Productivity is equally a blessing and a curse.
A blessing because our efforts and effectiveness can glorify the Lord, help other people, and steward our gifts and time well.
A curse because its values (effectiveness, efficiency, work) tend to bleed into the realm of approaching the throne of grace.
Numerous times this past week, I’ve found myself repeating the following lines from the hymn “Rock of Ages”: Nothing on my own to bring / Simply to the cross I cling. How many of us think, even without realizing it, that we bring something of value to the table, when it comes to meeting with the Lord or participating in his wise plans for the world?
We bring our own plans with no attitude of submission to what God might see fit to do in his plan.
We bring our good works, hoping that God’s favor and delight will shine on us for being honorable children.
We bring our resources, whether money or time or gifts, somehow believing that all these have sprung up from our own ability to create, glean, or earn them.
Acts 17:25-25 corrects all of these suppositions by reminding us of one very important — in fact, essential — truth:
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
He himself gives. Those three little words express the heart of the gospel message — that God gave his only Son to redeem lost sinners from death by the shedding of his own blood and his resurrection from the grave. And those three little words overturn all of our productive efforts to give back to God, approaching him with any sense of personal pride.
We learn from other points in the surrounding verses four particular gifts that God gives to all mankind:
God gives life and innate value to all of his creatures. “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth…” The creation is not greater than the Creator, nor is the servant greater than his Master. Every human being has been given life; not one of us breathed breath into our own lungs! Every day you wake up is a miracle because God is sustaining your existence. You are not in heaven yet because he still has purpose for you. Have you considered this?
God gives perfect timing for our lives and gives history its course. “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place…” While it can be difficult to understand the sovereignty of God, it is ultimately he who charts our paths, rolls out every event, and sets all of history into motion towards the great coming of Jesus Christ. Certainly he uses human exertion and choices; but he is the one who weaves such marvelous, intricate details in a whole, as well as the power to see them through to completion.
God gives his presence. “…having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us…” God has indeed made himself known. Whether in the details of creation, or in the person of Jesus Christ, God has given us his presence so that all men are without excuse (Romans 1). If you’ve never considered this, ask God to open your eyes to see his activity; ask him to reveal his mighty power. Feel your way toward him, seek him, and you will find him!
God gives his Son. “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” The one raised from death, the one who will judge the world for sin, is Jesus Christ. Here is where God’s giving gets astoundingly beautiful: God knew that we could bring nothing to atone for sin, no good works or gifts or resources. Despite our inability, despite our wretched state apart from him, God gave by making a way for us to be made right with him. And that “way” is the only way and truth and life: Jesus Christ, the righteous Son of God.
I love what our pastor said in church last week: “Christ comes, not to demand the rent, but to pay the bill.” Have you seen Jesus as one coming to demand, or one coming to give? Rest assured, he comes to pay the ransom for sinners. He knows we all come empty-handed, and that is precisely why he came and gave his own life for our salvation.
What do you have that you did not receive from God? Consider the generosity of your giving Father in the beauty of His Son this Christmas.