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All We Have Is A Gift

Gift

by Dennis Pollock

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Corinthians 4:7) 

In the verse above the apostle Paul asks three questions that have intrigued me for a long time. It seems to me that a right understanding of these questions, and the proper answers to them, would nearly guarantee a lifetime of thanksgiving, humility, and the attitude that God loves to bless. Let us briefly consider each question.

First Question: "For who makes you different from anyone else?"

Implied in this question is the simple fact that we are all different from each other. From our first memories in childhood we gave this little thought. We played and whined, laughed and cried, with little thought given to our relative weaknesses and strengths as compared with other children. But the reality did not take very long before those differences began to force themselves upon our minds and hearts.

The elementary school was the premiere showcase for these differences. From our first day of kindergarten these differences made themselves known. Perhaps we struggled far more in learning colors and letters than the little girl who sat beside us. Or maybe we found that things just came easier to us than all the rest.

We soon discovered the phenomenal benefits that were automatically conferred on those who had an attractive face. Abraham Lincoln once said God must truly love common looking people, since He made so many of them. But those little boys and girls who were blessed with being uncommonly pretty or handsome found that they were accorded a favor with both their peers and their teachers that their plainer counterparts did not enjoy. Because of the size of their noses, the space between their eyes, and the shapes of their mouths – all things which they neither asked for nor worked for – they were granted benefits and favor that other children, who may have been far superior in nearly every other respect, could never receive.

Children

Another difference that stood out in our early school years, and which would continue to stand out throughout our lifetimes, was the capacity and desire in the hearts of some for diligence in assigned tasks. Some young people, even those with plenty of mental ability, show no heart for hard work. Their minds wander, their patience is short, and they seem both unable and unwilling to give full and undivided attention to any but the briefest and simplest assignments. Others with less natural ability somehow possess the passion to work long and hard, and achieve a success that seems to go well beyond their natural abilities.

Then there is the business of personality. Within every classroom there are the thinkers who say little but analyze constantly, the doers who waste little time in deep thought but are quick to jump in on an exciting project and enthusiastically work to get it accomplished, the bubbly types whose likeable, talkative ways make them a popular addition to any lunch table, and the administrators, whose careful attention to details makes sure that every base is always covered, and every assignment is done well and on time.

These characteristics and differences are not merely things we see in the elementary school; they are root motivations that serve as a basis for the lives we live. Adulthood does not change them; it merely reinforces them and allows them to play a greater and greater role in our lives. We are different! This is hardly earth shattering news, but it is of the utmost significance. And so Paul asks the question: “Who makes you different from anyone else?” It is a rhetorical question and, for the Christian, there can only be one answer: God does. While we can work on our personalities, polish our gifts, and try to shore up our weaknesses, the truth is that the major aspects of our natures and personalities were fixed while we were still inside our mothers.

Paul seems to be focusing here upon our strengths rather than our weaknesses. He seems to be saying to all who have recognized that they do indeed possess certain attributes that go beyond other people, that their gifts, talents, and even the drive and capacity for hard work are from the hand of God. We had no vote in the matter. God sovereignly dispenses His gifts as He wills – which brings us to the second question:

Second Question: "What do you have that you did not receive?"

This too is a rhetorical question that should be easy to answer for any Christian. The answer to this question is “nothing.” We have nothing good – no personality attribute, no physical possession, not wealth, not our health, nor any other benefit or blessing – that is not a direct gift from the Heavenly Father. The Scriptures tell us: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)

There is an illusion that convinces many that their wealth or achievements or prominence is a direct result of their own superior intellect, industry, or cleverness. King Nebuchadnezzar provides the classic Biblical example of such an attitude. This ancient monarch was indeed a sharp fellow with a heart for massive projects and administrative diligence. One day he was walking on the roof of one of the royal palaces of Babylon and admiring his work. According to Reginald Showers he had indeed done some good work:

From a purely human viewpoint, Nebuchadnezzar had good reason to boast. He probably was the greatest builder in ancient times. Forty-nine building inscriptions of this king have been uncovered thus far. Most of the bricks recovered from ancient Babylon bear this inscription: “I am Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.” He himself declared that his heart impelled him to build.

