In most relational settings we are free either to give or to take—to be consumers or to be resources. Whatever we do is a litmus of our standing with Christ—a conspicuous signal of real faith over against a mere profession. In Christ we regularly prefer giving over taking because our hearts have been reoriented by his life in us . . . by his Spirit.
The Spirit brings to us the values of the Father and the Son: he speaks into our hearts about who God is and how he works. God so loved the world that he gave us his beloved Son to die for our sins and to share with us his righteousness. Jesus taught that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Each Christian has also been given a gift by the Spirit meant to be given away for the sake of the whole body of Christ. And there’s much more that could be said here as the Spirit pours out God’s love to us. A Christian life is an overflowing channel of God’s life to the world.
This is no small matter. For one it offers a discriminator as churches or ministries select leaders. Is a candidate generous, caring for others; or demanding and forceful in directing others? As we coach young believers do we focus on Bible texts that elevate this distinction and invite initiatives of heartfelt sharing? And as we build our theology do we avoid systems that promote selfish versions of God and religion; and begin, instead, to listen to the calling of Philippians chapter 2?
It’s easy to read this and say, “Yep, I agree! Good gospel stuff here. Now what’s for supper?” So the bigger question is, how well does the church—the collective set of Spirit-defined givers—do in displaying this impulse?
One way to answer is to take up the high water mark of giving and then ask how far we’ve traveled in that direction. Jesus offered that mark in John 15:13 when he called on his closest group of followers to be prepared to lay down their lives for each other. Jesus knew that within hours of his statement he would give himself over to death so that his friends could have everlasting life.
This sort of complete devotion is a gift we don’t expect from others. But if and when we find such a gift something deep inside us is awakened. We discover a spontaneous trust coming alive within. But it takes actions, not just words, to come alive. So when we find such a love it elicits faith in us. And we tend to give ourselves up in return. Giving invites giving.
By that measure the moment any of us is certain that another person is ready to give up their own personal security, their dreams, and even their physical life for us—we then have someone we can trust with the deepest sense of respect and response. And as we offer ourselves to others by that measure, they begin to trust us as well.
We can never ask that of others, as if we have the right to expect sacrifices from others in order to gain advancement for ourselves. That’s the stuff of a taker, not a giver. But we can assure others that our own agenda is to count their welfare as a greater concern than our own. And when that happens we have a miracle at work. It’s called the love of God poured out in our hearts.
So today: am I a giver or a taker? Am I a resource to others; or one who consumes them? Do I talk about Christ; or do I love him and follow him? The Spirit can nudge each of us to answer these questions honestly and sacrificially . . . if we’re listening to him.