Boy do I love gifts?!! How about you? I can get pretty excited over them. I remember as a child how enthused I would be around Christmas time. My older sister (you know who you are, Gail) and I can recall one Christmas when we were bent on finding the presents our mom had bought us. She knew us..so she knew she would have to hide them well. But we kept searching. We finally found the radios she had purchased for us. Ah the sweet joy of discovery! Which was then quickly followed by the guilt of having spoiled the surprise our mom had intended for us on Christmas morning. But I digress.
Back to gifts…I love them. But, would you think with me about a special gift…one which, at first blush, doesn’t really seem to fit in this category? The Apostle Paul brings it to our minds. As he wrote the Philippians (1:29), he reminds them of two special gifts they had been granted. That word “granted” has grace in it. The two gifts he is about to mention had been “graced” to the believers. The first gift was their faith. Faith is not an achievement on our part. It is a gift God has graced us with. And it requires that we be willing to receive it. And aren’t we glad to be believers? Don’t we wish everyone would be? Think of the difference God has made in your life through His priceless gift to you of believing.
But then Paul goes on to speak of the other gift. He says that it had been graced to them to suffer on Christ’s behalf. My first inclination is to tell God, “Thanks for the faith, but no thanks to the suffering.” One out of two isn’t bad. But the fact is that it does not and cannot work that way. When, in love, you put your trust in someone…you are gifted/graced with relationship. And real relationship has a whole-ness about it. By that I mean artificial limits do not apply. You don’t think…okay now…you and I will be friends on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays…or we will be movie-going friends but not dinner-eating friends. When we begin the adventure of relationship, we are forced to do so largely in ignorance. If we were to coldly calculate all the potential costs of the relationship beforehand, we likely would never begin. And we would be cheated out of one of life’s greatest privileges…to share another human’s life. If we dwelt on all the hours of listening we would incur…if we thought only of the lost sleep or of those times when we would deny ourselves in order to please the other…if we could only factor the extra money, time, energy and emotion required by relationship…again, we probably would not make a start. The problem with this kind of cold, cost analysis is that it fails to take into account…in fact, cannot really assess…how one’s motivation level increases exponentially as the relationship lives, grows and thrives. And all the things that once upon a time, you might have put into a minus column…are not minuses. They are important aspects of relationship which are willingly embraced. They are not counted as sacrifices, though technically, they are just that.
When you love someone…part of it…one of the “gifts” of relationship…is that what disturbs them, disturbs you. What disappoints them, gets to your heart also. Whatever or whoever would seek to harm them, seeks to harm you. If they are endangered, you warp into full rescue mode. If they need something, you would try to move heaven and earth on their behalf. You go to the hospital and wait through long hours of surgery or illness because you can’t do anything else…you can’t be anywhere else. You hold a hand through the watches of the night…you hit your knees to beseech God’s help…you do research…you find money…you beg and plead and cry and hope and wonder and wait and wait and wait. Another “victim” of relationship. There’s nothing like it…and you wouldn’t trade places with anyone else in the universe. That’s the magic…the grace…of love in relationship.
So, of course, Paul is right. It is a gift to suffer on behalf of the beloved when such times come. And this is supremely true of the One Who has become our All in All. Love leaves us, as it did Him, no choice we would ever consider. What a gift!