“. . . Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?” (Matthew 23:19)
Do you remember being excited about a particular gift you received?
Looking through my parents’ storage room recently, I discovered not only photos and other items that evoked strong memories, but also gifts that my brother and I had been given through the years. Many of these gifts were covered with dust or were no longer fully functional. Others were in excellent condition. What makes a gift special is a complex array of characteristics.
Some gifts we receive may be expensive but lose meaning rather quickly. Other gifts may be small tokens but are treasures to us because of when they came to us and from whom they came. Some gifts represent great sacrifice on behalf of the giver. Other gifts are “courtesy gifts” that someone we don’t know well gives in order to be polite.
An early pioneer of the Holiness Movement named Mrs. C.H. Morris (Lelia N. Morris) spent much of her life, in the words of one biographer, “writing hymns and doing housework.” She is said to have composed over 1,000 hymns and songs and was an active participant in the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century holiness camp meetings in the northeastern USA.
She wrote one hymn, entitled “The Altar Sanctifies the Gift,” that was based upon Jesus’ words of correction to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:19. In Matthew 23, Jesus is chastising the religious leaders of His day regarding their priorities, reminding them that they are missing the bigger picture of their faith by focusing upon (in the case of 23:19) the gift instead of the giver (God), who allows any gift to be made holy by means of the altar He provided to His people.
More specifically, Jesus goes on to say in 23:23: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
Morris’s hymn declares, “with His own precious blood, He might the people sanctify; Upon the cross, the Son of God, once yielded up Himself to die.”
It is the work of God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that is the greatest gift of all, and all of us who walk in His ways can find redemption and transformation. Because of His holy gift, even the seemingly small offering of ourselves can be holy.
Prayer for the Week:
I submit . . . my whole being and life, all that I am and have and will be, to your complete control and only ask that your will may be perfectly done in me, through me, and by me! Take me and keep me oh my God! Amen. (Hannah Whitehall Smith)
Charles W. Christian is managing editor of Holiness Today.
Written for Coffee Break with Holiness Today.