And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.
In I Timothy 2:3-4, we read “This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” This includes those who are committed Christians, those who are lapsed Christians, those who are non-Christians and those who have never even heard of Jesus Christ. God’s desire for all of us is the same—for us to understand His word, to follow it and to attain our salvation.
I have always seen faith as the structure of what we believe. When someone asks me what faith I follow, I answer, “I am a Christian.” In my humble opinion and understanding, religion refers to the way we practice our faith. Orthodox, Catholicism and 38,000 (and counting) kinds of Protestant religions comprise the Christian faith. The goal of all Christians, ostensibly, is salvation. Though I supposed that there are some Christians who perhaps don’t have that as a goal. I remember years ago reading in the newspaper of the town where I was serving on Western Easter that a survey concluded that 80% of Christians believed in the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. And my question was “what do the other 20% believe? That He didn’t?”
Having served as an Orthodox priest for nearly 25 years, I feel convicted about what I’m doing. I definitely think that Orthodoxy is the best way to the Christian goal of salvation. That’s why I’m Orthodox, as opposed to some other religion. However, I wouldn’t tell people that Orthodoxy is THE way but that it is A way to realize this goal. Some may disagree and think Orthodoxy is the only way to the Kingdom. I think there are devout Christians of many denominations who have lived more upright lives and done more to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ than I ever will. For instance, Billy Graham probably spoke to more people face to face about Jesus than anyone in the history of the world. One hundred thousand people would regular pack his speaking venues. They didn’t have stadiums like that back when St. Paul was preaching. One point to make from today’s message is that the gift of Christ is for everyone. And we should be rooting for everyone to make it to heaven, not just the Orthodox, not just the people in our church, not just the people we like, but all people. One hard question to ponder is “would you be angry if the person you liked the least in your life greeted you at the gates of heaven?” I hope my answer would be “yes,” or maybe it’s more like “I just hope I get there and if I do, I don’t care who greets me.” The answer should be “I hope my biggest enemy will be in heaven.” I hope we’ll all be there—at least I should hope this.
During the early years of the church, the Jews (God’s chosen people) who were converting to Christianity had a hard time with the notion that Gentiles could become Christians because they were Jews first. There was some “amazement” that the Holy Spirit could be poured out even on the Gentiles. Some of this amazement might even have been resentment. And sad to say, there are still people in all Christian religions (not everyone, just some people in every religion) who think their brand of Christianity is the only legitimate one. In John 3:8, we read “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is every everyone who is born of the Spirit.” In other words, the Spirit also blows where it wills and no one can say that the Spirit can’t “blow” on a certain kind of person.
Bringing this idea back to gift giving, many of us makes lists of the people we need to buy gifts for. There are the obvious ones. And then there are the ones we debate whether we buy for or not. And the ones who don’t make the list. As we decide who to buy gifts for, we should also consider what kind of gifts we can give to all people, whether we know them or not. Because if Christmas is for everyone, if the gift of Christ is for everyone, then we should think about what kinds of gifts we can give to everyone. What can we give to everyone? We can be better drivers. We can be more courteous to people. We can use clean language. We can take care of our homes—our lawns, our trees, etc. We can raise our children to be responsible and kind. We can work on our marriages so we don’t end up with broken families. Because doing these kind of things benefits society as a whole, and failing to do them harms society. I tell couples who are about to get married that I’m rooting for them, and that I have a personal stake in their marriage. Because if they have a solid and stable family, that makes for a more solid and stable society.
Just as God’s gift of salvation is for everyone, we should also think of gifts that we can give to everyone.
Lord, thank You that the gift of salvation is for everyone, including me. Help me to root for other people in their journey to salvation, even when it’s hard, even when they’ve wronged me. Help me to forgive others in the way that You forgive me. Help me to do my part to promote peace and goodness in the world. Give me a mind to consider gifts that I can give to all people, in imitation of the gift You have given to all people. Amen.
Write down some gifts that you can offer to everyone, whether we know them or not!
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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