by: Pierce Taylor Hibbs
The commonplace is a sacred place. The things we do each day have deep, divine roots. But we grow callous to them. The repetition gets in the way of the revelation God can offer. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the simplest act of giving. Offering something—however small—to someone else is not merely a snapshot of love; it’s a miniature portrait of God, who always gives. A little reflection on this truth can change the way we give, and thus can change the world.
God the Giver
We need to begin with the truth of who God is, since nothing good in creation, in any part of human life, exists in isolation from him. Our world is memetic, imitative. Every person and every thing cannot help but follow in the trailing robe of a beautiful and mysterious God (Gen. 1:26–27; Ps. 19:1–4; Rom. 1:20). We break the soil of time and leave our footprints in his footpath.
That footpath, strangely, is a path of self-giving. Speaking of himself, Jesus said, “he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34). The Father gives the Spirit to the Son “without measure.” The giving is infinite. God the Father has always and will always give the Son his Spirit. This is the perfection of prodigal giving, a giving without end and without boundaries. God always gives himself to himself.
That might sound odd, and even egotistical to some people. But since God is the greatest of all, there could be no greater gift than himself. And since God is the greatest receiver, there is no more fitting recipient worthy of the gift than he is. This is too glorious for us to comprehend, a bit like trying to deduce the shape of the sun by staring at it. We know it’s circular, but the light is so blinding that we can only catch it for a moment.
In fact, because this is the origin of giving, giving itself is circular. We often think of giving as transactional, a gift passing from a giver to a recipient, and then it’s done. But giving is inherently relational. It thrives in relationships; it furthers relationships; it builds up persons in relationships. The gifts that we give are meant not only to be received but to be passed on. This is what I call the giving circle. It’s a circle drawn with water from the well of God’s own character.
God’s Gifts to Us
From the well of God’s creative character comes the world we live in. And this entire world is a gift that reflects the Giver. Creation is not only full of gifts we unwrap moment by moment; it’s full of gifts that have been branded with a divine arrow, pointing to some facet of God’s nature and work. This is why we meet passages in Scripture such as Psalm 19:1–4 and Romans 1:20. Everything around you right now reflects God. The shape of your coffee mug; the digital hardware in your phone; the sweatshirt covering your arms; the blood sleeping just beneath the skin of your fingers. These are mirror-gifts.
As wondrous as these are, they pale in comparison to God’s gift of himself to us. If the greatest gift is God’s gift of himself to himself, then the same applies to his relationship with us: The greatest gift we can receive is the triune person of God. And that is precisely what Christians have. We hold the greatest gift in the universe right in the confines of our chest. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). Our hearts as a home for the Trinity—think of it! Every human soul can house four persons: him- or herself, and the Father, Son, and Spirit. We are four-person houses.
Both types of gift—the gifts of creation and the gift of God himself—are not meant to be hoarded. We live in God’s giving circle. The circle moves the gift from the giver to the recipient, but then the recipient gives on. The recipient hears the call of the giving God and is so overwhelmed by gratitude that he can’t help opening his hands and passing some gift along to another. The giving goes on.
Our Gifts to Others
That, my friends, changes both how we give and shows just why giving changes the world. When we give, we give out of gratitude for what we have received. And when we feel impoverished by life in some way, that truth doesn’t change. It was the poor widow who gave more than all of the pharisees and sadducees (Mark 12:41–44). Giving out of poverty can be the greatest, deepest sort of gift. But even if you’re giving out of your own abundance—giving your time, your attention, your skills, your money—the same principle applies. We give because we have been given. This applies especially to our attempts to reflect Jesus Christ and the gospel to those around us. “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matt. 10:8 NIV). Giving grows out of reception; it travels from the country of gratitude as a nomad, always seeking new lands. We give not to elevate ourselves or inflate our self-image. We give out of gratitude. And that means our earnest desire is to see others praise God for the gifts, not us.
This is precisely why giving changes the world: giving involves self-sacrifice. It means we drop our concern for ourselves and seek, with God’s help, a pure heart that yearns to give because of who God is and what he’s doing. When giving is motivated by a love for God, there’s no end to the possibilities of what might happen. Godly giving is self-sacrificial giving. And, you may remember, that is the very thing that saved the world in the first place. For God so loved the world, he gave.
This all may seem fairly abstract to you, but there are a host of implications. Here are just three of the takeaways.
- Search your gifts to see what you can give today. Have you been given a spirit of patience and understanding? Then go and find someone today who needs a listening ear. Have you been given the gift of encouragement? Go and find someone who needs encouragement. Have you been blessed financially? Who do you know that might need to be blessed in that way? Search your gifts, and see what you can give. Being a part of God’s giving circle everyday is what truly changes the world.
- Find something in front of you and interpret it as a gift. We tend to lose sight of the gifts we’ve been given because routine makes us feel entitled. That glass of water on the table in front of you . . . that’s a gift. You can unwrap it with your mouth, and your body will say its quiet hallelujah. You can do this with any good thing in your life today.
- Identify something in your life that you don’t want to give. This is painful, I admit. But it reveals our sinful reasons for hoarding, for gathering the good things of God and sitting on them like a dragon on a pile of gold. Oftentimes, what we don’t want to give to others is something that we lack gratitude for ourselves.
Pierce Taylor Hibbs (MAR, ThM Westminster Theological Seminary) is the Associate Director for Theological Curriculum and Instruction in Westminster’s Theological English Department. He’s also the author of numerous books, among them are Struck Down but Not Destroyed: Living Faithfully with Anxiety and Finding Hope in Hard Things: A Positive Take on Suffering. His newest book, The Book of Giving, shows how the God who gives can make us givers. Read more of his work at piercetaylorhibbs.com