C.J. Mahaney is one of my modern day heroes in the faith. If you haven't heard his preaching apart from clips on The Atonement, you're missing out! A good place to start is his classic message on the ten lepers, where he used a phrase that has stuck with me ever since I heard it.
"All gifts from God are intended to direct our attention to God and create fresh affections for God" - C.J. Mahaney, More Desirable Than Gifts
According to James 1:17, every good and perfect gift comes from God. Those gifts are not ends in themselves, but meant to point beyond themselves to God. When we don't allow gifts to do this, we are easily susceptible to idolatry and ingratitude. Both of these things anger God. In fact, Romans 1:18-25 shows how God's righteous wrath is poured out on people in large part for not allowing His gifts to point beyond themselves to Him. It is to our shame that, even as Christians, we often see the Lord's gifts as ends rather than means.
In the gospel, God graciously gives us Jesus Christ as the all-sufficient object of our affections. Jesus indicated that all-sufficiency when He prayed for believers in John 17:24:
"Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world."
As we embrace and rejoice in the Savior's matchless character seen in His sinless life, substitutionary death and glorious resurrection, believers behold the glory of Christ by faith now (2 Cor. 3:18, 5:7). According to this text from John, beholding and enjoying the glory of Christ by sight in heaven will be enough to eternally satisfy our glorified souls. All other gospel gifts (forgiveness, eternal life, sanctification, etc.) are means to this great end.
Getting back to Mahaney's statement:
"All gifts from God are intended to direct our attention to God and create fresh affection for God."
In light of this, do you see how the triune God is glorified in our salvation? The electing love of God the Father is the source of the Gift (Eph. 1:4-5). The work of God the Son is the means through which we receive the Gift (1 Peter 3:18). The power of God the Holy Spirit works affections in us for the Giver of the Gift (Romans 5:5). And God Himself is the Gift (Psalm 73:25)!
We should labor to see God's lesser gifts perform the same function. For instance, we're used to the idea of people who have gifts from God, but I've been struck recently by the reality that people are gifts from God. Ephesians 4:8-11 shows how Christ's gifts to His church are actually people themselves (vs. 11). With this in mind, we should 1) Thank God for those who direct our attention to Him and help create fresh affections for Him. 2) Encourage them by making them aware that God is using them in our lives that way. And 3) Seek, by God's grace, to be people who do the same for others. I can't think of any greater way to be used.
What would be the implications if we evaluated all gifts in this way? (Is it from God? Does it direct my attention to Him? Does it help create fresh affections for Him?) How would that affect how we saw music, for instance? The exercise of spiritual gifts? Our entertainment choices? The things we purchase? The people in our lives? Just a few things to ponder in this season known for gift-giving.
grace and peace,