June 2024
For God So Loves That He Gives

This is a concise biblical-theology of giving, showing how God has a pattern of giving to his people in the Old Testament, which climaxes in the giving of his Son in the New Testament.

Scripture is full of themes we can trace and trellises to climb. One of them is God's giving. If we look for this throughout the Bible, starting in Genesis, we'll find that it's not surprising for Jesus to utter the now-famous words, "For God so loved the world that he gave" (John 3:16). Giving has a history, and it starts with God. What follows are just some of the images that carry the weight of this theme throughout God's word.

Creation as Gift

For Adam and Eve, all of creation was already a gift. They were born into a beautiful and breathtaking blessing, a world ready to receive them and provide for them, all because of God's prodigality and divine imagination. If a gift is, in the simplest terms, one thing given by someone to another, then all of creation is a gift for the first humans, and it continues to be for us today. This is what prompted Christopher Watkin to say that our fundamental nature as creatures is recipients (Biblical Critical Theory, 60). Adam and Eve were born with empty hands, but God quickly filled those hands with food (Gen. 1:29), as he filled their eyes with light and color, and their noses with fresh air and flora. Every fleck and fiber of the created world is a gift.

Creation is one massive and magnanimous gift.

So, from the very outset of Scripture, we already have the theme of God as Giver. And his gifts encompass every square inch of creation, including our internal faculties: our consciousness, imagination, reasoning, and the whole spectrum of human emotion and sensitivity. Creation is one massive and magnanimous gift.

God's Word as Gift

Quickly following creation is something even more central for Adam and Eve, and for us: the gift of God's word. God spoke to Adam and Eve to tell them what their purpose was (Gen. 1:28), why they were made. We often overlook the importance of this truth because the twenty-first century Western world is lost. It has as much trouble discerning its purpose as it does deciding on its identity. But without a defined purpose, life is meaningless. We can go on trying to live, and the advances in modern medicine help us to do that at all costs, but what are we living for? That's purpose. And we can't decide that for ourselves. Purpose is a personally given direction that governs our life from the outside. It is bigger than we are. While many people want to say that we define our own purpose, that misses the point of what purpose is: a call to conform to something higher than yourself. Purpose is God-given, and we would have no clue what our purpose is if God didn't tell us.

Purpose is a personally given direction that governs our life from the outside. It is bigger than we are.

But the gift of God's word does more than this. It doesn't only give us the end-point of our existence, which the Westminster Larger Catechism summarizes as "loving and fully glorifying God forever." (This is done through a perfection of the Genesis 1:28 mandate.) It also gives us the day-to-day direction we need to carry out God's will in God's way. This started with Adam and Eve, but it continued with their progeny: Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:6-7), Noah (Gen. 6), Abraham (Gen. 12), Isaac (Gen. 17; 24), Jacob (Gen. 28; 42), the people of Israel (Gen. 48:21), the kings and prophets (too many passages to list!). God speaks to his people to tell them where they should go, what they should do, and when they should do it. That's why we find the psalmists praising God just for speaking, for giving them his words. "The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times" (Ps. 12:6). God's word is a trustworthy and reliable gift, always protecting God's people. "The word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him" (Ps. 18:30).

The gift of God's word is all-encompassing, since that word also created and upholds the world. As Vern Poythress put it in Making Sense of the World, "The world is completely specified by the word of God, which articulates the plan of God. . . . God governs everything by speaking (Pss. 33:6, 9; 147:15-18; Heb. 1:3). The entire utterance of God structures the entirety of reality" (117). The utterance of God also leads God's people corporately and individually.

The Land as Gift

As a subset of creation as gift, we also have land as a gift. God doesn't stop at providing his people with his own presence; he adds to this the providence of a place. If that word sounds impersonal to you, think of it as a home. The Garden of Eden was a home, a dwelling place for persons, an arena for them to mark with their own presence. After Adam and Eve were banned from Eden, their place of residence varied. But Abraham was called to a land that God would show him (Gen. 12:1), a land God promised to give to him and to his descendants (Gen. 15:18), running up through the time of the prophets and kings (Josh. 1:2, 4; Isa. 49:8; 60:21; Jer. 7:7; Ezek. 20:42). Because of their unfaithfulness, the Israelites would lose this land-gift in the end, being dispersed among the nations. That's where the people find themselves as the New Testament opens.

