Our goal: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Problem: Christmas gifts.
my wife and I experienced our first Christmas as a family, we realized
the traditions that each of us was accustomed to weren't the same. By necessity
then, we thought about what Christmas will mean for us. What traditions
will we establish, if any? We will give each other presents? Should we
encourage our children to create wish lists? Will we open presents the
night of Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? What about Santa?
Coming from the perspective that "all theology is
practical and all practice is theological," we weren't about to just do
whatever pleased us most. In everything, we have a great opportunity and
privilege: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. There is much at stake
here. So what do we do with our culture's Christmas?
Let's start with our goal, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, and see if we can derive anything about Christmas gifts.
have a saying in our home that God is glorified "when people know how
great He is" (it has nice meter). And that goes without saying that when
people know His greatness we will find Him to be supremely valuable and
our source of deepest pleasure. So to seek to glorify God is to seek to
know Him ourselves and make Him known to others. One thing we know
about God and want to make known to others is that He is a giver: He
gave Jesus to us, His "only begotten." That tells us His gift was
extremely valuable, yet He gave anyway because of His great love (Jn.
3:16). And not only did He give lovingly and generously, He gave
directly to our root need. He knows us so well that He knew exactly what we needed. I'll call this aspect of His giving character "compassionately."
We glorify God when we act like He does. So we should
parallel His giving character. The direct parallel of how God gives to
how we should give is not that we should give some wrapped, bow-topped
box of earthly treasure. It is certainly not that. The direct parallel
to God giving people Jesus is us giving people Jesus. That is primary.
If we are to truly give lovingly, generously, and compassionately, we
will tell people about God's holiness, their sin, and Jesus' cross. That
is how we are to glorify God in making His character known to others.
God gives more than Jesus. While it is true in one sense that Jesus is
everything, and the gift we are to forever enjoy is God Himself, there
are in this life lesser gifts that I believe God wants us to enjoy. God
gave me a wife. She is a gift. Yet God created marriage (and sex) as a
good thing, knowing full well that our selfish depraved hearts would
make an idol out of it. Even after the fall, He gave me a wife knowing
full well that I could make an idol of her, that she could take over the
supreme place in my desires where He alone should be. A reason why he yet gives the gift in sight of this danger I will save for another day.
For our purpose here, we can say that he not only gives to our root
need, but he also gives to our "wants." And the danger involved is OK.
The giver does no wrong, and the gift is not bad. Giving a gift to someone's lesser wants, in sight of the danger of idolatry, I will call giving "lavishly."
If we are to glorify God by making His character known
to others, we can do this by giving people lesser gifts: wrapped,
bow-topped boxes of earthly treasure. We should do it lovingly,
generously, compassionately, and lavishly. But giving lavishly must be
tempered for a couple reasons: God gives out of His unlimited resources,
while we can give out of only limited resources; and, if something
becomes an idol to His children God will discipline us until He regains
supremacy in our hearts, and so as we give to others we must be watchful
God's resources are unlimited. He "lavishes" grace upon
us, because He has so much of it (Eph. 1:7-8). We seek to emulate that
characteristic of God in our giving. But my bank account is finite. My
hours-per-day isn't getting any bigger. So my resources are limited.
This shakes down into meaning I need to budget what I spend on gifts,
both my time and money. There are always a hundred things vying for my
attention, and it may be that some other activity to put my time and
money towards brings greater glory to God. That must all be weighed in a
budget, and we can't go into that now. Suffice it to say here, it is
required of us to seek to glorify God optimally with our resources, and
only some can go towards giving gifts.
The second reason to temper our giving lavishly is that although
God gives us gifts that are less than Himself, such as a spouse or
children or apple pie, despite His knowing we will make an idol of the
gift, He doesn't let the idolatry go on. He protects us as a good
Father. He knows we are straying into lesser joys. He loves us so much
that He insists we have the most pleasure possible, and that is only
found when He is our deepest desire (Heb. 12:5-11). So when we prop up a
gift as an idol He will discipline us. So in my fatherhood I can
glorify God when I emulate His Fatherhood in protecting my children from
idolatry. When I give a child a gift of earthly treasure I must be
watchful of selfishness and possessiveness in his heart towards that
thing. (It may be better to make this analysis prior to giving the
gift.) Is the child willing to share it with others? Is the child
thankful for other blessings like family or food, especially in the
thing's absence? Or has it possessed the child? If so, I must consider
how to wean the child of the idol. All this opens another big can of
worms that I can't go into now, the issue of Christian parenting. In
summary, when we give to our children we must be watchful and prayerful
for their hearts. (We should be praying for them continually anyway.) But ultimately I do think giving lavishly
to children is OK because we entrust their hearts to God. No matter how
good of a father I could be, I cannot save anyone. And should my
children be saved, God will deal decisively with their idols.
So if all this is true, we conclude that it serves our goal of
glorifying God if we give gifts, and if we do it lovingly, generously,
compassionately and lavishly. And, of course, we know that "God loves a
cheerful giver," (2 Cor. 9:7) so we should add to the list giving
But what does all this have to do with Christmas? I'll start there next time.