Why do we give gifts anyway?

Yesterday’s sermon was on the theology of gift giving. It’s easy to slip into the expected Christmas rush with all the stress of shopping like a maniac and we can forget what it is we are doing. So here’s why we Christians can celebrate Christmas like no one else on the planet. We really do have a reason for all this.

First, the Magi brought Jesus gifts. And they brought Him expensive gifts. Matthew calls their gifts treasures. So gift-giving has always been associated with the story of the Incarnation.

Second, the overwhelming message of the New Testament is that God gives to us so that we can give to one another. The two commandments to love the Lord our God and love our neighbor are like two parts of a whole, like a violin and a bow or a lock and a key. We don’t just love God in our hearts; we love Him by loving our neighbor. These two things are connected. These two commands are a unit. Freely we have received; freely give!

Of course there are ways we can sin in the gift-giving. One way is by being grumpy about it. Or we can sin by giving to our neighbor instead of giving to God, and we can sin by giving to God instead of giving to our neighbor. The Pharisees did this when they didn’t give to their needy parents because they had given the money to God (Mark 7:11).

Christians can  buy into the heresy that material things are bad in themselves. This can be a trap for many Christians, because it can sound “spiritual” to say that you are not going to participate in the crowds and the materialism and the crazy gift-giving of Christmas. Some say it isn’t about Jesus at all, but simply about commercialism.  So they don’t celebrate Christmas at all. Their kids get no gifts. Instead they say they will give a gift to the poor in lieu of gifts for the kids. This sounds super-spiritual, but it can be just like the Pharisees who called the gift “corban.” Remember the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? When she interrupted the animals having a little Christmas celebration, she called it gluttony and extravagance.

Our relationship to God is mirrored in our relationship with our neighbor, and our family is made up of our closest neighbors. The state of our marriage, our relationship to our kids, and our relationship to our friends and coworkers all reveal the condition of our relationship to God. If we are serious about loving God, we must be serious about loving our neighbors.

This means we act horizontally how God has acted toward us. He has given extravagantly to us, over and over again. He does not stint or ration out His grace and mercy and love toward us in tangible ways every day. We must not be like Namaan who wouldn’t stoop to be washed in the Jordan. He wanted something more “worthy” to do to be healed. We must not scoff at gift-giving as something beneath our great spirituality.

Of course this does not mean tearing around throwing away our money senselessly. We should give with wisdom. We should love the crowds of Christmas and we should love the merchants. Jesus loved the crowds and He loved to feed them. He gave them gifts of fish and bread. He gave them living water. The merchants at the mall are a form of God’s grace to us, so we should be thankful for them! Thank God for the mall and the crowded parking lot!

The best gift we can give to one another is gospel-saturated grace. When we give gifts to one another, we are giving to Jesus. He keeps track of drinks of water. So we should give our gifts with the same spirit of grace. When we give with the right spirit, Jesus says thank you. He graced us, and we imitate Him. He gave us the Holy Spirit so we would become givers and lovers like He is.

And finally, why do we wrap our gifts? So Jesus will be surprised. And we might say, “What are you talking about? Jesus isn’t surprised!” But when was Jesus hungry and thirsty or naked or in prison? When we give to one another, we give to Him.

So, we ought to load up all our gifts and laugh as we wrap them, and offer them all to Jesus in His name as we write on the tags and fill the stockings.

Isn’t God good that He lets us imitate Him in such delightful ways? And we glorify His gift to us in His birth with each gift we wrap.

God bless you as you shop. Don’t grow weary of the gift-giving. Render it all unto the Lord! And have a very Merry Christmas!

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33 thoughts on “Why do we give gifts anyway?

  1. Oh how I LOVED this–overflowing with joy and echoing His goodness…I’m smiling as I read and wrap presents and thank Him for His good gifts and the smiles that will come from these temporal symbols of love and celebration!
    Thank you!

  2. Hi! Your post is beautiful although I still think that the craziness of gift giving in the USA is beyond healthy. I’ve seen moms buying 20 gifts for one kid at Christmas and 20 gifts for the same kid’s Birthday, without any thought to sharing this blessing with people in poverty or giving to a charity.
    Other than that, gift giving is a beautiful tradition that should be kept and guarded – within what is logical for each family, of course.
    I just wrote a post about this topic too :)

  3. These words were a blessing today! I’ve been feeling a bit “guilty” about buying so much for friends and family this year–or at least for ENJOYING doing it.
    :)
    What wonderful love the Father has LAVISHED upon us!
    Merry Christmas!
    ~april

  4. Amen and Amen. Thank you for your teaching on this, Nancy, this year and last. I love to gift gifts, and now I love it all the more. And I am so thanking God for online shopping and free shipping this year! Merry Christmas!

  5. This was great! I read a blog recently, same subject except she gave her kids one or two things a piece, in an effort to lash out at consumerism and a comercialized Christmas. I quickly agreed, jumped on board and brought the request to my my husband. So glad I have him, he nearly laughed at me. We love giving to our kids, in fact, we save up all year, are kind of stingy with toys until Christmas and birthdays- we go nuts! I’m so glad I took time to seek God out on this (and my Godly husband!). Hurray for a season full of giving!!

  6. Thanks for adding balance to this topic. I have been feeling very guilty about buying gifts this year, after reading about so many “no gift” policies in lieu of donations! But I still wondered why it would be okay to not give gifts to our kids when we got to enjoy them growing up. You have covered all sides of this discussion so thank you!

