Monthly Archives: July 2009

More blessed to give than to receive

I believe this is a dilemma many, if not all, will experience as a member of a church. We come to church looking to receive healing for our hurts, comfort for our pains, consolation for our sufferings, intimacy for our loneliness, merriment for our griefs.

But how does this fit in with Jesus’ words, “it is more blessed to give than to receive”? Or “freely you have received, freely give”?

It is easy to dismiss this as taking Jesus’ words out of the context in which they were originally used. I acknowledge this somewhat, but it is a fitting summary of a principle that extends through the New Testament. Just as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many, we are to do the same in imitation of the One who has given us much.

Easier said than done.

I don’t wish to make this lengthy, but I think many fail to fully comprehend the basis on which this principle rests. Note that the order is ‘freely you have received’, therefore ‘freely give’. Let’s apply this to daily Christian living. The first act of receiving is the moment of conversion, where God gives us faith to receive the gift of forgiveness, and righteousness and adoption through and in Jesus Christ. The first act of giving is seen in the passionate service new believers often offer up to the church.

Here’s where it breaks down. You run dry. The fire burns out.

You run dry because you too easily abandon the fountain of living water, the One who says, whoever drinks the water I offer him will never be thirsty again. Your fire burns outbecause you too easily quench the flame of the Spirit by taking your eyes off Jesus. The Spirit burns anew whenever Christ is seen. Your tree becomes barren because you fail to heed the words of the One who says, “Abide in me and you will bear much fruit.”

I think we see Jesus too often as the way of salvation in the sense of him being the entrance. But the way of salvation is long and arduous. It is not a casual stroll through the park. It is a hike through the jungle. But this jungle has a well beaten path. Don’t let your sense of adventure deceive you into thinking you can beat out another path for yourself. Only Jesus knows the way out of the mess we’ve found ourselves in. Follow the guide – this One not only knows the way, but made it himself.

Analogies aside, I believe we must ensure that we as Christians remain gospel-centered. Receive daily the blessings that Christ secured on the cross for us. Freely we have received these blessings, freely we must give. But give only that which you have received. There’s nothing else of value you have to give. It’s rather amazing that the only object of value we have to give to others is free, but that is the way of God. The best things in life do not come cheap – they come free, at the expense of Jesus.

It is important to remember this principle – give only that which you have received! But before long, you suddenly realise, as you give and give and give that which you have received from Christ, you understand what he meant when he said, “The water I give you will become in you a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” We have in Christ an immeasurable supply of riches to fill up the poverty of others.

The final question you might then ask is, “So what exactly have we received that we are to give?”

We have received Jesus Christ, in whom all the promises of God find their amen. If God gave up his Son for us, how will he not also graciously give us all things? If so, he will equip you with everything good to do his will, to work in us what is pleasing in his sight. The gift is Jesus. To give Jesus to others is to point them to him. Not to our wise counsel, or powerful ‘worship’ experiences, but to the message that is foolishness and weakness to the blind and perishing. It is to be a faithful witness of the message we have heard, in word, and subsequently in deed.

You’ll quickly find it is truly more blessed to give than to receive. Because the ones who give Jesus are the ones who truly come to know the One they have received.

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To put God in an awfully small box

This line caught my attention as I was reading Mohler’s article:

The Bishop Discovers Heresy?

This article was written in response to an address made by Dr. Katherine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting this week in Anaheim, California, in which she raised the issue of heresy.

She drew attention to the ‘great Western heresy’ – “that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention.”

Her line ‘to put God in an awfully small box’, however, does not come from her address. It comes from an interview she gave to Time magazine concerning Jesus Christ:

“We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.”

It caught my attention because it’s not the first time I’ve heard it use in this context. Those who would advocate a pluralistic gospel, or even universalism, often use this phrase. Let us examine where her reasoning is faulty.

The first error lies in her understanding of ‘we who practice the Christian tradition’. She considers Jesus as ‘our vehicle to the divine’. You might say I’m being picky with my words, but don’t miss out the subtle implications this choice of words can have on our soteriology (theology of salvation). Man has sought to reach the heavens ever since we rebelled against the One True God. Therefore, be careful not to see Jesus as a vehicle to the divine, let alone one of many vehicles. The truth is that there is no vehicle to the divine. Rather, the divine has come to us. We do not go to God, but He, in Christ, drew near to us. At the end of time, we do not go to heaven; rather heaven comes down to us. The divine descends into creation. Creation does not ascend into the divine.

If we miss out this truth, it becomes a slippery slope to  the next error. “To assume that God could not act in other ways” is a strange statement when considererd in the light of the previous truth. The divine has already come down. What else can he do? This error assumes that God is preparing many vehicles to him. The truth is that God has, in Christ, come down to us, to gather a people for his praise and glory. We do not need to ascend to the divine, because he has descended to us. We are thus to congregate under the banner of Christ, the Incarnate God who died to purchase a people for himself.

And now we turn to the phrase “to put God in an awfully small box”. The question I wish to raise now is, who is putting God in an awfully small box?

Is God small for not upholding his righteousness? His righteousness demands that all glory be abscribed to him. When we fall short of that, his justice demands punishment for offending a person of such infinite dignity. His infinite worth demands our eternal punishment. Therefore only a substitute of infinite worth can pay the penalty that our rebellion demands. Is Jesus so small that any other animal or human could equally pay this penalty?

This statement is also often twisted in a way to imply that God’s love transcends all boundaries. Far from it, God’s love comes to us on the narrow way of Jesus Christ. We have too easily substituted the holy love of God for a wapish sentimental love. The holy love of God despises sin – God cannot feel anything but wrath for sinners. Yet in Christ, God is able to love sinners, because their sin is paid for by the blood of Jesus, and his righteousness is reckoned as their own. Without Christ there is no forgiveness of sins, and the wrath of God remains on us – there is no love of God towards sinners apart from Christ. In his mercy, God has given us his Son and thus we sing not only of his holiness, but also of his mercy. The love of God is always and only mediated through Jesus.

To use a story Jesus told, the world is divided into sheep and goats. The goats will be cast into the lake of fire, but the sheep will enjoy eternity in the presence of God. What makes sheep sheep, and goats goats, is the electing love of God made manifest in the person of Jesus. If Jesus, the great shepherd, calls your name, then you are one of his sheep. If he does not, then you are a goat. You can be one of his sheep because he as the shepherd is the one (and only) mediator between God and man. Without this mediator, we are forever goats, forever enemies of the divine.

So Jesus Christ is the God who descended to us – who became incarnate. He is the sinless man who could pay the penalty of our sin, the only man who was perfectly righteous. The Risen Christ is the banner we unite under, and he continues to be the mediator given to us from heaven. In being all this (and more!), he gets the glory. No one can take it away from him, because no one can perfectly fulfill any of these roles, let alone all of them at the same time. To think that anyone else can bring us to God is to minimise the worth of Jesus Christ. And that is to put God in an awfully small box.