The idea that we should seek the giver, not the gift, has truth behind it, but it can be misleading.
Suppose I said to my wife, “Nanci, I love you. Therefore I will not love the meals you cook, the books you gave me, the Christmas presents from you, or the vacation we went on.”
Would that make any sense? No. If I love gifts and vacation more than I love Nanci, that would obviously be wrong. But as long as she is foremost in my mind, by loving the meal Nanci prepares and the books she gives me, I honor her. So it is with God.
I can appreciate and enjoy a bike ride on a beautiful day, fully aware that the pure pleasure of it is God’s gift to me. By enjoying it, I’m enjoying Him.
Many believers have overspiritualized church, preaching, and prayer, and in doing so they have distanced God from creation, pleasure, and happiness. “Seek the giver, not the gift” can be an apt warning against idolatry in certain contexts, but as a general rule, it’s misguided.
What we should say instead is, “Seek the giver through the gift” or “in the gift.” Nanci and I are right to thoroughly enjoy the wonderful meals we have with four close friends on Thursday nights. We’re aware that our friends and the food, and our capacity to enjoy both, are God’s gifts to us. By enjoying these gatherings, in which we often speak of him, we are enjoying our Lord.
French Reformer John Calvin (1509–1564) wrote, “In despising the gifts, we insult the Giver.”
Scripture commands us to “earnestly desire the greater gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31, NIV). But desiring God’s gifts does not mean we must value the gifts above Him.
As long as we see God in His gifts to us, we need not be suspicious of them. We need not feel shame because they make us happy—they are simply doing what he designed them to do.
God is the primary source of all happiness. He has filled the world with secondary sources of happiness. They are all tributaries that can be traced back to the roaring rivers and boundless oceans of God’s own happiness that He will reveal for His children throughout eternity (see Ephesians 2:7).
God Himself is by far the greatest gift. As long as we see God in His gifts to us and thank Him wholeheartedly for them, we need not fear we’re appreciating them too much.
This blog is excerpted from Randy’s book Does God Want Us to Be Happy?, which is available for preorder from EPM (releases August 6, 2019).
Does God Want Us to Be Happy? offers a collection of short, easy readings on one of life’s biggest questions: in a world full of brokenness, is happiness a worthy pursuit for Christians?