But the land was a gift not simply as a place of residence, as a piece of geography. The land was a gift because the presence of God lived with the people there. This is precisely why Joshua and the Israelites are meant to have courage as they enter the land of Canaan to dispossess its evil residents (Josh. 1:9), and why they refuse to go into the land under Moses if God will not go with them (Exod. 33:15-16). It's also what makes Jerusalem and the temple of Solomon so sacred, as a place where God's name will dwell (1 Kgs. 8:12-13). It's the presence of God that makes a place worth living in, that makes the temple holy.

That is why, in the book of Revelation, the new heavens and new earth are depicted as a city where God eternally dwells among his people (Rev. 21:1-4).

In short, the gift of land is what it is because of the gift of God's presence. Apart from that presence, it would not be a blessing.

Rulers as Gifts

With the land and the people came a need for a ruler, a leader to direct the masses. It's critical to remember that this leader was already established as God himself—the invisible Lord. But the people were not satisfied with what they could not see. They wanted an earthly king (1 Sam. 8), something their eyes could grip and their hands could grasp. In asking for this, they rejected God as king (1 Sam. 8:7). But God, in his mercy, granted their request. He gave them the gift of an earthly king, beginning with Saul (1 Sam. 9). The kings were often chosen and annointed through God's divine appointing, through the direction of a prophet such as Samuel or a priest such as Zadok (1 Kgs. 1:39). Others came from the line of succession, or stole the throne through war or deception.

But all the kings were meant to be guides—arrows that directed the people like a compass pointing true north (i.e., to the character and commands of God). In this sense, every king was a potential gift to the people. Wherever the king pointed, the people would follow. A king with a heart for God would lead the people to their covenant-keeping Lord (1 Sam. 13:14). In such cases (which were far and few between), the king was a gift from God to the nation. A king complemented the gift of land, showing God's people how to live in God's presence.

Prophets and Priests as Gifts

The kings were preceded by priests and prophets. The former were gifts in helping the people remain holy; the latter were gifts in directing the people to faithfulness. Israel as a nation was called to be a holy people (Lev. 11:44, 45; Num. 15:40; Eph. 1:4; 5:27; 1 Pet. 1:15-16), and the priests were in charge of the ceremonies and sacrifices that purified them (Exod. and Lev.). The prophets—such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel—were famous for calling the people to repentance and faithfulness in the midst of pagan influences.

God did not have to give the people priests or prophets, just as he did not have to give them land or a king. Priests and prophets were an unmerited gift, a blessing to care for the souls of God's people and to direct their steps, especially when kings proved untrustworthy, as they almost always did.

Wisdom as Gift

In addition to these gifts of persons, there is the highly-prized gift of wisdom: knowledge of the truth wedded to discernment and action. The books of Psalms and Proverbs portray wisdom as something to seek, but it is also something given by God himself. Solomon had great wisdom, but that wisdom was "the wisdom of God" (1 Kgs. 3:28). It came from God, and it belonged properly to him (Job 12:13, 16). The psalmist pleads, "teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom" (Ps. 90:12). And Proverbs is full of calls to pursue wisdom as a precious treasure (Prov. 1:2; 3:13; 4:5, 7; 8:11; 16:16).

The starting place of wisdom is recognizing where and who you are in relation to the holy and sovereign God.

The beginning of wisdom is not the acquiring of information but the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 15:33). Standing in reverence before the divine person of God is true wisdom. This is often lost on us. We tie wisdom to "informed action," and yet God's word reveals that this is not the starting place. The starting place of wisdom is recognizing where and who you are in relation to the holy and sovereign God.

And, again, God is the Giver of all good gifts. The writer of Proverbs says, "the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding" (Prov. 2:6). God grants wisdom to his people so that they can follow in his footsteps and fully enjoy his presence.

Grace as Gift

Along with the gift of wisdom comes the beautiful gift of grace. The phrase "gift of grace" is redundant, since grace is "a giving of what is undeserved." But we find grace on nearly every page of Scripture. Even in Genesis 3, before God pronounces judgement, we find grace in a question: "Where are you?" (3:9) God knew where Adam and Eve were, and his commands were clear in Genesis 2:16-17. Death was the penalty for disobedience. God had every right to execute that judgement in silence. And yet he spoke. He asked a question not for his benefit, but for theirs. He asked it to show them how far they had gone. That was grace. Grace is a giving when taking is warranted.

Grace is a giving when taking is warranted.

The psalmist can plea for grace (Ps. 86:6) because he knows how often we find ourselves in a position of wanting to be recipients when we deserve to be penalized. On every page of Scripture we find instances of God giving when he has every right to take or to judge. That's grace. And so, when we get to the New Testament and learn that the Son of God has come in the flesh, we see the gospel writers exult in this divine giving. Just look at the word "grace" in John's Prologue (John 1:14-18).

