The Gift Idea
As we approach Christmas many evangelicals, myself included, find our joy in the memory of the incarnation somewhat tempered by the reality that many we know and love do not follow the savior who was born in Bethlehem. I don’t know a single Christian with unsaved loved ones who doesn’t yearn for them to accept Jesus as savior and Lord.
Just how we relate to these dear people is always a challenge. We pray for them, certainty. We’ve probably shared our faith. Yet we are keenly aware that you can’t strong-arm them into heaven and that aggressive or even overly persistent “witness” often drives them away from Christ, not toward him.
Recently I read the following suggestion from John Piper for what we should do this Christmas:
“The Christmas season is ripe for “reviving your concern” (Philippians 4:10) for the spiritual well-being of friends and family members. We may lament the expectations of gift-giving and the excesses of holiday spending, but we can take it as an opportunity to invest in eternity by putting God-centered, gospel-rich content into the hands of those we love.
Next to the Bible, perhaps the most enduringly valuable gifts you can give this Christmas are books soaked in God and his grace. Online articles, sermons, and podcast episodes change lives and sustain souls, but they don’t make for typical material Christmas gifts. Printed books, on the other hand, wrap well, and can be just as life-changing and soul-saving, and more.
As Christmas approaches, we wanted to remind you of our recent titles from the team at Desiring God. We’ve done our best to saturate them in the Bible and fill them with God and his gospel, and we’ve prayed over them again that they might be a means of God’s grace not only for you, but also your loved ones…”
The bold-face is mine, not in the article. In a nutshell, he says we should give our unsaved friends Christian books, preferably those written by Piper and his friends. I’d like to add a resounding “or maybe not.”
Opening Christmas gifts is a magical time. But more often than not, for a person with no serious interest in our faith, opening a beautifully wrapped package and finding a book by John Piper is akin to getting an ugly sweater or a horrid tie. The anticipation turns to dismay and they are forced to either lie or be insulting and say they don’t like it or want it. Frankly, it can often come across as “you better read this because you are on your way to hell.” For someone celebrating the cultural Christmas of family and happy times together it is like a slap in the face.
Some may say that we need to be slapping them in the face. They belong to the tribe that says “the Gospel is an offense and I need to be offensive or I am not doing it right.” I think not. I’ve always felt there are a few principles we must follow to be a good friend to the unsaved.
- Be a friend first. Make it clear that your love and friendship is neither conditional nor a means to an end. It also means you may need to temper your witness.
- Don’t swing to hit a homerun. The idea that we must “stick in the needle” (give a full presentation/invitation) every time we are together is false. I know some will try and guilt us into this, saying this may be the only time they have to accept Christ, but this attitude makes evangelism up to us, not God. Plus, it is almost always wrong. The vast majority of people who come to Christ through the witness of friends do so over extended contact. Take your time.
- Let the Holy Spirit be in charge. Trust the Spirit to prompt us when to say something and when not to. Trust the Spirit to blend our relationship with our friend or relative with every other thing going on in their lives; always in ways we can never comprehend.
If you’ve got an unsaved friend who has shown interest in your faith, even if it just head knowledge they are interested in, by all means go ahead and buy one of Piper’s books. But always ask yourself this question: Will receiving this book communicate to them that you love them? No matter how sure you are that you are giving the book because you love them, love is always felt in the heart. Unless you are sure, absolutely sure, that on opening the gift they will say “Thank you so much! This tells me how much you love me!” then perhaps the tie is a better option. Just don’t make it too ugly.