A Theology of Gift Giving – Going Beyond Christmas

By on December 7, 2012

By Rick Thomas –

On Christmas day people all over the world will be exchanging presents. It is part of what our culture does on that day. It’s tradition. As with all traditions it does not have to be connected to its original intent. Many traditions lose their original meaning after a while.

Christmas most certainly has lost its Christo-centric meaning among most of our culture. For many it is no longer politically correct to say, Merry Christmas. Happy holidays has become the salutation of choice.

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Is it wrong to celebrate a cultural Christmas which is devoid of Christ? I don’t think so. In fact, there may be wisdom in participating in the culture’s version of Christmas. It would not be an anomaly for how you live the rest of your year.

We participate in all kinds of events throughout the year which are not Christo-centric. It is common for us to take in a ballgame during the summer. We also like going to some of the fall festivals in our area as well as other cultural activities.

As noted in my Santa Question article, you can participate in the world without craving the world or being controlled by the world. Who knows, your interaction with the world’s traditions could be a way of reaching those who do not understand the point of Christianity.

Maybe God will open a door of opportunity by your willingness to participate in some of our culture’s traditions. Paul certainly saw wisdom in this kind of thinking. There were times when he was willing to set aside secondary Christian matters in order to bless others.

Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. – 1 Corinthians 8:13 (ESV)

I want my children to have a cultural Christmas experience with family and friends. We have put up our tree and we’ll go to the annual Christmas parade as well as exchange gifts with a few friends. There will be family memories made and cherished. We look forward to our culture’s version of Christmas.

Christmas is only part of a greater story

As you would assume, there is a but–I want them to enjoy our culture’s version of Christmas, but I want them to enjoy the real meaning of Christmas more. This is harder to do for little hearts whose idea of Christmas is wrapped up in the giving of presents.

This makes a clear presentation and understanding of the Gospel essential. They need to know the birth of Christ is not the totality of the Christmas story. The Savior’s incarnation is merely the continuation of a greater story which is being written and a deeper relationship which He desires for us.

Imagine if Christ showed up as a baby and that was the extent of His relationship with us. One isolated event on the 25th of December would be devoid of meaning. It would soon be relegated to the growing pile of man-centered traditions.

Nice gift, Jesus. Thanks for coming. Glad you made it. Enjoy the meal. Maybe we’ll see you next year.

The Christmas season is part of a bigger story which God is writing. That larger story predates His birth. For example, in Genesis 3:15 long before the Gospel was ever born, we received a hint as to why there was going to be a birth.

Christmas for the Christian isn’t primarily about showing up at someone’s home, going through the traditional meal, exchanging a few presents, and leaving. You check it off your list and breathe a sigh of relief it’s over. That is not how a Gospel-centered Christmas works.

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 particular way, and for a particular purpose. This is how Paul talked about the baby 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 (ESV)

Christmas is not a singular event disconnected from the rest of our lives. Christmas is a continuation of God’s plan of redemption. There cannot be a redemption story without a Christmas story and there cannot be a Christmas story without a redemption story.

The Son had to be brought into this world, in a particular way, in order to fulfill the promise of the Father in Genesis 3:15. You and I were enslaved to sin and sentenced to death. We needed a Savior.

Jesus swallowed our death by His death. He suffered for us so we would not have to suffer eternally. The Father’s gift was much more than a baby in a manger.

Unpacking Christmas

Let me appeal to you to think about the gifts you give this year as part of a bigger story which could be written in someone’s life. Rather than just giving a gift to someone and that be the extent of your relationship with them, how about if you make the gift only a small part of how you want to impact them.

We have the privilege and opportunity of cooperating with the Father in something greater than seasonal gift giving. Christ was a nice gift, but His impact was far greater. What if your Christmas gift-giving was part of a greater story?

How might I do that?

In order to understand how you can be used of God to impact another beyond traditional gift-giving, you have to understand the real reason Christ came. He came to die in order to set us free. Notice how the Hebrew writer laid it out for us:

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 (ESV)

When I am discipling someone, I typically sketch this passage out. Here is an example of how it looks:

A theology of gift giving

The Big Idea from the Sketch –

  • #1 We
  • #2 must die to ourselves in order to help others to overcome the
  • #3 works of the Devil which
  • #4 enslaves them.

