Gifts. Don’t get me wrong, I love receiving them, but I have to admit I don’t always see them as clear-cut positives. Think about it. When someone gives you a gift, isn’t there a bit of awkwardness in it? I mean, when you get a gift just out of the blue, it’s almost so uncomfortable as to be a negative experience. How many times have you thought or said, “but I didn’t get you anything”? Seriously, there’s nothing fun about that, gift or no gift. At Christmas, while exchanging gifts is supposed to be about “it’s the thought that counts” that just doesn’t get the job done, does it? No matter what, don’t we always compare the giving and the receiving and sort of try to figure out who got the better deal? Perhaps I’m being at bit Seinfeldian about it, or maybe it’s just true.
But as I read through my Bible plan (New Testament in a year) this week, another challenging aspect of gifts poked at me in a way I probably (indubitably) needed. My reading was through Romans 15-16 and 1 Corinthians 1-4. In 1 Corinthians 4:6-7, we read …
Dear brothers and sisters, I have used Apollos and myself to illustrate what I’ve been saying. If you pay attention to what I have quoted from the Scriptures, you won’t be proud of one of your leaders at the expense of another. For what gives you the right to make such a judgment? What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?
While in this passage, Paul was finishing an admonition to the church at Corinth to not worship one teacher over another (folks were choosing their favorite between Paul and Apollos, etc.), the point here about gifts is what I reflected on this week. Specifically, “What do you have that God hasn’t given you?” I LOVE THAT! But it also hurts.
Why does it hurt? My pride. That question is hardly rhetorical. I don’t know if there’s a single rhetorical question in all the Bible. That’s because God doesn’t ask questions or make points without a purpose. So, there’s clearly a purpose in this.
If we were to paraphrase this phrase, we could say, “God gave you everything you have. You haven’t earned or gained anything on your own … it’s a gift.” Therein lies the next issue with gifts, then. Acknowledging that they are gifts. I remember being a kid, and getting a particular toy I liked and being unwilling to share it with my sister. Why? Because “it’s mine!” But it wasn’t mine. It was given to me by someone else. I just failed to acknowledge that and yield to the reality of it. It’s no different today, in the way I steal acknowledgement from God. It’s in the way I give myself credit for getting ahead professionally. It’s in the way I fail to value the blessings in my life and instead assume that they are somehow in some way compensation for what’s owed to me. It’s in the way I take people (family, friends, coworkers and yes, even strangers), situations, hardships, challenges, etc., for granted. It’s in the way that I hardly ever think about how I somehow drew a lucky card and live in the USA, where I have freedom, opportunity, and rights that 99.99% of the planet do not. It’s even in the way that I wake up in the morning and fail to exude wonderment at the fact that I did so, and that I got to breathe again today.
Paul is clear. Everything we have is a gift, and we are audacious enough to boast as though it’s not. God has been gifting, and we disregard the Giver.
Did we wake up this morning? That’s a gift. Do you have a family? That’s a gift. Do you have a job (even if it sucks)? That’s a gift. Are you smart? That’s a gift. Did you go to college? That’s a gift. Did your heart just beat? That’s a gift.
And … yes, even the challenges, pain, sadness, annoyances, and tragedies in our lives are gifts.
We’ve all received gifts, and we’ve all also given them. What’s the best thing about giving someone a gift? It’s the recognition and appreciation we get in return. It’s the acknowledgment of the gift. Our Giver deserves some acknowledgment.
Tomorrow when you (and I) wake up, thank the Giver of that gift. When you go to work, thank the Giver of that gift. When you think back on how important your education was to getting that job, thank the Giver of that gift. When you get off the freeway without crashing your car (particularly those of you with me in California), thank the Giver of that gift. When you conjure up a cherished memory of something that brings a smile to your face, thank the Giver of those gifts (both the memory and the original event).
You catch my drift. Paul was right … everything we have is a gift. Even if we’ve worked hard to get through high school with good grades, to allow us to attend a good college, which allowed us to get a great job, and start a great career, so we could buy a nice house for our growing family in a safe neighborhood … don’t just stop at the safe neighborhood. Let’s take an opportunity to work backwards and recognize each and every individual gift that God gave us along the way. When we see His amazing generosity, and the manifold presents He’s given that have grown and grown in impact and blessing, we could hardly look past them without acknowledging the great Giver He is. Let’s not take credit upon ourselves for the gifts He has given.
Soli Deo Gloria!