Human beings are indoctrinated from birth, in almost every culture, to observe gift giving. Have you ever thought of that? There are almost no humans on earth who don’t understand the concept.
Go low: a child in a ghetto begging for scraps understands the meals he gets are gifts.
Go high: the rich, for some reason, are often honored with tributes.
Gifts are a part of the world, not just a single, isolated culture or race or socioeconomic background.
Why? Why would gifts be that intrinsic to our condition? Is there any, totally natural and completely explainable, reason for gifts? I would argue that if the world we live in is purely a result of what biological matter does at this current temperature, if the world is purely biological and the immaterial is merely a construct of that biological material’s evolution, there is no reason for gifts. Gifts, even the most tawdry and ill-conceived, are not entirely selfish. They can’t be, else they don’t qualify as a gift. And yet, gifts occur.
Now, theologians argue that this is evidence of common grace: this world is not all bad because God loves everyone somewhat. And naturalists would argue that this is just a way for human beings to build a culture that is conducive to human life; that good things are just our attempt to make the world acceptable.
And I would agree with the theologians and argue against the naturalist and would still yet offer one more apologetic: gifts are God’s creation. The very concept of gifts is a gift. And this set me on a path, as things like this often do, to ponder this further and at depths.
Often our gifts aren’t wrapped in fancy paper and tied with bows. Sometimes our gifts are as conceptual as the idea of gifts. Take, for example, obedience.
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (ESV)
I posted that this morning, with a typographical error, on my various social media accounts. (I am learning to embrace these errors as proof that maybe I really am a human and not a cold-hearted monster/robot hybrid.) This verse is interesting to me because Paul lays out a juxtaposition that isn’t easily parsed and can be breezed by, as so much of Romans is.
- You are a slave.
- Whatever you obey, that’s your master.
- Your master can be sin.
- That leads to death.
- Your master can be obedience.
- That leads to righteousness.
Your master can be obedience.
This is fascinating. Because in Jesus, I don’t have to work at all for my salvation. It’s done. It’s over. It’s all taken care of. And yet, I can choose to make obedience my master. I can choose to engage God in words, thoughts, and deeds. I can choose that and the benefit, to me, is righteousness. Not saving me, but granting me fullness of life. My obedience, then, is a gift. It’s not a task. It’s a way to grow. It’s a way to thrive. It’s a way to enjoy my life. And the alternative is sin. Which kills me. Which steals my joy.
Of late, I am being instructed in this. Less so on the sinning part (not that I have stopped sinning), but more on receiving the gift of obedience. Choosing to obey God for my good. And what I am seeing is that it is stripping away the mercenary aspects of my life.
See, the gift in obedience isn’t in order to get something. Or not just to get something. Yes, righteousness comes through obedience, intimacy with God, etc. But the gift of obedience is like the gift of unwrapping a present. And because my audience is small, American, mostly southern, mostly lower-middle to upper-middle class, you immediately know what I mean.
There is a gift in the very act of opening a gift. It’s the elation, the jittery, nervy wonder where you are finally free to explore what’s inside the box. It’s quite a different feeling than if someone handed you, say, an opened, used pen. “Here,” they say, “enjoy marking on things.” Well, sure, that’s a gift, but it’s only partly a gift. Oh but should you have a slender box, wrapped in cornflower blue like the morning sky, tied with a silver ribbon, perhaps a glint of glitter on the paper. You find the weakest places to tear it open, to strip it of its beauty. That moment is only seconds, at most, but what seconds they are!
This is the joy of obedience. This is the joy of opening the gift. And we miss it because we don’t look for it in the first place.
But in Jesus, in pursuit of Him, the act of pursuing Him is a gift. In Jesus, the answer to prayer is a gift, certainly, but so is the ability to pray and be heard. In Jesus, the eternal wonder of the heavens, and eventually the new heavens, are a gift, yes, but so is the road there. And I want joy in that. I don’t want to lose the fantastic seconds that this life really amounts to. I want to revel in these seconds and see them as a gift to me.