Did you know you can serve others, in a representative way, the Savior served you? He died to Himself in order to destroy the works of the Devil, so He could save us. You can “die” to yourself in order to serve others.

The greatest gift you can ever give anyone is your personal and authentic dying to yourself. We are called to follow His example by giving our lives as a gift to others:

Notice what the Savior did, as observed in Hebrews 2:14-15 and reinforced by the discipleship sketch you see above:

  • #1 Christ was born–He took on flesh and blood.
  • #2 He had to go through the door of death. He was born to die.
  • #3 The door of death (and subsequent resurrection) enabled Him to destroy the works of the Devil (1 John 3:8).
  • #4 Once the Devil was overcome, we were able to be delivered from sin.

Christ died for others. He died for the sake of others. He died so others might live. This is the hardest thing for any Christian to do: to die to self in order to help others live for Christ.

What I mean is if I can set aside my preferences, desires, expectations, and comforts, then I can be positioned to help another person to know Christ more effectively (Philippians 2:5-7).

Christ set aside who He was and what He had in order to rescue me. This is what He has called me to do–in an analogous way. I cannot be born of a virgin. I am not God in the flesh. But in my imperfect way I have the privilege to “set aside myself” in order to model the life of Christ for others.

Giving the gift of the Gospel

We can cooperate with God to help “destroy” the works of the Devil which keeps people bound to sin.

  • Do you know someone bound in sin?
  • Do you know someone who struggles with a particular sin issue?

If you want to help them, then you will have to do similarly as Christ. You will have to set aside your preferences in order to serve them.

To ”destroy” means to make inoperable. This raises a wonderful opportunity for you to search the Spirit to hear what He would say as it pertains to cooperating with God to help “make inoperable” the works of the Devil which is active in others.

Here are three common examples of people who need your authentic, Gospel-giving example in order to help them overcome the destructive works of the Devil in their lives:

A husband who wants sex more than he wants to nourish and cherish his wife will need to reacquaint himself with the unselfish, other-centeredness of the Gospel. He will need someone to teach him how to properly love his wife (Ephesians 5:29).

A wife who struggles respecting her husband will not be able to effectively help her husband until she can effectively set aside her dream of what her husband should be like for her. She will have to “walk through death” in an analogous way for a higher and greater calling on her life (1 Peter 3:1-2).

A son who was born into a dysfunctional family, where the parents refuse to get along, will have to “walk through death.” He will need to set aside his longings for a normal, Christian home, while fixing his heart on a higher calling: to be used of God to model the death of the Savior in his home.

In all three of the illustrations above the husband, wife, and son will have to make a decision. Do they want to live the life of the Savior in practical, but challenging ways? Or, do they want to doggedly fixate and strive for getting their desires met?

The Savior set aside His desires for our greater good. It’s profound. What is more important:

  1. What I want in the moment?
  2. What someone needs in order to be delivered from sin?

I’m sure the Savior preferred a continued, unbroken relationship with His Father. However, for the joy which was set before Him, He endured the cross and suffered a cruel death in order to rescue a fallen race (Hebrews 12:2).

We will never be able to save anyone the way the Savior saved us. However, we can demonstrate a profound picture of the Gospel. We can effectively and practically apply the life of the Savior by how we seek to set aside our desires for the greater good of those in need.

Deferred hope

One last thought on Gospel-motivated gift-giving: giving a gift does not mean you will never receive anything in return. Setting aside your preferences does not mean you forever relinquish your hopes and dreams.

There is coming a day when the Savior will see the full fruit of His hands (Philippians 2:11). Setting aside our desires does not mean our desires will not be satisfied.

It’s not a matter of “not getting what I want,” but a matter of how I get what I want. God has never withheld His lavish love from me. He has fully met the desires of my heart.

All He is asking me to do is give to others in a similar way in which He has given to me. My hope and prayer for all of us this Christmas season is that our gift-giving goes far beyond what is exchanged on the 25th of December and that it impacts lives for generations to come and for eternity’s sake.

photo credit: Mukumbura via photopin cc

Rick has been training and counseling in the Upstate of South Carolina since 1997. After several years as a counselor and pastor he founded and launched his own training organization to assist Christians in a better understanding and practice of discipleship. Today his organization represents clients all over the world through his consulting, training, blogging, and coaching.

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A Theology of Gift Giving – Going Beyond Christmas