I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others… ( 2 Cor 8:8)
Though Christmas may come with some level of stress (ranging from travel, relationship and expectations of others on you) This by and large is a joyous season for many.
One common expectation is the giving and receiving of gifts among friends and family. Additionally, many individuals, churches, corporations go the extra mile to give to those in need or to make others in various situations experience some level of happiness and joy by providing for their needs and wants. Undoubtedly, this is the time of the year when we see a great deal of charitable activity by individuals and groups alike.
This is commendable and I am not against any of this. I was however prompted to examine further my methods and motivations for who and what I give to during Christmas in light of a testimony shared by one of the Deacons at my church. This Deacon, who has been involved with ministering in the inner-city on a regular basis, shared a term that was quite striking. The term that he had been taught by those he ministered to was ‘Turkey Christians’. You get the idea. This is the term used in the hood for Christians who show up in droves with meals once a year and drive off in their vans not to be seen again for another year. So I started wondering. What might others think of my giving (or lack thereof)? I am not sure of the answer to that and you may even say that I shouldn’t be worried about what others think but I want to share some challenging considerations I came across from Apostle Paul while mulling over this question.
Paul was speaking to the Corinthians and, with sensitive yet compelling assertions, he urged them to pattern their giving after the Macedonians. As I perused over 2 Cor 8-9, an interesting contrast begun to emerge. (If you have time, read though those two chapters).
Our Christmas giving is mostly Cultural, Compelled, Crafted for Comfort and Confined to a Season.
This not to say that all of the above is necessarily bad but it looks different from what Paul is saying.
Paul tells us that the giving of the Macedonians was counter-cultural instead of cultural, was self-motivated instead of compelled by others, was focused on needs rather than wants or comforts, and was continued for a reason and not confined to a season.
Our Christmas giving is cultural in that this is what everyone does at this time. It is not something unusual and it is common all around us. Individuals and organization irrespective of religious preference are involved in giving. Giving during Christmas is not counter-cultural (in this part of the world). However, Paul says the Macedonians went beyond expectations. What was counter-cultural about their giving was that they exceeded expectations. Paul says ” They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.” (Ch8 v5) Their giving of themselves was counter-cultural. They weren’t Turkey Christians.
Our giving during Christmas is compelled at least at some level. Whether it is as part of an office collections or what your church is doing or when prompted by the salvation army bell on your way into the store or because you know so and so is going to get you a gift, you may feel compelled to participate (less you seen as being ‘grinchy’) or to reciprocate in the case of families and friends who exchange gifts. Clearly giving out of compulsion does not make it wrong but better yet, like the Macedonians, the more desirable thing is to give proactively. Paul says the Macedonians gave ‘entirely on their own’ (ch8, v3)
Our giving is generally crafted for comfort- We find great pleasure and enjoy the idea of meeting the wants of others so rather than ‘simply’ meeting a need (that would be a boring gift) we want the reaction of meeting a want. Paul seems to be urging us to be more concerned about needs by telling us that in the present time, “your plenty will supply what they need” (ch8, v14)
Lastly our giving is somewhat confined to a season. What I mean is that by and large there is a level at which we may give during Christmas (whether it is through gifs to people we normally don’t see or service in places we normally don’t frequent) that ceases after Christmas. Once Christmas is over, that family, child or even relative is relegated back to their life path and never crosses ours again only to show up again a year later in a list to be shopped for. Evidently, in contrast, the Macedonians finished what they started and Paul later stated to us that “in all things at all times… you will abound in every good work”. The giving should continue because the service performed was “not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (ch9 v12)Come February, how will our giving compare to this Christmas season?
If Christmas is Jesus birthday, who should be getting the gifts? Jesus told us what we could do for him. He said that whatever we do for others in his name, we were doing for him. How much of what we are doing for others is in his name now and in the months to come?
Christmas will be over soon. But let us not let that end our giving. In fact, let it begin a process of examining our giving for the whole of next year so that “others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” (Ch9, v13)