Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

   by Jeannette Haley

This is the time of the year when Christ’s birth, His advent and the events surrounding it are still exalted in Christmas carols, lights, cards, sermons, books, and pageants in spite of the world’s efforts to snuff out any remembrance of Him. It is a good time to consider the Gift and the Giver, and how we need to respond.

First, let us consider how God’s love and His ways stand in stark contrast to the prideful and perverted way that man has of doing things. God chose an obscure virgin in the insignificant city of Nazareth to bring forth His Son in human flesh. He entrusted a simple, yet righteous, carpenter named Joseph with this precious Gift. God allowed them to travel on a difficult and uncomfortable journey to the little town of Bethlehem, even though the baby was due. There, they found no place to lodge other than a humble stable where Mary gave birth to the baby Jesus. Angels from heaven appeared in the night to humble shepherds, watching over their flocks. To them were given the glad tidings of great joy that Christ the Lord was born.

Now, let’s imagine that man was in charge of bringing forth the Savior of the world. He would undoubtedly choose a Miss Universe winner or Hollywood’s version of royalty, and like Cleopatra, she would be outfitted with the most expensive and lavish wardrobe. The news media would cover every aspect of her life, and her husband would be richer than Bill Gates, and a prominent, powerful political figure. The best physicians the world has to offer would be employed, in the most lavish setting imaginable. You can be assured that no “dirty farm animals” would be allowed. That also goes for those “nobody” shepherds. Invitations to visit the baby and his famous mother would be limited to the world’s elite. Such is the pride and prejudice of man.

God, on the other hand, in His infinite wisdom, sent His Son to the poor and to the pure in heart—to those who would recognize, love, adore, and worship Him. He bypassed King Herod, the Romans, the Pharisees, and the religious elite, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are; That no flesh should glory in his presence” 1 Corinthians 1:25-29. Such is the wisdom and humility of God.

Consider the greatest verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” John 3:16. God, the great Giver, and Jesus Christ, the great Gift are the sum total of all that matters, in this life and in the next. Yet, how often do we stop and ask ourselves how we are responding to both the Giver and the Gift?

Is the gift of Jesus merely a concept that you have stuffed into the back of your mind, to be sought after when the chips are down? On the other hand, perhaps you are the type of person who views the gift of Jesus as a universal sort of “blanket salvation” for everybody, regardless of their beliefs or lifestyles. Or, has God’s gift been relegated to strictly a religious setting where He is kept in a nice, neat little understandable theological box from which He can never be personally effective in people’s lives, by moving beyond the denominational theologies, dogmas and traditions of men? Hopefully, you are a person who, by simple faith, has come to God and received His Gift and the salvation He offers as a penitent sinner, and who is now walking in newness of life, led by the Spirit, obeying His commandments, and growing to love Him and those He died for more dearly every day. In other words, you are truly born again and not merely a superficial Christian who is playing the religious game.

The gift of Jesus reveals the heart of the Father towards sinners. In Mark 2:17, Jesus clearly states that He came not to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners. Romans 5:8 says, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We know that, “…all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23.  So, what did Jesus mean when He said that He did not come to call the righteous? The key is that in Jesus’ day, the religious leaders considered themselves righteous, with no need for repentance. After all, they outwardly kept the commandments and performed their religious duties. However, the Scriptures expose their hard hearts and closed minds. Jesus knew that their unbelief, in spite of all their knowledge of sacred writ and religious duties, would keep them from humbling themselves to the point of repentance and salvation. He told them forthrightly, “Ye shall die in your sins” John 8:24a.

Thankfully, even among the Scribes and Pharisees, there was a remnant such as Nicodemus who did recognize Jesus as God’s Gift, and who believed on Him. Surely, such men knew the deceitfulness of their own hearts, in spite of outward, religious trappings, and humbled themselves at the Master’s feet in brokenness and contrition. They counted themselves as sinners in need of salvation. For such Jesus came, but for the self-righteous, their fate was sealed by the hardness of their own hearts.

Beloved, beware of hardness of heart, for a hard heart results in spiritual blindness and spiritual deafness that manifests itself in pride, arrogance, cruelty, bigotry, prejudice, jealousy, competitiveness, self-centeredness, and an unteachable and nasty disposition. Tragically, this “rotten fruit” is exhibited by many in the Church today, who have deceived themselves about their true spiritual state. God commands the members of His true Church to “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” 1 Corinthians 5:7.

Verse 8 also mentions the “leaven of malice.” The leaven of malice wreaks havoc among God’s people, by causing strife and divisions among the brethren which is an abomination to God. While such persons may claim to be saved, their fruits reveal that they have never truly been born again.