  7. In our gift giving this year we have followed the model of the wise men. Three gifts with significance for the receiver. Our heart in doing this is to treasure Jesus even in our gift giving, and allow our hearts and minds to meditate on Him while we shop and prepare gifts for others. Jesus received Gold because He is a King, Frankincense because He is our Priest, and Myrrh because He is our Savior. How do we apply it?

    Kids and parents are giving each other a gift of worth (something you spend money on to bless the receiver), a gift of spiritual significance (something to increase the spiritual life of the receiver), and a gift of service (giving of yourself to bless the receiver). We feel like when we have this heart to bless those who receive our gifts, we are blessing them as the wise men blessed the baby Jesus centuries ago. Also, it has caused us to meditate on the arrival of Jesus, His identity of King, Priest, and Savior, and what He has done for us.

    It has been so much fun to see the kids and my husband get so excited about gift giving this year. We have tons of gifts surrounding a Nativity under the tree and they are all labeled as GOLD, FRANKINCENSE, and MYRHH.

    Love this post, thanks for the reminder to “owe love” to one another and bless them as a valuable part of the body of Christ.

  8. Question for Suzanne (and anyone) what kind of gifts of service do you give your kids? Do they get excited about it?

    (First time commenting, long time viewing. Thanks you ladies!)

  9. I love giving gifts, and I love God who is the Giver.

    There is such a balance, isn’t there, between giving of gifts and materialism on the other hand. I think you strike it here.

  10. Thank you for your joyfull wisdom once again Mrs Wilson.I have just come down from settling our boys for the night with the charming story of Papa Panov’s Special Day. This book illustrates for little ones just how giving to others is really giving to the Lord Jesus.Amazon.com and Amazon uk sell it.My Mum read it to my sister and I as now, I read to my little ones. Happy memories.

  11. Cara,
    Who wrote and illustrated that book? I found a couple different authors/illustrators when I looked for it.
    Thanks!

  12. Thank you so very much for this post Kristie. Your timing – perfect. The words – deep. The truth – real. I needed this reset, and it was the part about gift wrapping that I needed to be reminded about most. Because of this post I am regrouping my grumping, and tackling my wrapping the way it’s supposed to be – with a smile on my face and care with each tear of paper, tape, ribbons and bows! This post is the perfect gift. Merry Christmas with blessings… XO Sheila

  13. I agree that God gave us the best gift of all in Jesus, extravagantly and undeservedly.

    We need to be so careful though because we may not realise our tendency towards materialism because it is endemic.

    And what did God give us so extravagantly? Eternal life and the chance to know Jesus, to be adopted as God’s child. I want my giving to others to help point them to Jesus, not away from him, to show his immense love for us. Giving extravagantly in terms of lots more toys may teach a message that contradicts our words about Jesus being the most important thing. It may be showing my love of possessions, and may encourage in our children a love of possessions and a seeking of satisfaction in material comforts. I see some of that in our family.

    I think there is a big difference between using/withholding our money to help our family (Mark 7:11) and giving/not giving our kids even more toys when they have so many – as it says, we need wisdom. So we’ve bought some toys, made some things (extravagant giving of time and effort and tailored to the individual), and given a lot of Christian books!

    I want to be extravagant with my kids and family (and others) in spending time with them, showing them love in a family way, talking about Jesus.

    Jesus also gave to us who are undeserving and spiritually poor. So I want to give to others who are spiritually poor and materially poor. I want my kids to learn that God cares for the poor, the needy, by taking part themselves.

    Christmas is a great celebration and I’m loving giving, but I think we do need wisdom and a balance!!

  14. Thank you for this lovely message on giving! With four little children under 5 we have been doing lots of creative homemade gifts this year. They have absolutely loved it and I’m sure the family will too.

  15. Christina, Our version is ‘Papa Panov’s Special Day’, Mig Holder(Author)Julie Downing (Illustrator)Lion Hudson (Publisher). Every blessing, Cara.

  16. Thanks, Cara! In reading summaries, I found out the original story was by Tolstoy, who wrote another similar story called “Where Love Is, God Is”. That story was made into a little claymation movie I picked up at the library a while back called “Martin the Cobbler”. I just thought you might like to know!

  17. Since I grew up giving gifts around Christmas and my husband did not (his family celebrated Sinterklaas) we have had discussions/slight disagreements about this. What you say about gift-giving reflecting Christ makes a lot of sense, but it seems that gift-giving and getting can take our focus away from the most important thing: God’s gift. Our motives may be pure and our desire may be to mirror God’s relationship with us, but doesn’t our sinful nature cause us to think more about these fun earthly gifts? I think it especially difficult for children, unless I am the only little one who had thoughts about what I had received, or would receive when I should have been focused more on the miracle and great blessing of Christ’s birth. Does anyone have thoughts on this? We don’t want to be pharisaical or just go with the flow because everyone around us does it and we want to as well.

  18. I’ve been wondering about some of these things, too (Nancy, Laura). I appreciate the way you explained gift-giving, Nancy, and it helps me not to feel so materialistic. At the same time, I do wish our Christmas moved me more to think about the Incarnation, like celebrating Thanksgiving moves me to thankfulness.

    On one hand, it’s my responsibility to make sure I’m having the right mindset, and thinking the right thoughts. On the other hand, we’re physical beings and what we do affects our thoughts and worship. I do not think we should avoid gift-giving out of fear that our sinful nature will distract us from Christ, but I do wonder what more I or we could incorporate that would direct our thoughts rightly! Input, anybody?

    And merry Christmas, it goes on for 11 more days! :)

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