There once was a great king who ruled with wisdom and grace. One day a gardener arrived at court with a great carrot. He said to the king, “O King, this is the finest carrot I have ever grown. I wish to give it to you as a token of my love and esteem.”
The king looked at the gardener, discerned his heart, and replied, “I see you offer your gifts well. I will give you that large plot of land next to your garden so you may express your gardening gifts even more.” The gardener went home rejoicing.
But there was a nobleman in the court who overheard the conversation. He said to himself, “If that is what you get for a simple carrot, what would you get if ….”
The next day the nobleman brought a great stallion to court. He said to the king, “O King, this is the finest stallion I have ever bred. I wish to give it to you as a token of my love and esteem.”
The king looked at the nobleman, discerned his heart, replied, “Thank you,” and began to leave the court. The nobleman was distraught. The king then paused, and added,
“Let me explain. The gardener gave the carrot to me. You gave the stallion to yourself.”*
Giving to get
A year ago I posted a normal blog about something God was saying to me. It was unusually popular. The first day saw twenty times the normal number of readers, and the second day even more. I was geeked. I wanted that kind of popularity again.
So I worked extra hard on my next article, trying to be witty and wise. But my wise (and witty) readers discerned my heart, and the post bombed.
I had given that next article to myself. I had given to get.
Phil. 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfishness….” The word “selfishness” is sometimes translated rivalry, selfish ambition, or strife, but these words fail to capture the real meaning of the Greek word, aritheia.
Aritheia was originally a derogatory term for day laborer work. It expressed the arrogant, aristocratic contempt for manual labor. Soon it was used to critique politicians who used their position for selfish, personal glory. Finally it was applied to prostitutes who demeaned something rich—physical love—for the sake of something base, money.
Aritheia means giving to get, giving goodness in order to get greatness. The word critiques heart motivations beneath external actions. We are looking for love in all the wrong ways.
The Philippians verse continues, “Do nothing out of [giving to get] or conceit.” The word “conceit” is often translated vain-glory or vanity, but these words also fail to capture the true meaning of another Greek word, kenodoxia.
Kenodoxia literally means empty-glory. When scripture adds “Do nothing out of empty-glory,” it deepens the first command, “Do nothing out of ‘giving to get.’” It explains why we “give to get.” We “give to get” in order to fill an inner emptiness.
We are made for lives of significance and even glory, but we feel empty. So we desperately try to fill the void, fueled by our emptiness:
- We desperately try to be perfect parents; then we’ll know we’re something.
- Or we work ever-so-hard in Christian ministries; then we’ll know we’re servants.
- Or we frantically try to please everyone; then we’ll know we’re okay.
- [Or we try to write a witty and wise article; then we’ll know we’re….]
In all these desperate attempts, we are working to fill an inner void. We are acting out of empty-glory. We “give to get.” It’s because we feel the emptiness of insignificance; we are dust in the wind; we are empty of glory.
And it drives us nuts.
There is another way
Giving to get is our way of filling our emptiness; God says there’s a better way.
When Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42), he says her thirst for water is like her thirst for man’s love; the daily quenching inevitably disappoints. Acting from emptiness eventually (and inescapably) fails. But he says we can be filled:
Everyone who drinks this water will become thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water that I will give him will never become thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become a spring of water, welling up to eternal life.
Jesus says we don’t have to act out of thirst (emptiness); we can act out of overflowing (fullness). How do we get this fullness to overflowing? We simply receive it.
The Philippians passage above continues “Have this mind among yourselves” (Phil. 2:5). It doesn’t say have this “example” but have this “mind,” and that mind is a deep belief of the heart. So what are we to believe deeply in our hearts?
We are to know (deeply and richly) in our hearts that Jesus emptied himself of his glory, and poured his glory into us. We know this by the cross—his great love for us poured out in blood—and we know it by his resurrection.
His resurrection? His resurrected body—that seeming oxymoron of a spiritual body—has eternal scars, the eternal scars that forever shout to all creation (including us) that he loves us, that he poured himself out and he poured himself in, into us.
If I give a stallion to get something (glory, fame, popularity, a sense of okay-ness), it ain’t much of a gift … no matter how seemingly great. If we give a simple carrot or two mites (or a less than witty blog article) out of our fullness, it’s a gift fit for a king.
* The carrot story was first told by Charles Spurgeon, a nineteenth-century preacher.