Sacrificial Giving

Jim Dillingham Young and his wife Della are the subjects of a short story, The Gift of the Magi, written by O. Henry in 1906. Struggling to make ends meet in their one-room apartment, Jim and Della have only two prized possessions. In Jim’s case, it’s a pocket watch given to him by his father, and in Della’s case, it’s her long, beautiful hair. When Christmas comes, Jim and Della each have no money to buy even a simple gift for the other. Yet, longing to give something meaningful out of great love, each, without the other knowing, sacrifices the greatest treasure of the house; Della sells her hair to buy her husband a silver chain for his precious pocket watch, and Jim sells his pocket watch to buy Della pearl combs for her beautiful hair. Thus unfolds The Gift of the Magi and “the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house.” But in a last word the author says, “Let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest.”

Love In Action

Jim and Della acted out the ultimate display of love. Each, for the sake of the other, surrendered the very thing which they themselves most wanted to hold onto. In the biblical Christian account of Christmas, heaven released its greatest treasure. God gave the greatest gift he could possibly give. God’s gift of his son into hands that would ultimately harm him, surely represents the most sacrificial giving and becomes for us in return a striking invitation to sacrifice everything we have in order to possess it. Rather than the seasonal spend, spend, spend, the Christian basis of ‘Christmas’ is really all about giving, and I’ve recently been thinking in that connection about the life of Abraham, whose life-story is given in some considerable detail in the Bible. Of course, the Bible draws our attention to him perhaps primarily as being for us an example of faith. But I’ve been seeing more clearly than before that he’s also a challenging example of what it means to be a great giver, a sacrificial giver such as we’ve been thinking about already.

At its greatest, Abraham’s giving seems also to have more than a touch of irony about it – because, as you might know, God asks him to give up his son, his one and only son in whom all the promises God has already given to Abraham are invested. If Abraham should surrender his son in sacrificial giving back to God, by that very act he would seemingly destroy all of God’s revealed purpose for his life and so render it utterly meaningless. It’s this ‘catch-22’ or ‘no-win’ situation that has shades of our opening story of Jim and Della with their sacrificial giving.But before Abraham gives up his son, he’s already given up many other cherished or valuable things. God seems to call on him to give up a whole series of things in the sense of surrendering them in order to deepen his spiritual life, his walk with God. For example, God asked him to give up all the comfort and security and even sophistication of life in the large city where he’d been brought up and which he called home.Then, years before God ever asked Abraham to give up his son, he first asked him to give up his father. Then he yielded the well-watered plains of the Jordan river, which was in those days very desirable real estate, but he surrendered them in preference to his nephew Lot. Then after a tremendous victory over an eastern invasion, he gave up all the spoils of war. Then getting more up close and personal still, he gave up Hagar, the mother of his son Ishmael, as well as Ishmael himself – whom he once viewed as serving as his intended heir. Ultimately, of course, God asked him for the son of his old age, the miracle baby, the son of promise, his special one-of-a-kind son whom he loved with all his heart. No doubt Abraham learnt a lot about himself – as well as about God – at each step of his journey through life with God. It’s as if God seemed intent on narrowing this man’s focus, and deepening his trust in God and his word of promise.

Abraham has the singular honour of being designated in the Bible ‘the friend of God.’ Such an extreme honour is not reached easily. Abraham’s character was gradually formed, as we travel with him through these various episodes of his life. At first, his character weaknesses are exposed – weaknesses like cowardice and shrewdness, seen in terms of a calculated scheming by means of which he was careful to ensure his own safety at the risk of endangering those close to him. Early on, as he grew impatient with his wife’s childlessness, he turned to his own resourcefulness even if his overall game plan was God’s. But as God faces him up repeatedly with choices, and Abraham successively bows and surrenders the things that he must surely have valued, God is shaping his friend’s character as pleased him best.

In giving, giving and giving, Abraham reflects the very character of a God who himself has shown us that he gives and gives. True Christianity is not what some have styled as ‘easy believism’ but, as C.S. Lewis writes: “The Christian way is different: both harder and easier. Christ says, ‘Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you – no half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent, as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.'”

The story of Christmas, the historical drama, of the eternal God, God the Son, entering the human race, stunningly reminds us of this quality of giving in which God alone sets the gold standard. God gave his special, one-of-a-kind, son. Christ himself gave every step of the way which led him to the unlimited giving of the cross. This is nothing other than an invitation to respond. Reflecting again on the gifts of the Magi – the story with which we began this chapter – we recall how the popular Christmas poem and song says:

“What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,

If I were a wise man
I would do my part.

Yet what can I give Him?
Give my heart.”

A man sees this pearl and says to the merchant, “I want this pearl. How much is it?” The seller says, “It’s very expensive.” “How much?” he asks. “A lot!” “Well, do you think I could buy it?” the man asks. “Oh, yes,” says the merchant, “everyone can buy it.” “But I thought you said it was very expensive.” “I did.” “Well, how much?” “Everything you have,” says the seller. “All right, I’ll buy it.” “Okay, what do you have?” the seller asks. “Well, I have $10,000 in the bank.” “Good, $10,000 then. What else?” “That’s all I have.” “Nothing more? – are you sure?” “Well, I have a few dollars more in my pocket.” “How much?” “Let’s see … $100.” “That’s mine, too,” says the seller. “What else do you have?” “That’s all, nothing else.” “Where do you live?” the seller asks. “In my house. Yes, I own a home.” The seller writes down, “house.” “It’s mine too,” he says. “But where do you expect me to sleep” the buyer asks — “in my camper?” “Oh, you have a camper, do you? That, too. What else?” “Wait a minute,” the buyer says, “Am I supposed to sleep in my car?” “Oh, you have a car?” “Yes, I own two of them.” “Well, they’re also mine now.” “Look,” the buyer says, “you’ve taken my money, my house, my camper, and my cars. Where’s my family going to live?” “Oh, so, you have a family?” “Yes, I have a wife and three kids.” The seller says: “They’re mine now.”

Suddenly the seller exclaims, “Oh, I almost forgot! You yourself, too! Everything becomes mine – wife, children, house, money, cars, and you, too.” Then he goes on, “Now, listen, I will allow you to use all these things for the time being. But don’t forget that they’re all mine, just as you are. And whenever I need any of them, you must give them up, because I am now the owner.”(Adapted from The Disciple [Creation House], pp. 34-35.)

Abraham was prepared to give up everything. And God gave his all when he gave us Jesus. Now, in the terms of what we’ve just been hearing – as adapted from Jesus’ very own story – it’s our turn. Do you wish to save your life (for yourself) or surrender it for Jesus’ sake (Matthew 16:25)?

“What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,

If I were a wise man
I would do my part.

Yet what can I give Him?
Give my heart.”

Have you given your heart to Jesus and received him as your saviour?

By | 2017-09-25T17:01:29+00:00 12 February 2016|Hope For Humanity|