Good Gifts 1

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As I stood at the bathroom sink getting ready for the day, I was thinking about ways we can bless other people and ways that we can hurt them. Two of Jesus’ teachings came to mind. I sat down at my computer to do a search for one of them and was surprised to find that one follows immediately after the other! They are from the Sermon on the Mount, which I have read many times. I have heard sermons on it and studied it in Bible class, too, but I do not remember ever thinking of these two teachings together. When I tell you what they are, you may think, “Well, everybody knows that!” Somehow I didn’t.

I have thought of the first teaching as being about prayer and the second as being about relations with other people. That’s true, but now I see how they fit together.

After Jesus encourages us in Matthew 7:7-8 to ask, seek, and knock and assures us that God will answer, He says:

Or what man is there among you who,
when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?
Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your Father who is in heaven
give what is good to those who ask Him!
In everything, therefore,
treat people the same way you want them to treat you,
for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 7:9-11 NASB

Two important ways we can bless others is to give to them and to serve them. Jesus taught this with His words: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35b). He taught it by example, as well: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

The passage from Matthew 7:9-11 teaches us how to give and to serve. A loving father does not give his son a stone when he asks for a loaf, or a snake when he asks for a fish. If we treat people the same way we want them to treat us, we will give them what they want to receive and serve them in ways that they want to be served, not in ways that are preferable or convenient to us.

When Ray and I were first married, we were examples of how not to do this when it came to giving tangible presents to each other. He gave me books and records and I gave him clothes. Why? Because he liked to receive books and records and I liked to receive clothes!

To know best how to give to others and how to serve them, we must pay close attention. We must listen and get to know the hearts of the people we are serving. Imagine that a woman had told her husband for forty years that she would like to go to Niagara Falls someday, and then for their fortieth anniversary he took her to the Grand Canyon and was peeved that she was disappointed. Imagine that parents asked their six-year-old son a week before his birthday what kind of birthday cake he would like and he asked for chocolate, then his mother decided that lemon would do just as well because she had rather not go to the store, and then she disciplined him for asking her why it wasn’t chocolate.

Should the woman be thankful for her trip to the Grand Canyon and the boy thankful for his lemon cake? Absolutely. Are these gift-givers obeying the Golden Rule? I think not.

I once saw a mother give her daughter a birthday present in a rough sort of way. Instead of wrapping it and making it special, she just grabbed it from another room and handed it to her. I’m not even sure it was on her actual birthday. I felt sad. That expensive present could have been given in a way that honored the recipient. Instead the mother just got it done. May we grow daily in this admonition as we give good gifts:

Do not merely look out for your own personal interests,
but also for the interests of others.
Philippians 2:4

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