It is not an unusual question. Most of us have probably heard it as a means of examining our hearts toward God: Do you love the gift or the Giver?
But I think it is a strange question. It assumes that the two are mutually exclusive. However, in my mind and heart, they are tied together. Let me explain.
In my kitchen cupboard is a treasured mug. This mug is really quite ugly, but it does say “Mom: on it. It is the first gift my daughters gave me without “cause.” It wasn’t my birthday, Mother’s Day, or Christmas. My girls were in grade school and had been visiting in a nursing home when they spotted the mug in the gift shop…and got it for me, just because I am their mom and they love me.
I love that ugly mug, not because of any intrinsic value in the mug, but because it represents the hearts of my daughters. The gift was an expression of their love for me. Truly I love my daughters, and this kind and thoughtful gift made me love their tender hearts even more.
God’s gifts are also an expression of His heart. God gives because He is generous, good, and merciful. (See Psalm 34:8-10, Matthew 7:7-11, Philippians 4:19, Isaiah 55:6-7, and Romans 8:32.) His good gifts are a reflection of His character. Two defining attributes of God is that He is good and loving. He is always giving abundantly and generously, never selfishly. God is not needy in any sense, so He is free to give and give and give. His good gifts show us what He is like and cause us to be drawn to His heart. If God did not give good gifts, He would not be the God we know and love. Yes, we love His good gifts because they show us what He is like, which causes us to love Him, the Giver.
So it is not wrong to love God’s gifts. But loving the gifts without loving the Giver is wrong. This is what most of the crowd did when Jesus fed the 5,000. Jesus, perceiving their hearts said to them,
…“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”—John 6:26-27
The important question to ask ourselves is: What are we laboring
for? What are we seeking? Do we seek the gifts, or the Giver? Where are we placing our affections?
There are questions that will help us determine where our affections lie. These are questions we should ask ourselves frequently:
- What is my reaction when a good gift is taken away? Do I respond like Job, “The LORD gave and, the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21b)?
- Am I grateful for the little things, or do I expect more?
- Do I submit humbly and uncomplaining to the will of God? How do I react when my agenda is changed? Do I see people as interruptions to my daily task, or do I see them as God’s detours?
- What do my prayers reflect about what I treasure? Are they more filled with supplications, or words of praise and gratitude? Am I always asking for temporal blessing, rather than spiritual blessing?
- Do I want to be sanctified more than I want to be comfortable?
We have a good God who gives freely and generously. His gifts should lead us to see His heart, and our hearts should well up with love and worship. May we rejoice this Christmas in the greatest gift—the Giver. How foolish it is to love only the gifts and not love a God with a heart like this:
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?—Romans 8:32