“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (Rom. 12:4-8 TNIV).
How many of you had the joy of watching family and friends open gifts over Christmas? Did you eagerly wait for a loved one to open a gift you had selected, purchased and wrapped yourself? Did you feel intense pleasure when your gift brought joy to its recipient? Did you recognize in that brief moment that the pleasure of giving always exceeds the joy of receiving? I can only imagine that this is how God the Father must have felt, when giving us the greatest gift of all—his Son, our Savior, Jesus. While our joy in receiving Christ is enormous, I believe God’s joy in giving himself as our Redeemer is even greater!
The tradition of giving and the pleasure it brings others is part of our Christian faith. Giving to others, particularly individuals in need, is one of the reasons Christian faith grew so rapidly, especially during the early centuries. Historians note that the unworldly generosity of Christians toward widows, orphans, the lonely and the bereaved gave way to a radical community that attracted not only the lower classes but also the suspicion of Roman politicians. Few understood selfless giving to those who could not return the favor. According to Gerald Sittser, in Water from a Deep Well, while “Roman culture emphasized reciprocity…Christians emphasized stewardship and charity, based on an ethic of love” (Sittser: 62).
The joy of giving—based on the ethic of love—is integral to Paul’s teachings on the spiritual gifts in Romans 12, a chapter that begins with a call to nonconformity. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed…” (Rom. 12:2). How is our nonconformity and difference with the world expressed? According to Paul, our uniqueness as believers comes through the radical community and interdependence that result when we use our gifts to serve one another. If using our gifts molds us into the body of Christ, the Church, how tragic it is when gender is used as an excuse to exclude women from using their gifts of teaching and leadership. Notice Paul does not mention gender as limiting the gifts God has given each believer. Certainly, this is the likely place to mention such an important fact, if indeed that was Paul’s intention. But it is not! The gifts are given and used through the ethic of love and faithful stewardship and are not limited by gender. Paul says that if “your gift is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully…Be devoted to one another in love” (Rom. 12:8-10). Love unites giver and receiver as the body of Christ.
Friends, as we enlarge our joy by giving gifts to one another, let us also press on to free the gifts God has given women. Just as in the first century, the world is watching us carefully, eager to join a community built on an ethic of love and service to one another without regard to gender.
In the season of giving, will you make a generous gift to CBE this year? Together we do make a difference! May God give you joy because of your faithfulness and generosity.