A local Christian radio station is currently in full-swing with its “Christmas in July” campaign. They are currently supporting a wonderful outreach for an organization that ministers to victims of domestic violence, so I fully support the cause. My question is, what is the purpose of invoking the “Christmas in July” theme? Several of the station promos are of the Christmas variety with “the most wonderful time of the year” jingle, and on-air DJs promoting the “season of giving to each other”. But is that the focus of Christmas?
This past Christmas season (2013), we looked at the Biblical context of Christmas in a 4-part series:
- It is fitting to celebrate the birth of Jesus
- Christmas in Context: From kings to the King of kings
- Christmas in Context: Magi from the East…
- Christmas in Context: Waiting for the consolation of Israel…
No doubt in your local church there has been at least some debate regarding the focus of our Christmas celebration. While the textbook answer to the question of Christmas is “we celebrate the birth of Christ”, often times what we see demonstrated pays homage to a jolly fat elf character mystically delivering gifts to kids according to their deeds for the year (via omniscience?). Gift giving is the theme of the season overall, but on the day of Christmas the focus is generally on the gifts we have given each other. I’m all for celebration for the right reasons, and in our family we do celebrate and take part in gift giving; however, we do not in any way endorse the demigod santa or any other such mystical nonsense.
So then, since the textbook answer to the question of Christmas is “Jesus”, why is it that we leap to “Christmas in July” to describe a call to give gifts in July? Now, I am not against giving, and the Bible clearly teaches that we are to be loving, giving followers of Christ. I agree with giving to solid, biblical ministries throughout the year and I have no problem with fund-raisers or giving drives for a particular outreach. The problem I have, is with the mixing and blending of themes in the marginally biblical practice of “celebrating Christmas” as the world does, for the world’s reasons. The problem is in how we teach, preach, and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Should we be so quick to employ clever marketing at the expense of sound Biblical teaching? I don’t think we should.
So, let us take a look at how Paul fully developed the concept of giving in his letter to the Corinthians:
2 Corinthians 8:1-15 (ESV) 1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.
8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 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. 10 And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
Second Corinthians is a wonderful book. I strongly encourage you to read through it as Paul gives an account of his ministry, and that of Titus and the brothers, and even shares how thankful he is that after boasting in their faithfulness, the report given by Titus proved true. The churches of Macedonia suffered extreme poverty yet demonstrated a wealth of generosity and begged for the favor of taking part in the relief o the saints. I believe this is part of the world-wide famine prophesied by Agabus in Acts 11 (I have not thoroughly searched this out, so it could be related to a later hardship). Nevertheless, Paul here is testifying of the wealth of generosity experienced by those in a sever test of affliction and extreme poverty. They want to give what they can to take part in the relief of the saints, the needs of the body of Christ. In sharing this testimony, Paul’s emphasis here is in the readiness of the church in Corinth. It is acceptable according to what a person has, not of what he does NOT have. Paul is urging that they be ready so that out of their abundance, the church at Corinth can supply for the needs of the other churches. Notice in verse 15 that Paul is quoting scripture. Let’s look at the passage he is quoting.
Exodus 16:13-21 (ESV) 13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. 14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’” 17 And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. 19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. 21 Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
The children of Israel wandering in the desert, having there needs met by God the Father. Notice here how Paul is setting up the paradigm for giving. Since God is already providing the mana from heaven, the first goal is for God’s people to gather up what they will eat in the day. Some gathered more than others, and then those with gathered extra gave from their excess and those who gathered too little did not lack. Notice that God provided it all, plentifully and by His grace, not by the works of the Israelites. Also noticed, that those who hoarded and broke God’s law then had to deal with the spoilage and the worms. God is sovereign. God gives the increase, and the measurement allotted each. Therefore, Paul was reaching back to this historic provision of God for His people as the basis and foundation for the giving out of readiness that he encouraged the Corinthians. Let’s skip the next portion of 2 Corinthians 8 (Paul’s praise of Titus) and catch back up in chapter 9.
2 Corinthians 9 (ESV) 1 Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.
6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written,
“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
Notice, that it is not we who provide the seed; rather, it is God who provides the seed and the bread. In doing so, He will also multiply the seed He provided and increase the harvest of our righteousness, the righteousness He imputed to us through Jesus Christ. Anyone who tries to tell you that this passage teaches that you must give out of your lack in order for God to provide is teaching this principle upside down, and is potentially fleecing the flock. Another key to this encouragement from Paul, is that he isn’t “springing” this onto the Corinthians. He is simply reminding and encouraging them to be ready to give out of their excess as indeed they had already committed to do. Nothing here is a knee-jerk, heart-strings ploy promising health and wealth in proportion to their “seed” money. But I digress, this letter comes at a time when several of the churches are in need, and those churches to whom God had provided excess (beyond their need) Paul was encouraging them to continue in faithfulness and freedom in Christ to do good works.
To close out this post, let us look at the latter portion of Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian Elders:
Acts 20:17-38 (ESV) 17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.
Quite the charge and warning. May our Elders, Pastors, Teachers, Brothers, and Sisters do likewise. When you give, give cheerfully, abundantly, and freely, taking care of the body of Christ. Be ready, be prudent, be good stewards of God’s gifts (law, Gospel, and provision) so that when a need arises you will be ready to take part in the relief of the saints. Continue to preach the Gospel to every creature until the ends of the earth.
May the Lord Bless and keep you,