Saturday, January 27

Gift-giving and Receiving

Here's my 9th study on financial freedom. I did this study the week before Christmas, but my posting went awry, so I'm posting it now.

Eph. 4:1-16: This section doesn't pertain strongly to money, although there are a few relevant points. 
(1) "Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit": Money and financial matters often create strife and division in the community of believers, and we need to work hard to maintain unity. Money should never divide us. I don't think I've let it do that in any relationships I'm aware of, though I see the potential.
(2) Jesus is the great gift-giver. So again, my use of money should reflect his character of overwhelming generosity.
(3) His goal for us is maturity, "the measure of the full stature of Christ." I want to become mature in my handling of finances and all my resources. I have been giving myself to this for the past 5 months, and I already can see some progress, though I have a long way to go.

Passage: Eph. 4:17-24
17 Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19 They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 That is not the way you learned Christ! 21 For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Lessons: Our way of life as disciples who have been brought to life from the dead (Eph. 2) must be remarkably different than those of the people surrounding us, who are alienated from God and hardened in their hearts. How we use our money and possessions (as well as time and relationships) displays our spiritual state--dead or alive. As Christians our ways will seem alien and bizarre to those around us who have not yet been redeemed in this area. 

Principles: We must not be shaped by the standards, practices, and assumptions of those around us. Jesus urges us to learn from the shrewdness of the children of this age in their use of money. So worldly wisdom in terms of investments, interest rates and financial management has a lot to teach us. But fundamentally, their motives are licentiousness, greed, impurity, and so on--alien to the life of the Kingdom.

Application: I guess I feel this press me right now in Christmas shopping. I feel lots of pressure to buy gifts that won't be shameful to give, because they clearly don't cost as much as the gifts family members or friends will certainly for us. But Jesus did nothing to be ostentatious or prove himself. Why should I be ashamed that we have less money? We have budgeted for Christmas but this year is particularly tight, and on our income we've never been able to match them any year. 

I am ashamed because I still care too much for people's approval and respect. Having less, in this world, is shameful, but not in the Kingdom. In the Kingdom being unloving is shameful, and giving sacrificially is admirable and mature. Being ashamed could drive us to spend outside our means and go into debt, clearly serving people rather than God.

So my goal should be to be loving in gift-giving: we can do this by being thoughtful, sacrificial, and personal. Making some gifts; being creative; putting in time and energy--these are sacrifices of love which won't drive us into further debt. 

And I will work hard not to be ruled by shame, but to give those feelings to Jesus as we're at these gatherings over the next few days. Whenever I have turned to him in such moments I find the grace I need to bear it--enough for the present moment.

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