A truth worth remembering: a gift is only a gift if you don’t deserve it.
The Bible reminds us of this basic truth, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due (Romans 4:4; ESV),” and makes application from the general truth to the specifics of salvation: “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace (Romans 11:6; ESV)
When someone pays us what we deserve, it is not a gift, it is a wage. Typically, with wages, there is an agreement of some sort, a service or item given in exchange for compensation. A failure to make payment is theft, a breach of trust, and is inherently dishonest and wrong. Not so with a true gift. In matters of gift-giving, the only obligation laid on the giver is that imparted by their own desire or promises. You can’t compel someone to give you a gift. Compelling people to give you things apart from their desire to do so is generally considered to be some form of theft. A mugger might think he deserves your money, but his thinking it to be so does not make it so.
There are many occasions throughout the year when gift-giving is the norm, but even on such occasions, the people receiving gifts haven’t done anything to deserve them. A child receiving a birthday gift does not deserve the gift simply be reason of being born on a specific day. Likewise, nobody has a right to a Christmas gift. Getting married does not make you deserving of wedding gifts; one might argue the new spouse should be reward in and of themselves. Likewise, with having a newborn – there is no sudden legal right to presents for having a child. If any of the aforementioned did create an obligation for others to give, such contributions would no longer be gifts, they would be tribute, or wages, or taxes or some such.
This does not mean that people should not give gifts. The Bible tells us that “God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).” God wants us to be a giving people, generous and cheerful in that generosity, giving without resentment or worry or other negative attitudes such as are sometimes common during occasions of gift-giving. How many of these attitudes, we wonder, arise because people feel compelled to give? If we know the person to whom we were giving doesn’t actually deserve the gift, but we are giving simply because we want to, are we not more likely to give cheerfully and even generously?
Likewise, when we receive a gift – we don’t deserve what we are receiving. Therefore, feelings of entitlement have no proper place in the reception of gifts. When we feel as if others must give us gifts, we are little more than spoiled, petulant children lacking in both understanding and thankfulness. Only when we recognize that we don’t deserve the gift, will we respond with the appropriate level of appreciation and thankfulness for the kindness and thoughtfulness shown towards us. Even if it was a gift we did not want, it was, by nature of being a gift, more than we deserved.
If this is true of the gifts men give us, it is even more true of what God gives us.
God gives quite generously, but we should never feel as if God is giving to us because we deserve His love and affection. Jesus, speaking of the love and generosity of God, reminds us, “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45b; ESV).” Just because God has blessed us with food, shelter and clothes does not mean that we must inherently be good people. God gives to us, not because we deserve it, but because He is simply that good and kind. Receiving then those physical blessings we do not deserve, we should be thankful. And being thankful, we should express it with thanksgiving.
This is one reason Christians, in particular, should be ever thankful. We recognize that we do not deserve God’s salvation, provided through Christ. Men had done nothing worthy of forgiveness when God sent Christ to die for us. We had no inherent value so as to make God obligated to offer us a plan by which we could be joined with Him for eternity in a realm of joy and peace. Yet God, because He loved us, sent His son to die for us. It was the greatest of gifts, because it was the most undeserved of gifts. And for the receiving of it, let us who have been blessed by that gift be ever thankful.
The church of Christ invites you to come freely worship and study with us, as we give thank to God for His gifts, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.