We need to always bear in mind that the epistles (in fact, the entire Bible) were written to believers in the Church, not to unbelievers in the world. Therefore, let us take to heart these admonitions: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” Ephesians 4:31-32. “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth” Colossians 3:8. “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings” 1 Peter 2:1.

If we have truly received God’s Gift, then all such wickedness should never be found in our hearts and lives for “…if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things have become new” 2 Corinthians 5:17. 

God’s Gift is the greatest Gift that has ever been given to man. This Gift reveals the loving, giving heart of God and the core of real Christianity which is love for God, above all else, and love for others (demonstrated by giving in practical ways.) This love transcends the limitations of the soulishness of the mind, the will and the emotions. It is higher than the loftiest thoughts of man; greater than the most majestic inspiration; and deeper than the most profound emotional experience. It is beyond man’s feeble comprehension; and as selfless and eternal as God Himself, for this kind of love originates with God, not man. It is this love that God revealed to the world when He sent His Son to die, so that we, through His blood, by faith, can be reconciled to God. Yet, how many of us ignore and neglect this Gift in our pursuit for that which this temporary world has to offer?

A gift is something that is given. God gave His Son. Jesus gave His life. The Christian life is about giving, yet most Christians are in the business of receiving. They talk about how to receive blessings, and about the benefits of being saved or how wonderful it is to be a member of this or that church. They talk about the fun they have every Sunday, how great the music is, and how good their pastor makes them feel. They read books about how to manipulate God, in order to receive His blessings and get prayer answered, or how to manipulate spouses, in order to get one’s own way, not to mention books on how to invest money, so as “to receive back a hundred fold.” All of this self-centered slop boils down to a man-centered, cultural “Christianity” that bears little, if any, resemblance to the New Testament Church of the apostles and disciples who gave their lives, so that the Gospel could be preserved and given to you and to me.

If you are thinking “Well, I don’t neglect God’s Gift because I tithe, so I’m a giving person,” I challenge you to prove it scripturally. God did not give 10 percent—He gave His all. He did not give leftovers—He gave His very best. He did not “do His religious duty” and then depart, leaving us on our own. Rather, He sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within His children.

Consider the commandment that Jesus left His disciples: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” John 13:34, 35. This commandment was not meant to be archived when the original disciples died. It is for every person who names the name of Christ, and it must be obeyed from the heart if we are to truly belong to Him. Jesus made it clear that if we love Him, then we will keep His commandments. “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” John 15:12.

How did Jesus, God’s Gift, love His own? Was it in word only? Of course not! Jesus graphically demonstrated His love for His disciples by His example as a humble servant, such as washing their feet, and by laying down His life for them. He tells us in John 15:13-14: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.”  Laying down our lives means that we are not our own (for we have been bought with a price), so that whenever we see a brother or sister in need, and we have the means by which to meet that need, we are to obey Jesus and do it. In other words, tithing (which was not a New Testament practice—they gave all) does not nullify our Christian duty and obligation to obey Jesus when needs arise in the Body.

God’s Gift was a sacrifice. So few today understand what sacrifice means. It means giving what you cannot afford to give, or giving that which you have need of yourself. The widow who gave all of her living to help the poor was destitute herself. Jesus took note of it, and commended her for her great faith. True sacrifice to the Lord is an act of faith that is pleasing to Him, “But without faith, it is impossible to please Him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” Hebrews 11:6. While the rich may give out of their abundance, such giving is not a sacrifice in any sense of the word. (See Mark 12:41-44.)

Consider God’s Gift, and the sacrifice made for us, in light of the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-3: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”

To the shame and dishonor of the majority of American Christians, sacrificial giving is as foreign as living on the bottom of the ocean. Modern Laodiceans are selfish people with high opinions of self that translate into the mad pursuit of the American Dream, which is nothing more than gross worldliness and covetousness (idolatry.) If a believer dismisses as insignificant any Christian who is struggling to survive, and lacks charity towards them with the lame excuse that their tithe has been given to some church, how can he or she expect God to overlook such wickedness? One can only wonder how many people have been turned off to Christianity because of Churches which have become just another big, indifferent, business enterprise that exists for its own glorification.

Where is the love of Christ in any self-serving, heartless corporation? 1 John 3:17-18, “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.”

The conditions for receiving God’s great Gift have not changed through the centuries, and now, we find ourselves living in the time foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24:12, “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” Paul, writing on this subject to Timothy, said: “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” 2 Timothy 3:13. But, in the midst of this darkness Jesus commands: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” Matthew 5:16.

Have you received God’s Gift into your heart? If so, is He the Lord of your life; that is, nothing is withheld from Him, so that He can use you as a vessel of honor to bring glory to Himself through sacrificial giving and service to others? If so, you are truly blessed!