It’s Not a Gift If You Have to Pay For It

Maybe it’s because we’ve just celebrated Christmas that I’ve been thinking about gifts. I wonder, why do we do that? What is it that inspires humans to give things to each other?

Gift definitionBack in the 80’s, a friend of mine married into an affluent family. As a wedding gift, her in-laws said they wanted to spring for bedroom furniture for her and her new husband.

The happy couple was elated; they went out shopping and found a great deal on a lovely walnut set: a dresser, chest and two end tables. It was perfect for their small rented apartment and they were beyond pleased.

There was just one problem: it wasn’t what my friend’s new mother-in-law had in mind and she was quick to tell them so.

“Oh, no, you don’t want that. You live in the south; you can’t have dark furniture. And it’s too small. It won’t suit you for very long.” Then she picked out what she wanted them to have, bought it, and had it delivered.

I would argue that wasn’t really a gift; it was more of a power grab. The newlyweds felt obligated to accept what the mother-in-law wanted for them because she was paying for it, whether or not it was what they would have wanted.

I think if you give someone a gift with strings attached, it’s not really a gift; it’s a form of indebtedness.

When you think about it, we frame a lot of things as gifts that actually aren’t given “voluntarily without payment in return”. No matter how much we care about a person, when we give a gift, we almost always expect something, whether or not we acknowledge it (or even realize it). It may be just a word of thanks or a nod we’re looking for, but that’s something.

In a broader sense, too, gifts are seldom just that. Take marriage, a lovely institution given by God in the garden of Eden. As Christians, we enter this covenant relationship, vowing to defer to each other out of love and mutual submission for the rest of our lives.

It’s a beautiful concept, but when it comes right down to it, we even turn the gift of marriage into something transactional. I give here and expect to get there. I let you win this one, but next time it’s my turn.

Maybe parents trying to raise their children right come closest to selfless giving. A child is born and we don’t stop to weigh the cost. We pour out our lives; giving them our very hearts – and definitely our best years. Many a bank account has been emptied in an effort to educate and equip our offspring with every advantage. We do it all from a place of love because our hopes and dreams for our children are for their good.

And yet, even in parenting there’s a thread of expectation. This “gift” we give our children comes with the hope that someday they will understand our sacrifice and that perhaps they will reflect positively on us.

Whether it’s a play for control, a desire for acknowledgement, or the longing for an eventual return on our “investment”, there is almost always a cost associated with gifts. But even though we humans are flawed gift-givers, I like that we keep trying. I think the whole exercise reflects our Maker.

gift package pin (no border)I believe the idea of gift-giving comes from a very hopeful place. It is firmly rooted in the character of God and derives directly from His goodness.

What better example of a “good and perfect gift” is there than our eternal salvation? It’s only in our relationship with the Almighty we are offered such a treasure with no expectation of anything in return: His is the only genuine, unconditional gift.

It was stunningly expensive – our sins cost Christ His life – but He paid the price willingly out of love.  That’s what I call a gift.

It takes a great deal of humility to just accept something so valuable without trying to reciprocate in some way. I think that’s what trips a lot of people up about the gospel message. We have this mindset – based on our human experience – that if someone does something nice for us we should respond in kind. We have to repay their generosity.

But how are we ever going to reciprocate in a way that will balance our account with God? How are we going to repay Him for our eternal security? We can’t; it’s simply not within our capacity, no matter how many good deeds we do. The transaction is already complete.

All that’s left for us to do is swallow our self-sufficiency and pride, and accept the gift.

What a lesson in true gift-giving from the Giver of all good things.

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About Diane Rivers

Diane is a native Floridian whose career as an FBI Agent got her transferred to the North. She's retired from that gig now and "repurposed" as a freelance writer, author, and sometimes poet who blogs about the bumpy, bone-jostling ride of her “workaround” life. She loves Jesus, her family, black coffee, kayaking, biking, and hiking, and she looks forward to eternity with the One who will make all things beautiful. (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

4 thoughts on “It’s Not a Gift If You Have to Pay For It”

  1. Diane, what you write always reaches me in many ways. I agree we should accept the gift yet I’ve been ingrained that “for unto whosoever much is given of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). True, nothing we can do will repay the salvation we receive, I just struggle with needing to try! Thanks for your blog!

    1. Beth, I’m so glad you resonate with some of this. I think the “needing to try” part comes out of a place of gratitude and that’s a good thing. We have much to be thankful for with this gift.

  2. Thanks for this Diane. It was interesting to read this because there is a lot of theologians and philosophers who have been writing about the possibility (or not) of “gift giving.” Many say that God alone can truly give because all of our giving comes out of mixed motives. That may be true, but if so, it only magnifies the grace of God’s giving.

    1. I would have to agree that our gift-giving magnifies the grace of God’s giving. So much of the good things we do, I believe, stem from our being made in His image. Whatever we can do to reflect Him in even a small way is worth it!

Your feedback is welcome!