Often during the Christmas season (we have been using the term “Advent” on this blog) people feel a genuine desire to give more. From a secular standpoint, the point of Christmas is to be kinder, gentler, peaceful, and, of course, more generous. In the same way, some Christians reduce Christmas to set of principles and morals to heed.
It is important to give. As Randy Alcorn has said, “The only antidote to materialism is giving.” If you want to avoid the plague of accumulation and the desire for stuff, give. Jesus even said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Christmas, however, is not about giving gifts (as good as that is). It’s about the ultimate Gift hanging on the cross to bring us to God.
But we still give at Christmas, and Christians are called to be generous people everyday. What is the motivation for giving? Is it to be a good example to your kids? Is it so you can be happy rather than a Scrooge? Is it because it is the “Christian thing” to do? Is it so you can get God in your debt?
When Paul wrote to the young, chaotic, pretentious, and selfish urbanites in Corinth, he did appeal to any pragmatic reasons for giving. He did not tell them to give because it will make them happy. He did not tell them to give because when they die they will be left without anything. Ultimately, Paul knew that these motivations were merely moralistic and have no heart-impact. So what did he say? He told them the example of the Macedonians and how he hopes they excel in generosity. Then appealed to the gospel and Jesus’ generosity to us:
I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:8-9).
The compelling motivation to give, for Paul, was that Christ, in his great riches, gave to people who did not deserve it. He gave the Corinthians (and us!) salvation and all the benefits that go with it (cf. Eph. 1:3). He gave us blessing in exchange for a devastating death on a cross (cf. 1 Cor. 5:21).
You will never be as generous as you should be. In fact, left to your own, you will probably be a miser if not for the occasional guilt trip from your conscience or loved one or pastor. But when you are changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ–really changed–when you taste and see what he has given to you, what he has accomplished on your behalf, what he has forsaken so that you might partake, you will not be able to keep yourself from worshiping God through generosity.