And so as he walked on the rooftop of the palace he couldn’t help but indulge in a little self-glory: "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?'' (Daniel 4:30). While Nebuchadnezzar certainly had a hand in these massive building projects, he forgot one very important reality: Everything that he had been able to accomplish had been granted him by God. His intelligence, his drive to excel, his place of authority, indeed the air in his lungs that enabled him to live one more minute were gifts from God. Even the pagans owe everything to their Creator!

NebuchadnezzarDaniel records that at that moment God took away his sanity and allowed him to live seven years in madness. This proud monarch ate grass like an ox and lived as a madman. Finally at the end of the time his reason returned and he instantly recognized that all he had been able to accomplish was from God. He had been through Humility 101 and learned his lesson well. His summary of the course was as follows:

All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He (God) does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, "What have You done?'' (Daniel 4:35)

Hundreds of years later, the prophet John the Baptist declared the same essential truth (without having to go through the painful lesson of Nebuchadnezzar), when he stated, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven” (John 3:27).

King David had a great desire to build a temple for God, but the Lord told him he was not to build it, but that his son Solomon, being a man of peace, would be in charge of this task. So David contented himself to gather together the materials that Solomon would need for this great project. As David proclaimed to the Israelites the need for building materials the people gave extremely generously, and there was an abundance of gold, silver, iron, and precious stones for the temple. David rejoiced in this outpouring of giving, but wisely recognized that all they had to give had originated with God?

But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, and of your own we have given You. (1 Chronicles 29:14)

We have nothing good that we have not received. Regardless of how it appears we may have worked for what we have, our very capacity to work and the drive to do the work, along with the “good luck” we had along the way make it plain that for every blessing and benefit we gain in our lives, the only appropriate response is a hearty “Thanks be to God.”

Third Question: "And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?"

Here Paul gets to the heart of the matter. If we have answered the first two questions rightly, the answer to the third question is self-evident: there is no room for boasting. People boast over what they do, but almost never over what they have been given. Accomplishments may make us proud, but gifts make us grateful. If a long lost cousin came to your house and gave you a brand new car, you could not in that moment, express any pride toward him. Surely the words “thank-you” would come up more than once in such an event. Recognizing our talents, accomplishments, and blessings as gifts insures an attitude of gratitude.

Humility does not mean that we deny our gifts. It does no good for the beautiful woman to pretend to be ugly, or for the world class athlete to call himself a clumsy oaf, or for the brilliant mathematician to refer to himself as stupid. God is in the truth business and desires us to see ourselves realistically. For most of us a realistic assessment means that we find ourselves to be pretty much in the middle range of humanity. But in those cases where our particular gifts may seem to outshine the majority, God expects us to be fully cognizant that any gifts we may have are just that – they are gifts from God and nothing we can boast about. Michael Jordan may have been the best basketball player ever, but his dribbling, shooting, and dunking abilities were granted to him without him ever having asked for them. Even his incredible work ethic was not something he conjured up for himself.

This is likewise true of our possessions. Those who have achieved any degree of success in life, and find themselves in a prosperous state far beyond most, have no reason to boast. Every dollar in the bank, the beautiful home they live in, the Lexus they drive, and the well manicured lawn they enjoy are only theirs by the providential hand of God. And the same God that generously gave them these things could take them away in a moment if He so chose. The distinction between worldly success and failure in this world is exceedingly tenuous and fragile, and the more we are aware of this the easier humility becomes.

All of this brings us to the point of praise and thanksgiving to our Creator. As we use our gifts gladly to glorify God and touch souls, let us be thankful. As we look around us and see the abundance of blessings that our generous Father has granted us, let us give thanks. Though we may have worked very hard for what we have, the very desire and capacity to work are gifts as well. And whether the Lord gives or takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord. The greatest of all gifts is, of course, the cross of Jesus. It is through Jesus' cross and resurrection that God has graciously granted us the gifts of righteousness, eternal life, and reconciliation to Himself. And as with every gift, it had its origination entirely in God. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Thanks be to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, His Son.

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