By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, Baptist and Reflector
Paul Tournier wrote The Meaning of Gifts in 1961. Tournier spent all his life as a medical doctor in Geneva, helping heal the body, mind, and soul. Further, his life and writings came to me as a gift to understand the meaning of gifts — especially God’s gifts. You might think a book or an article on the meaning of gifts is unneeded. It’s obvious a gift is something given. But therein lies the secret about the meaning of gifts. So just after Thanksgiving and just before Christmas, let’s look at the meaning of gifts.
My earliest memories of gifts. I was born into a Christian home and surrounded from birth with all the joys of gifts. Why, being born in a Christian home was a God-given gift long before I realized it. Earliest Christmas presents were a toy crane and a Red Ryder B-B Gun that made me ecstatic. Of course, I got birthday presents that were also things. Interwoven with the gifts of things, I was surrounded with the spiritual meaning of God’s gift of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We sang hymns, heard the Christmas story read, gave Lottie Moon Christmas Offerings, and enjoyed feasts of foods, and somehow a guy named Santa Claus mixed in it all.
Then came the greatest of all gifts. At age 7, I became a Christian and received God’s loving gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ, God’s Son (John 3). That Christmas took on the meaning of a gift whose depth I hadn’t fully known before. For the rest of my growing-up years and early adulthood years, I celebrated the happy mix of all it meant for a Christian to give gifts, receive gifts and realize God’s loving gift of Jesus, who died for my sins. This happiest reason of gifts remains till this very day: a mixture of the physical and spiritual. Yet, I was still lacking in part of fuller meanings involved in the matter of gifts.
When gift meanings moved from things to personhood. Honestly, each Christmas season for me and most others continued to focus on what we would give and what we would get. Along with tangible gifts of things and money was a hint of the real meaning of Christmas. It was a thing called “The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Missions.” Odd, but true, many Baptists today haven’t heard or don’t know about the Lottie Moon offering. What a shame!
A little woman named Lottie became a foreign missionary and starved herself to death to feed the gospel to unsaved people in China. She literally poured her life out as a gift to share the gospel. Her example and challenge were not things: they were committed personhood in Christ!
When I became a spiritual gift. From earliest boyhood, I had learned that God has loved the world in this manner: namely, so much that He gave His only son, Jesus Christ, as a gift to die for our sins and give us eternal life. In other words, God’s gift was a person. Further, I learned that the gift of Christ’s grace included persons called apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). Those grace-gift persons were given to equip the Christians for the work of the ministry and to build up the church. I was grateful for those personhood-grace-gifts God gave to others. Mind you, to others! Not to me!
As a teenage boy, the last thing I wanted to be was a preacher. In fact, being a preacher wasn’t even included in the last thing on my life’s bucket list. I wanted to become a jet fighter pilot! Basically, I still saw gifts as things or perhaps activities. But God in His Spirit got hold of me to become a gift and not just give gifts. Any of my Sunday School teachers could have told you I wasn’t called to become the gift of a preacher.
In fact, one of my “junior” Sunday School teachers expelled me from class one Sunday morning and told me I couldn’t come back until I learned to be quiet and listen. My, was he ever surprised when a decade later he was one of the deacons who signed my ordination to preach certificate. In fact, he whispered those words in my ear at the laying on of hands.
The problem was that I didn’t want to become a spiritual gift! I wanted to give gifts. But my excuses for not becoming a gift were much like those of Moses, Jonah, and the apostle Paul. Yet, God transformed me and turned my ungifted nature into the strongest “want-to” of my life. So I surrendered to preach and to let God transform me from being just a giver to become a gift of His.
I thought God’s gift was for me to become a pastor. And I did prepare and become a pastor for 11 years. But in that time, I learned God’s gift was what He wanted — namely, His will, not mine. In the amazing maze of God’s grace, He turned me into a mission candidate — rejected for health reasons, back into a pastor for a time, and then — of all things — a writer of biblical study materials, an editor, a coordinator and manager of editors, a manager over Bible publishing, and then a publisher of Christian materials that took me around the globe with His materials as a gift to Russia, China, Europe, South America, Europe, the U.S. itself, and other places. He even led me to become an adjunct professor to teach others He had transformed to become His spiritual gifts.
Looking back in amazement as a gift of God. I never in my life could have envisioned what God had in store to transform me from being a mere gift-giver to becoming a gift myself. But God did it! And that’s the point of this whole column today. God challenges you to realize the meaning of what Paul wrote in II Corinthians 5:14-21.
Whatever your title and profession may be in this world, God challenges you to become His gift to seek and save the lost (Luke 19: 10), to live seized by the love of Christ (II Corinthians 5:14) and to be God’s ambassador to reconcile all mankind to Him (II Corinthians 5:18). I am no longer only a giver. I am a gift; and in a sense, you, too, are a gift for God. At this Christmas season, that’s the highest meaning of all gifts! B&R — Copyright 2018 by Johnnie C. Godwin. Write firstname.lastname@example.org.