For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
Why do you give presents? At first, the answer seems obvious—but is it? This is important to understand, especially with the Christmas gift season approaching. The obvious answer is that you give to make someone else feel happy or appreciated. But let’s take a deeper look at this “obvious” answer. There are many ways to approach this issue, but this in post our focus will be on why you give presents to your children. Gift giving, like anything else in the Christian life, must be done for the glory of God. So your first thought in choosing gifts for your children should be to consider how the gifts will honor God.
Giving to honor God is not necessarily the same as giving to make your child happy. In fact, the two goals may be in opposition to each other! The ultimate example of giving to glorify God is Jesus Christ. He gave his life to honor his Father so that others would live. Christ's gift was selfless, pure and holy. That gift became the model for all giving. Let’s take a look at each of these three qualities. While we can never match these qualities in our own gift giving, nonetheless, they become our standard.
From a human perspective there was nothing in what Christ did that was a benefit to him. His joy was in doing what the Father wanted. He did not give selfishly, to get something back. One trap in gift giving is the expectation of appreciation. You think and plan for weeks to get just the right gift for your 10-year-old. It is an expensive gift. It is a gift that you longed for a child. Your son tears off the wrapping, opens the box, looks for a moment, and then looks up and says a half-hearted thanks—and immediately dives for the next present. You're crushed. How could he not appreciate the love and sacrifice that went into that gift? Some of the joy of the day has gone. When this happens the gift was not really for your child. It was, at least in part, for you. You were hoping, expecting, to receive as well as to give. In addition, you chose a gift you were sure he would like, but you didn't take time to listen to him enough and know him well enough to make a good choice. This is not selfless, but selfish. Gifts should not be given with an expectation of earning gratitude. This type of giving is described in Luke 6:32-36. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. (vs.33) Giving that is selfless finds delight in giving, not in receiving.
Purity in giving means giving with motives that are undiluted. Giving gifts is not the time to make up for past sins. If you have been short or insensitive with your children, don’t attempt to make it up by giving great gifts at Christmas. Those sorts of sins are only covered by repentance, which then produces sensitivity and pleasant words. Don’t use a pile of presents under the tree as a substitute for your failings as a parent. Atonement was purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ, not by a Sony Wii purchased on a credit card. Give gifts simply because you love others and desire to give them good gifts. Purity is expressed by joy in the very act of giving. This means that there are more important gifts to give your children than ones that you can wrap.
Following Christ in giving also means that your gifts must be holy. Your gifts must not be stained by the love of the world. If you choose gifts that based primarily on what the world thinks is cool, the gift is not a holy gift. If your gift is an attempt to make the recipient beholden to you, it is not a holy gift. Holy giving means that you can give the gift knowing that this gift will please God and help your child honor God. A new bike can be given as an expression of love and a means of helping your child actively enjoy the creation. Or it can be an attempt to earn his loyalty and cooperation. One way is holy and the other is not.
Giving that incurs undue debt does not model Christ. Giving that attempts to buy respect or appreciation does not model Christ. Giving that attempts to atone or appease is not honoring to Christ.
Some gifts given at Christmas would be better repackaged and given throughout the year. The overtime it took to earn the money to buy the really special gift might have been better invested in being home and spending time with your child. No one knows more about giving that pleases God than his Son. This year, truly seek Christ as your example for the giving of gifts.
As always, your thoughts are welcome and desired.