As Christmas approaches, many people begin to think about giving and receiving. Just where and when the custom of giving gifts to one another at Christmas began is not known for certain. Perhaps it all started with the men from the east who worshipped the child Jesus, “… and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matt. 2:11.) Or maybe the giving of gifts began because Jesus himself is the gift of God to mankind, and because he gave his very life for man’s redemption.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16.)
“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. … No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. … Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 10:11, 18; John 15:13.)
And Paul said, “… I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20.)
Whatever the source of the custom, many people today exchange gifts at Christmas.
The scriptures have something to say to us about giving and receiving. One of the best-known passages comes to us from Paul’s instructions to the elders at Ephesus. He said, “… remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35.) We are especially indebted to Paul for preserving this statement of the Master, for nowhere else in our present scriptures containing the words of Jesus do we have this exact phrase, although we do have many other utterances from Jesus about the subject.
Jesus taught his disciples that our Heavenly Father is kind and is interested in the well-being of all his children, in a most fatherly way. He said:
“… what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
“or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask of him?” (Matt. 7:9–11.)
Since our Father is generous in giving, Jesus explained that we also ought to be charitable and helpful to one another—not to friends only, but to all who need help. The Father has set the example, “for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:45.) Therefore men also should give good gifts to those who are not their friends in order that “ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven. …”
“For if ye love them [only] which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
“And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?” (Matt. 5:45–47.)
For as Jacob taught, “think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance.” (Jacob 2:17.)
But one must give willingly, and not grudgingly nor sparingly, “For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore, it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift. …” (Moro. 7:8.)
“So let him give, not grudgingly, or of necessity, For God loveth a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7.)
And in the midst of joy and feasting over being freed from the oppression of their enemies, the ancient Jews were instructed to send “portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.” (Esth. 9:22.)
But of all the many gifts that our Heavenly Father bestows, his greatest gift is his Son, and “every good gift cometh of Christ.” (Moro. 10:18.) Paul said it this way: “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23.)
“But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” (Eph. 4:7.)
“Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” (2 Cor. 9:15.)
And through the Prophet Joseph Smith the Lord has further spoken to us:
“If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.” (D&C 6:13.)
Although this is the greatest of all the gifts of God, it cannot be fully received until after this mortal life. But the Lord has a gift which can be received while in the flesh. This is the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is the greatest gift that man can receive while in the flesh. Nephi wrote that the Holy Ghost “is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him. … For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (1 Ne. 10:17, 19.)
In the great restoration of all things, men shall receive again that which they have given. The Preacher said it thus: “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.” (Eccl. 11:1.) Alma explained it in these words:
“… the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful. …
“For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all.” (Alma 41:13, 15.)
Although the sunshine and the rain are given to both the good and the evil children, the greater gifts and blessings of God are withheld from men until they have faith in him and repent of their sins—that is, until they are ready and prepared for such things. (See Ether 12:6–22.) And those who have rejected the greater gift after it has been made fully known to them in this life shall not be able to enjoy its blessings in eternity. Of them it is written:
“… they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.
“For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.” (D&C 88:32–33.)
Furthermore, we must be willing to receive chastisement and correction from God as well as to receive his pleasant blessings. Chastisement is a blessing in disguise. Said Job, after he had received several “reversals” in his life, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10.) “Evil” in this sense does not mean moral evil, but rather trials and discomforting situations. Our Heavenly Father often tries us, and tests us for the purpose of giving us experience, and to correct us for our misdeeds. In Hebrews we read:
“My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth … for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
“Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” (Heb. 12:5, 6, 10, 11.)
We have cited what the scriptures say about God giving gifts to men, and the preparations men should make to receive these gifts. Further, men should be willing to receive all that the Lord has to give, even if it is not, for the moment, pleasant. We have cited also that men should willingly give good things to one another. But should man give only to man and not give anything to the Lord? What does the Lord want man to give to him? To the Latter-day Saints he has said, “Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind.” (D&C 64:34.) And to the Nephites he said:
“and ye shall offer up … no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away … And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” (3 Ne. 9:19–20.)
Paul understood all this, and summarized it very well by making a contrast to a dead animal sacrifice:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Rom. 12:1.)