“Freely you received, freely give.”
These are some thoughts on celebrating Christmas. But even more, these are thoughts reflecting how the true spirit of Christmas ought to posture our journey in and through the new year.
Jesus said, “Freely you received, freely give.” God gives that we may give as He gives. God freely gives but always with the purpose of changing us. God freely gives, but He does not give just to bless; He gives to invest in the growth of whatever He blesses with His gifts.
Jesus did not die on the cross for our sins, so that we can go to heaven when we die. The Bible does not teach that; at least not in quite that perspective. Rather, our eternal livelihood in God’s presence is a by-product of a greater purpose God has designed towards us. For what the Bible teaches is that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, so that He may restore us into His likeness.
This Christmas, let us be mindful that God is greater than Santa Clause and nothing like Santa Claus. Contrary to the ill-fated beliefs of far too many Christians today, God does not freely give to us, without seeking a change in us. He does not freely give to us just to make us happy and affirm us as His children. God does not freely give in order to solve all our problems, fulfill all our desires, and make feel good and happy. This kind of thinking is pure delusion and a very poor and very wrong image of God and His blessings. This whole mindset misses the greater nature, power and purpose of God the giving God; of God who freely gives because He is the Most Moved Giver.
A helpful contemporary metaphor to describe God in His giving to us, is the idea of an “angel investor,” but in the best sense of the word. God graces us with His gifts because He finds all of us to be a worthy investment of His grace. This is partly what the Bible means by “redemption.”
God finds us humans redeemable for one reason: He created us in His likeness. So He has staked His very existence in fact, to secure our redemption. He has redeemed us, for one reason: to restore all things back to their original purpose. It does not matter how far we have strayed from the divine purpose. In all our sins, we are redeemable.
“He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.” (James 1:18). A Santa Claus god gives so that we can have and enjoy things. But the true God freely gives so that we can become joyful givers, passing down all that he passes down to us.
God give so that hopefully, we become something like God: a gracious person endowed with the supernatural capacity to freely and joyfully give to whomever lacks the “gift” we receive from God.
Every gift that God bestows upon us has a prophetic purpose. Every gift God freely gives us is divinely purposed to produce a change in our wicked heart. And the evidence of that change is how well we also become endowed with the grace of giving.
As He restores us into His likeness, we become ambassadors of heaven. As ambassadors of heaven, we give as God has given to us, and still gives to us. Everything passes down from the Father to us, so that we become channels of His blessing.
Whatever God gives us, if we give it away, especially as an investment in others, our act of giving will last forever. But whatever God gives us, if we keep it only to our self, it will soon pass away; it will not last into eternity. The time will come when whatever gifts we have received but failed to somehow pass on to others, those gifts will rot; they will burn, they will pass away.
There are acts we do however, which can last forever. What lasts for eternity is the motive and purity behind every gift and blessing we pass on to others.
As “calculating” humans who are still growing in the ways of Jesus, we may question the effectiveness of what we give. We may regret what we have given because we perceive our “gifts” have been ill planned, squandered, or have not resulted in the desired fruit or long-term outcome.
So we must remind ourselves that what will last forever, is the purity of our act; the purity of our giving. If we freely give in pure gratitude for what God has freely given us, our action—our act of giving, will last forever.
What can we give?
We can give our time; we can give our material possessions; we can give expertise. We can give our gifts; we can pass down and on, what has been passed down to us. We can give grace. We can give forbearance. We can give forgiveness. We can give others the benefit of the doubt.
We can give our selves to creating goods, services and technologies that may not make us rich but will make the world a better place, especially for those who have less than us. We can give our excess away.
Who should we give?
We should give to everyone, but especially to those who cannot pay us back. So we should foremost give to the poor, to children, to the elderly, to the widows, to the broken, to the destitute. We should give to those who have broken the law and suffered for their transgressions. We should give everyone who needs a second chance, and to everyone who need a new lease in life. This is what the Bible means by preaching the “Year of the Lord,” the acceptable year of the Lord;” the year of Jubilee.
And may I say to my Pentecostal brothers and sisters, and also to my Charismatic brethren who value manifestations of God’s Spirit through the miraculous, to give freely give largely sums up the meaning of Pentecost, because Pentecost is the beginning of the year of Jubilee; the Age of the Spirit; the Age of God’s prophetic people. If we presume we are full of the Spirit and speak in tongues but find it hard to free give or freely forgive, we had better reflect if we are living out the year of Jubilee. What we might really be living out is just remnants of a once great move of God’s Spirit in our life.
How should we give?
We give without expecting anything in return. We freely give because we have freely received. But we can hope and pray that whomever we give to will in turn become prompted to also give. We cab hope and pray that to whomever we give, will pass on the grace of giving.
We can hope and pray that whomever we forgive, will likewise forgive someone else.
We can hope and pray that as God’s grace flows through us, so also it will continue to flow through whomever we have freely given.
God is building a new world; He is building a new world out of this present one, which is passing away. Every good thing we do; every pure act that results from encountering God’s grace in our life, will last forever. Every act of kindness will last forever. Every act of charity will endure for all eternity. What we do in life, will indeed last for eternity. That is why the Scripture says, “Let us know become weary in well doing, for in due season we will reap a harvest.
God loves you just as you are. But He loves you too much to leave you as you are. Everything He gives to you, is with the aim of transforming you into His likeness.
So if God has freely given to you, you also must free give, as often as possible, as much as possible, and to as many as possible. For in so doing, you are contributing to the building of a new world, a world built not on wood and straw but a world built on gold and silver; a world built on the foundation of Christ. A new world built upon the very image of God Himself. Freely you have received, freely give.
Some of these thoughts I’ve gleaned from a book I am presently reading by Pentecostal theologian Miroslav Volf, titled, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005).
In 2006, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, selected this book as the Lenten study book for 2006. Dr Rowan Williams wrote in his “Foreword,” “This is a book about worshiping the true God and letting the true God act in us. . . our knowledge of this true God is utterly bound up with our willingness to receive from the hand of God the liberty to give and forgive. . . I cannot remember having read a better account of what it means to say that Jesus suffered for us, ‘in our place.’”
Here is one Volf’s final reflections, which I find quite stimulating: “Why do we refuse the God-given bridge that would transport us from selfishness to self-giving, from vengeance to forgiveness? That’s a mystery that should make us tremble— tremble before the God who gives to the ungrateful and the God who forgives the ungodly.”