as murder, homosexuality, God-hating we have a character trait labeled for us in Romans 1 as: unthankful (Rom. 1.21).
Being unthankful is rooted in self-absorption, self-focus, self-worship!!
Jesus says that we are to receive the kingdom like a child!! When was the last time a child turned away a parent’s goodness and kindness?
A Sanctification Issue-
How often have you found yourself engaging in various works to try to assuage a humbled conscience? This can take various forms, most often in the shape of Bible reading or prayer, other times it is in ministry, or various other avenues.
The cross of the Savior humbles sinners. Through its sovereign megaphone it declares to us our inability to extricate ourselves from our sinful bondage and our need to humbly come to Christ in complete dependence for complete forgiveness.
When we as followers of Christ feel humbled to a place of extreme self-inadequacy we are not to try to quickly apply the ointment of personal works and merit to our injuries, but instead to sit and marvel at the infinite kindness, compassion, love, and mercy that flows to sinners like you and me from the pierced Savior. Cross-wrought humility breeds Christ-Centered dependence and contentment!
Through my under appreciation and subsequent attempts to mitigate these free gifts I find myself complicit in the theft of the giver. If someone who I care about has attempted to demonstrate their love through a gift, why would I, while ostensibly caring, deny them this opportunity? In this scenario, I would be telling the gift-giver that: “I know they are enjoying giving this gift and in fact they expressing their love through it, however, it would be far more joyful for me to deny you this opportunity for joy and instead exalt in my joyous self-sufficiency…”
I think of the joy that is God’s in the gospel. This exaltation of his Son through his humiliation and the exaltation that comes to us (rebels & enemies of his) through humiliation….how could it be humility that does not receive this gift happily and gratefully?!
I love Ephesians 2 for this reason. Ephesians 2 pokes a sovereign finger in my eye today. It tells me that God gives gifts to demonstrate his love, kindness and compassion to a sinner like me. In fact his free gift is amplified by my sin! Therefore, I am to humbly receive this gift of grace like a child (Luke 18.17) with joy, happiness, thankfulness, dependence….& obedience (cf. v.10!)
Ephesians 2:4-9 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Enjoy gifts; they train your heart in humility and joy. For in the rejection of the generosity from others you and I not only act like unbelievers but also like arminians…living in dangerous disagreement with a theology that believes in the sovereignty of God but denies his freedom to use it! As we reject generosity or receive it in the flesh we are insulting and rejecting the sovereign dispenser of all good things!
James 1:17 17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
Train your hearts to live in grace through requesting it, receiving it and rejoicing in it…for this is pleasing to the King of Grace!