What were your accomplishments at age 1? Maybe you learned a few words, took a couple of steps, or ate a piece of solid food. At any rate, 12 months into life and it’s time to celebrate. Mom and Dad organize a grandiose party to commemorate you for all you’ve done. There’s an elaborate cake, balloons, decorations, guests and, of course, gifts. All for you. It’s your special day.
Seems a bit ridiculous right? Most likely, you can’t even remember what was happening at your first birthday.
Now take a look at some other significant years in your life—18, 25, 53, 71. You’ve achieved more, experienced success in your occupation, you’ve gotten married, raised a family—perhaps now it is justified having a birthday party to commemorate you for all your great accomplishments? Nope.
Should a true Christian celebrate birthdays? Critics may argue there is nothing wrong with a birthday celebration. “It’s just a nice way to acknowledge another year of life,” they might say.
The Bible doesn’t mention much about celebrating the date of one’s birth. In fact, the few biblical accounts where a birthday celebration is mentioned, it is associated with a pretty gruesome event. In Genesis 40:20, you can read about Pharaoh celebrating his birthday by hanging his chief baker. On Herod’s birthday, he actually gave a gift to the daughter of Herodias—the head of John the Baptist (Mark 6:21-29).
Society glorifies birthday celebrations, but as a student of the Bible, you won’t be able to find any account that portrays a birthday celebration in the same light.
After Christ’s birth, He was given gifts by the three wise men (Matthew 2). Does this mean we should celebrate the date of one’s birth with the giving of gifts? Look at this plainly; nowhere do the Gospel accounts mention that Christ received gifts on the anniversary of His date of birth.
If any one man was entitled to a celebration for another year of life, it would have been Christ. This was a God being who had been born into physical life—His existence as a physical being was a miracle beyond comprehension! He accomplished more than any being in history. Yet nowhere do we read about Him being glorified or lauded for His accomplishments during His physical existence.
Christ constantly gave credit to God the Father, as you can read throughout John’s Gospel. His “meat” was “to do the will of” God the Father (John 4:34). Christ was a perfect human being—the only one ever to walk the Earth. If any man was worthy of a celebration it was He. Christ, however, in His perfect love, never exalted Himself. He had perfect humility. He gave all the credit where it was due—God the Father. This was Christ’s mission—read it in John 1:18—to declare the Father!
Christ did not want to receive gifts. His focus was not on getting. Christ’s focus was on giving. He gave the ultimate gift—His own life. Imagine attending a birthday celebration and instead of bringing gifts for an individual, that individual gave his guests everything he possessed. He drained his bank account, gave away his property, his car, ALL his possessions! People would probably stop celebrating birthdays pretty quickly.
Human nature loves to get. Birthday celebrations essentially come down to a matter of give and get. It puts the emphasis on one person. This can be a huge vanity booster for that individual.
Acknowledging a birthday is not wrong. We keep track of our age and when we reach certain milestones in life that permit us to do more. Sometimes it can even be helpful to use this date to perform a self-examination, a review of your life in the last year. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging this date, the problem comes with celebrating it.
But there does come a time in a person’s life when he or she has a date worth acknowledging and remembering. It is impossible for anyone to know when this date will come, and they won’t remember it either, but everyone will have it: the day we die.
Nothing is taken to the grave. “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out,” Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:7. One day, whether you like it or not, your possessions will fall into someone else’s hands. You spent a lifetime working, acquiring things, building a family, developing character—and to dust you return (Ecclesiastes 3:20). To most people’s shock, this is the day a person should be glorified, remembered, and commemorated.
In Ecclesiastes 7:1, Solomon wrote, “the day of death is better than the day of birth” (Moffatt translation). Breaking into verse 2, it reads, “… for death is the end of all men, and the living should keep that in mind” (Moffatt). On the day of one’s death, those still living look back at the life of that individual, remembering the stories and lessons from his or her life. That person is dead now; there is no chance of them having any thought of vanity or selfishness as is commonly associated with birthday celebrations (Ecclesiastes 9:5).
Look at the example of Jesus Christ. God commands us to commemorate the Passover. This day is about Christ’s death, when we remember the suffering He went through so we could be forgiven of our sins.
Consider back now to when you were 1 year old, or 18, 25, 55, 77. At that point in your life, do you think it was necessary to be commemorated for simply living another year?
This physical life isn’t about the self; it is not about what you can acquire; it’s not about making a name for yourself or building a legacy. It is about learning to fear God and keeping His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
If we live our lives with that as our goal, God will reward us with a magnificent reward. We will have our special day—not as physical beings receiving physical gifts that wither away—but as spirit beings. Christ said in Revelation 22:12, “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” What is that incredible reward? We will be given “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 1:4).