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

Grace is the gift that finds us in our failing. It takes so many forms. It is every good thing we receive in the context of deserving the opposite. But its climactic and ultimate form is in Jesus Christ, grace embodied.

Son as Gift

All of the gifts above, and many that aren't developed here, culminate in the quintessential act of God's self-giving: the giving of the Son. John 3:16 is thus not so much a surprising revelation as a perfect culmination. God's giving goes all the way back to his own self: the Father giving the Son out of love for his people. Such giving brings Paul to his knees in worship for the all-powerful security of God's redeeming love (Rom. 8:31-39). For those who have the gift of the Son, nothing can separate them from God, not even death.

This giving of the Son includes his incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. It is a gift for the Son of God to take on flesh, a gift for him to lay down his life on the cross to atone for our sin, a gift for him to rise again for our justification, shattering the shackles of sin. It's not just the coming of Jesus that is God's gift to us, but the dying of Christ on our behalf and the raising of Christ for God's glory and our saving hope. In short, the Son is given as Immanuel, fulfilling God's presence; as the Passover lamb, cleansing us from all sin; and as the resurrected king, bestowing unbreakable hope of eternal life. He is the gift that fulfills longings from the past, unwraps life in the present, and restores hope in our future.

Spirit as Gift

And yet the giving goes even further than this. The Father giving the Son as gift leads to the Son giving the Spirit as gift. Jesus says, "I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). The Helper is the Spirit, the same Spirit of the Son whom God has sent into the very hearts of his people (Gal. 4:6). The Spirit as divine gift now dwells inside of believers (Rom. 8:9).

The beauty here is in the gifts of God moving from external to internal. Prior to this giving of the Spirit, the gifts of God were mostly external, coming to us from the outside: creation, the word, the land, rulers, prophets and priests, wisdom, grace. While these things affect our souls (on the inside), they largely come from and dwell outside of us (perhaps wisdom and grace are exceptions, and the internal gifts of conscience, imagination, etc.). But the giving of the Spirit by the Son and at the behest of the Father is a truly internal gift. It puts the triune God inside of us as a dwelling place. For, while the Spirit lives inside us, so does the Father and the Son. "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (John 14:23).

The Future as Gift

Lastly, as hinted at earlier (Rev. 21:1-4), we have the gift of a future new heaven and earth. This is a reminder of the mysterious truth that our greatest gifts are promises. We focus much of our attention on the present, and the present is a wonderful gift! But the present is passing, at this very moment. We are always looking ahead. What's coming next? Will we be safe? Will we have a home? Are the loved ones we have lost in Christ going to see our faces again? Will we be okay? 

God's unseeable gift of a new heaven and earth addresses these deep and sacred questions. The gift of a brilliant and unending future in the presence of God continues to shine for us. And it always will, until we close our eyes in death and see that light for ourselves. Until then, we know that no eye can see or heart imagine the good things that are coming for us (1 Cor. 2:9).

God Is the Gift

The thematic development of giving helps us to see that God himself is the greatest gift, the only gift worth our longing. He is the one we pine for most. He answers all our questioning and satisfies all striving. "Man is an enigma," Herman Bavinck wrote, "whose solution can be found only in God" (Wonderful Works of God, 7). In a world bent on acquiring things, God reminds us that he alone is "the gift that keeps on giving." He is prodigal with himself. And when we encounter him in the saving experience of the Holy Spirit, we turn prodigal with him.


The culmination of God's gifts is the gift of his Son, in whom all other gifts find their telos. Christ is the firstborn of creation (Col. 1:15), the Word of God (John 1:1), the place where God's people would dwell (Gal. 2:20), the divine king (Rev. 19:16), the final prophet and priest (Deut. 18:15-22; John 6:14; Heb. 4:14-5:10), the fullness of wisdom (1 Cor. 1:24), the embodiment of grace (John 1:14-18). Christ fills all in all (Col. 3:11). He is the Gift. And he gives that gift through the life-giving work of his Spirit (John 14:15-17).

All of Scripture is about and points to the coming of the Christ-gift in his suffering, glory, and resurrection. Redemptive history, from this perspective, is a history of gift-giving. The gifts are seldom received in good faith, and any such good faith is itself a gift of God's Spirit. As I began, so I end: giving has a history, and it starts with God. It also ends with him.

Learn more about gifts in The Book of Giving

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