If you’re like me, you enjoy receiving gifts—although, if the truth be told, you’re sometimes left wondering what the other person was thinking. The best gifts are the thoughtful ones, the ones that show that the other person knows you well and took the time to consider what gift would best suit your needs. Such gifts are special, because they’re not just objects in themselves, but expressions of a relationship.
That said, it’s also true that we don’t always get what we want. When I was a kid, as my birthday or Christmas would approach, I would hope against hope that my parents would know what I really wanted: some toy that I had seen in a Saturday morning commercial. In my imagination, I had built it up into being the secret to all my happiness.
Sometimes, I got just what I wanted. Other times, I’d tear open a brightly wrapped box to find… clothing, or underwear, or socks. Necessary, yes, but not the stuff of a middle-class American child’s selfish dreams.
And sometimes, I’d receive a gift that wasn’t what I had wished for—but was perfect nonetheless. It was more than I had dared to hope.
Years later I would become the father giving gifts to my own children.
It didn’t take long to learn that what they wanted was not always what they needed, and that this would be difficult to explain to someone whose desires were easily inflamed and hard to control (as if kids were the only ones who fit that description!). We want what we want. And sometimes, we may even want the right things for the wrong reasons.
Through it all, what always mattered most to me as a dad was that gifts be something more than mere ritual obligations: Oh, bother—it’s your birthday again? I guess I’ll have to go out of my way to pick up something on the way home from work. The best gifts are the ones that express a loving relationship with a giver.
That’s the perspective that got lost in the church at Corinth; that’s the perspective we need to find even now in any discussion of spiritual gifts. More on that in the next post.