As we consider the whole question of gift-giving at Christmas, we have been studying the background. What does the Bible teach about giving and receiving generally, and how can we apply these general principles to specific situations—like Christmas shopping and presents?
So we started with the ultimate gift of Christ, the unspeakable gift that God gave to us, and how that relates to the training God puts us through in order to equip us to imitate Him. We then moved on to the nature of giving, and how it was more blessed to give than to receive. But we also noted that to be blessed in giving is to be a receiver. And so this week we are going to examine the nature of receivingin greater detail. Next week we will look at the goodness of the material world.
“And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat” (Matt. 10:7–10).
Summary of the Text
Jesus was sending His disciples out on a preaching mission, telling them to stay away from the Gentiles and Samaritans for the present (v. 5). They were to go to the lost sheep of Israel (v. 6). The message they were to preach as they went was this—the kingdom of heaven is at hand (v. 7). They were told to give as they went in particular ways. They were to heal the sick, cleanse lepers, raise the dead, and cast out devils (v. 8). They were to do this in the spirit of “freely they had received,” so also they should “freely give” (v. 8). As their intake had been, so also their output should be. Jesus then tells them not to take any provisions along with them (vv. 9-10) because a workman deserves his pay. This is quite striking because Paul quotes this in his teaching on ministerial pay (1 Tim. 5:18). So Jesus is teaching His disciples a lifestyle of both giving and receiving and giving some more. This is like a reciprocating engine with plenty of fuel.
We have already considered the fact that creatures are receivers, by definition. “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7, NKJV). Ponder this. What do you have that you did not receive as a gift? And if that is the case, what is the ground for self-sufficient pride?
Gladness and Gratitude
There are many believers who are diligent in giving, but they have a very hard time in receiving anything—even thoughtful gifts. The initial impulse of self-reliance is good (Gal. 6:5), but the same passage also teaches us that we should bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). This is like breathing in and breathing out. We receive, which means that we are enabled to give, which means we need to receive again. Allow me to say it again—we give to get in order to give again.
It is frequently the case that when people have real trouble receiving help from others, it is because of a hidden root of pride. Someone who gives all the time might simply be generous. But he might also be very proud. He wants to be the alpha, the ring-giver, the one who bestows. He is haughty. He might give everything to the poor, and still be a man of pride (1 Cor. 13:3).
What would you think if you got the perfect Christmas gift for your overly-pious son or daughter, and found that he had thrown it away without opening it? When you (understandably) asked about this curious behavior, he said that the only thing he really cared about was his relationship with you, and he didn’t want anything to get in the way of that relationship. Value the giver, not the gift, you see. You might reply, and you might even be peeved when you replied, that him throwing a perfectly good fifty dollar present away might conceivably interfere with your relationship. You might even have to prevent your wife from chasing him out to the trash cans with a belt in hand.
This kind of thing is found everywhere in Scripture. I said in an earlier message that God gave us a set of training wheels in the tithe. But that is not the only training guide He has given us. He has given us our joy in receiving as a valuable indicator of how much joy for others we should seek in how we give to others.
The golden rule operates this way (Matt. 7:12). The second greatest commandment requires us to love others as we already love ourselves (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:39). Husbands are supposed to love their wives as they love their own bodies (Eph. 5:28-29). We are to extend forgiveness the same way we want to receive forgiveness (Matt. 6:14-15).
So one of the disciplines you should set before yourself in learning how to give is the discipline of setting your mind to rejoice in every gift you receive—every last one. Receive them with gladness. Receive them with gratitude. Receive them with humility. As you do, you are establishing a benchmark in your soul that will enable you to give to others as you ought to do. If you are a constant critic, with an eye always peeled for the inappropriateness of presents given to you, you are actually damaging your ability to give. How you receive illustrates for the principalities and powers what kind of giver you are.
The Headwaters of All Receiving and Giving
And the central place where we are being grown up into true givers is here, at the Table of the Lord. To be a true giver, you must become a true receiver. “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread” (1 Cor. 11:23). True receivers are being equipped to give. You are filled in this meal, and then sent out into the world in order to overflow.
You have been taught before that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not simply cognitive head knowledge. They already knew it was wrong to disobey God. And neither did it mean the experience of sin because God Himself had the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:22). Rather, the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was fruit that would equip them for dominion and rule, which is what they were destined for (1 Kings 3:10; 2 Sam. 19:35; Is. 7:14-16). Their sin consisted of grasping for that rule prematurely.
But here is the glorious thing. Adam disobeyed at that tree. The Lord Jesus obeyed on that same tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thus restoring all things, which includes restoring our access to the tree of life. And so we are summoned here every week to eat the fruit of that tree—His body which is broken for us. Receive it. And in the receiving we are equipped for dominion and rule, which is another way of saying that we are equipped to give it all away.
“Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:21–23).
We have been given the world. Why did God do this? Why have we received the world? So that we might have the glory of giving it away. And whatever direction we look, whether behind or before us, we see Christ.