cover-NovDec11The cover of our magazine conveys one of the great joys of life — that of giving something that brings great joy to someone we love. As we approach Christmas, there are many good things about the season and some negative things as well. Many of us will spend massive amounts of time, energy, and maybe money to try to give our child or grandchild something that he will like.

Roland's grandsonI can remember when our children were small and we had very little money, that my wife would start shopping at discount stores and sales at department stores early in the summer to make sure that Christmas morning was a joyous time for our children. On December 25 we had a family tradition in which I would run downstairs where the gifts were arranged carefully around the family room floor and set up our 8 mm camera and the harsh lights needed to get a good movie. The kids would then be turned loose and would come running down the steps and their eyes would fly wide open as they saw the array of toys, dolls, games, candy, books, and craft items that my wife had accumulated for them. All of that would be recorded on film, and the joy of giving to our children would be enjoyed again. My mentally-handicapped son, Tim, still wants (at age 49) to have his Christmas stocking to open and enjoy.

Those are happy memories, and I still enjoy looking at those old videos which record the happiness and joy my wife and I found in giving to our children. I do not think the kids remember all of that as fondly as I do, and yet I see my children having similar celebrations with my grandchildren.

      granddaughterGod has not told us to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25, nor has He told us to give gifts as a religious act. It is interesting that there is very little mention of gifts associated with the birth of Jesus. In Matthew 2 we see the Magi stating that they came to worship the one “born king of the Jews” and in verse 11 they do this and bring gold, incense, and myrrh as gifts. These were expressions of joy at this happy and world-changing event. The Greek word used here for “gift” is doron and is used in a generic way to describe anything made as a donation (see Luke 21:1). There are other words in the original language of the Bible that convey a different kind of giving. In the Old Testament a gift that was used as a bribe was indicated by the Hebrew word shochad. In the laws of Exodus 23:8 and Deuteronomy 16:19 the Jews were told not to accept such a gift because it would “twist the words of the righteous.” (Second Chronicles 19:7; Proverbs 17:8, 23; Isaiah 1:23; and Ezekiel 22:12 are other uses of this word.) In Hebrews 2:4 the word merismos in the Greek indicated a distribution or dividing of something, in this case the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In the New Testament the word dorea is used indicating a different kind of gift. The Greek dictionaries say that this is a “free gift.” In John 4:10 Jesus uses this word when talking with the Samaritan woman at the well as He makes reference to Himself and to the future Christian faith. Jesus says “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” This statement makes reference to the fact that Christianity would break down the Jewish prejudice against the Samaritans and the wall separating the Gentiles in general from God. It was not based on anything anyone did, but was a free gift. Throughout the New Testament when this gift is mentioned it is always associated with God’s grace (see Acts 2:38; 10:45; Romans 5:15; 2 Corinthians 9:15; Ephesians 3:7; James 1:17). In this season of giving to our families and friends, it would be well for all of us to think about what a wonderful gift God has given us in providing the gift of freedom from national, sexual, ethnic, class, racial, and economic divisions that rip and tear at the very fabric of our society and our relationship with God.

Two of Roland's
      grandsonsAnother word used in the New Testament for a gift is the Greek word charisma. We use this word in English to describe leadership. In fact the dictionary defines it as “A special quality of leadership that captures the popular imagination and inspires unswerving allegiance and devotion.” The Greek lexicon defines the original word as “A grace or favor or kindness.” The use of the word charisma in the New Testament is always in connection with a talent or spiritual gift given to a person and is one he is to care for and use carefully. In 1 Timothy 4:14 Paul tells Timothy, “Do not neglect your gift, … .” In 2 Timothy 1:6 Timothy is told, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, … .” (Other uses of this word are in Romans 1:11; 6:23; 11:29; 12:6; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 7:7, 12:4, 9, 28, 30, 31; and 1 Peter 4:10.)

It is a joy for us to give to those we love. As creatures created in the image of God we share with God the joy of giving. “God loves a cheerful giver” because it is a product of a positive relationship between that giver and God. We are blessed when we give because we emulate what God has done for us. The kind of giving we are talking about in the Christian faith is unique to Christianity. It involves serving, loving, breaking down prejudice, and loving those who are unlovable. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls His followers to a life of serving and giving. As He contrasts His teachings with the harsh teachings of Moses He calls His followers to give love instead of anger (Matthew 5:21– 24). When abuse comes, Jesus calls us to give more than was demanded by force (Matthew 5:38 – 48.) Jesus tells His followers to give freely, and not because of the recognition they will receive (Matthew 6:1– 4).

Jesus did not just talk about and command giving — He lived it. In John 13:1–17 Jesus gave His followers the gift of washing their feet and then told them it was their responsibility to give the same gift of service and peace to one another. In this season of giving, perhaps the greatest gift we can give to family and friends is this one — to love them and serve them as Jesus loved us and served us in giving us a way to live that brings joy and peace.
--John N. Clayton
Pictures in this article © Roland Earnst

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