From a sports retailer, it boldly proclaimed;
"Treat your friends & family, but treat yourself first!"
What an upside down view of gift-giving…of the entire season of Christmas! But…is it that far from what many people really feel in their hearts when they consider the gifts they will give? And I don't mean just at Christmas; I mean all year round.
I mean, sometimes it feels like the gift giving never ends. There's Christmas, then birthdays (unless you're date of birth is unfortunately close to the 25th that you have to put up with the two being rolled into one!), engagements, weddings, anniversaries, births, house warmings, and much more.
When we spend so much time buying for other people, I suppose it can be tempting to wish we were spending that money on ourselves. Well, at least for me it is.
But how often, when it comes to giving gifts, do we really deny ourselves for the sake of the recipient? Perhaps if you're a student or living on a low wage / Government pension, this is a reality. But it doesn't stop the desire to treat ourselves first, or spend a little less on a loved one because it might mean that we miss out on something. Or, if we're materially rich (which, as Australians, we automatically are!), we don't give according to our actual wealth, but according to how poor we feel.
According to the Christian view, this email just gets the idea of giving completely wrong. The message of this retailer boils down to, "Sure, show love to your family and friends...but make sure you love yourself first!.". And I suppose that's not inconsistent with the other messages we get in society, of "look out for number 1, because no one else will." I would have thought though that the idea of giving – especially at Christmas – is to put that attitude aside - or at least, pretend to - in the spirit of giving and goodwill. To have it blatantly spelled out is confronting.
Yet, as a Christian, my attitude to giving is supposed to be at odds with this idea of Me First! I need only look to the example of Jesus,
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to deathâ€"
even death on a cross!
Jesus deserved ALL honour and glory. And yet, he says that he came to serve, not to be served. To give his life for others. To die for people who were ungodly. Who hated him. To show love to them.
And generally, no one has a problem with the idea of loving other people. Yes, be nice to people! Yes, love people! But Jesus takes it a scandalous step further. We usually only reserve this kind of affection and kindness for people who will love us in return. Or because it will give us a warm, fuzzy feeling if we "pay it forward'. And generally, we give out of our wealth, not our poverty. We give the leftover bits, rather than sacrificing luxuries. And when I say, 'we', I think "I".
Would I even consider giving something up for someone who could never pay me back? Or, even further, would I consider giving something up for people who may not even thank me? Who don't like me? Who may never like me?
Jesus served wholeheartedly. He gave his life for those who were his enemies (see Romans 5 verses 6-8). And he calls Christians - his followers - to do the same.
That's not, serve, as long as you're looked after. Or give your life, as long as people appreciate you. It was unreserved love, regardless of what he would get back in return. He told people to share their belongings. To seek to forgive enemies, rather than seek revenge. To seek God's kingdom first, not their own kingdom. Jesus didn't even have a place to call home! (Luke 9 verse 58).
So, the challenge is there, for you and for me as the gift-giving occasions roll on throughout 2014 (and heck, why wait until an occasion to show someone your love and appreciation of them!). Will it be Me First? Or….?
Sarah Urmston is based in Melbourne and shares a 5x7m flat with her husband, Stephen. She works with RMIT Melbourne's Christian Union group as an apprentice, and loves the privilege of sharing Jesus with the students. Since beginning student ministry, her desire – nay – need for coffee has grown exponentially.
Sarah Urmston's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sarah-urmston.html