CELEBRATING AND SACRIFICING
Written by Doug Ponder on April 12, 2015
Why Grace Is Given
When God created the universe, he did so as an act of grace. Like a river that floods its banks, wave after wave of love and joy flowed from one member of the Trinity to another until their glorious, grace-filled life spilled over into the creation of a glorious, grace-filled world.
God’s grace took the form of rocks and birds, stars and moons, image-bearers and fruit-bearing trees (Gen. 1:11). So when Adam and Eve waltzed into a grove of orange trees they didn’t plant, what they discovered was beautiful fruit easily divided into little wedges, all bursting at the seams with sticky sweet grace.
This is how God is pleased to bless his people. As Moses told Israel, “When the Lord your God brings you to the land that he promised to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he will give you large and beautiful cities that you didn’t build, houses filled with every good thing that you didn’t supply, wells that you didn’t dig, and vineyards and olive groves that you didn’t plant” (Deut. 6:10-11).
All this is why the apostle Paul said, “God… richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). But in the very next verse Paul writes, “Be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:18). His words parallel the commands of another author, who wrote, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb. 13:16).
So which is it? Are we supposed to celebrate the grace of God by enjoying it? Or are we supposed to please God with our sacrifices by giving away what we have?
One way that people have tried to resolve the tension between celebrating/enjoying and sacrificing/sharing is to compartmentalize their lives—especially their money. They say, “I give 10% to God and the rest is mine to do as I please.”
But that way of thinking completely misunderstands our relationship to God. He tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him” (Ps. 24:1). And again God says, “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me” (Job 41:11).
That means anything that we “own” is actually God’s, and he has chosen to let us “borrow” his things for a little while. That’s why it doesn’t work to chop up your life into a 10% that belongs to God and 90% that you can keep for yourself. So you could never say, “This is my money. This is my time. These are my talents,” and so forth. It all belongs to God.
Yet God has graciously given us many things. But if they still belong to him, then why did he do it? Why did God give anything to anyone in the first place? You already know the answer: God’s gracious gifts are to be enjoyed to his glory and to be extended for the good of others (so that they can enjoy the grace of God, too).
Enjoying Means Celebrating
To enjoy the grace of God simply means seeing everything you have as rightfully belonging to God but truly given to you without your deserving any of it. That’s what grace is, after all. It’s the free gift of God given to those who have not earned it and never could pay him back if they tried.
But don’t miss the point: God does not give us good things so that we would wallow in self-pity talking only of how much we don’t deserve his grace. It’s true that we don’t deserve his grace, but if that’s all we talk about, then we don’t understand his grace at all. For grace is not meant to make us feel guilty; it is meant to make us grateful (Col. 3:17). Gratitude is the rightful response to the undeserved gifts of God. He has willingly given them to us in love—for us to enjoy!—and to be thankful to him as we enjoy them.
Enjoying God’s gifts without gratitude to him is called “idolatry.” Idolatry is when you are more in love with the gifts than the Giver. It’s wanting God’s blessings without really wanting God himself. Perhaps most of us would never say, “I care more about God’s gifts than I care about him,” but our lives tell a different story. In many times and in many ways, we ignore God’s desires and commands in order to do as we please. We even use God’s gifts—which is every good thing (Jas. 1:17), since it all belongs to him—in ways that dishonor God or even mock him. That is not gratitude; it’s sinful idolatry.
Instead, the right response to God’s grace should be a party in his honor. That means not only thanking him for all that he has given us, but celebrating the gracious love of God himself by enjoying his gifts in every way that honors him. This also means the response of faith toward the gifts of God is never, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (Col. 2:21). The response of faith is “giv[e] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20). And just as you don’t honor your wife by tucking her gifts away in some place, neither do you honor God by simply giving up the gifts that he has given you. (As a related aside: This is why Lent is a terrible idea for anyone who is confused about this.)
Sharing Is Caring Enjoying
In one sense, sharing the grace of God involves sacrifice, since there will be less left for you to enjoy. But in another sense, sharing the grace of God leads to even more of his grace. For Jesus was not lying when he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
So God says that he richly provides all things for us to enjoy, and then he also says that we should share what we have with others so that they can enjoy it, too. But notice what the end result is for everybody: grace upon grace. Thus it turns out that even our “sacrifices” lead to more celebrations of a different kind. We get to rejoice with others, enjoying them enjoy the grace of God.
This is why I think we do not need to fear the boogeyman of a selfish grace-hoarder, an endangered species in more ways than one. For when a man truly believes that whatever he has is a gift from God, he will know that it is not “his” to hoard or squander. It is a gift entrusted to him by God, given to be enjoyed and extended to others. Generosity always flows from a deep grasp of grace (2 Cor. 8:1-7).
This is why books that think the way to deal with selfishness and greed so often miss the point. They always blame the stuff—the extra clothing, the rich foods, the square footage of the house—but that is not how God speaks of material goods.
Paradoxically, God’s prescription for our greed is to focus more on his gifts, not less. For if we thought even more about our possessions, we would recognize them for what they are: gracious gifts from God, to be enjoyed to his glory and extended for the good of others.
Of course, none of this tells you exactly how much of your stuff should be “enjoyed” and how much should be “shared.” There are two reasons for this. The first, as we have already said, is that enjoying and sharing are not opposites. That is why John Wesley said, “Earn all you can; save all you can; give all you can.” Go and read his words until they make sense, and then follow his sage advice.
The second reason that God doesn’t tell us how much to “keep” and how much to “give” is because if he did, we would find clever ways to fulfill the letter of the law while missing the spirit of the law. God knows that we are much more like the Pharisees who give ten percent of their spices to God but didn’t actually love their neighbor than we would care to admit. And so, instead of giving us one more law to break-by-keeping in the wrong way, God has given us his Spirit. As we look to God, trust in God, and seek to live for God, his Spirit guides us and directs us away from a love of gifts that are only temporary and leads us back to love for the Giver himself—and that, in turn, will always lead to a whole lot of celebrating and sacrificing.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter.