One of the most popular verses of the Bible is John 3:16. Some of us remember the guy with the rainbow wig holding a John 3:16 sign in the end zone at professional football games. Until I became a believer and read the Bible, I didn’t know what the sign meant but then found out that it is this somewhat famous verse:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, emphasis added).
I am emphasizing the connection between love and giving that is evident in this verse and many others, including this: “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (Ephesians 5:2).
True love will involve giving, which seems plain enough. The problem comes from my tendency to pair giving with another word: receiving. Giving and receiving. When I give, what will I receive? This is transactional giving. I will help you move and you will buy me dinner. I will take you to the doctor, but you will be the first person I call when I need a ride somewhere. You scratch my back and I will scratch yours.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this kind of reciprocity, but it is certainly not the highest ideal of love. True love gives unconditionally without thought of getting anything in return. It is not transactional.
The giving of the Lord Jesus Christ for you and I was unconditional: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son….” The transactional part is individual sinners believing in Him and receiving everlasting life. But even if no transaction ever takes place, God still loved the world and gave His Son to die on a cross.
We are called to this kind of unconditional love and giving for others. Of course, the addict’s focus is on getting his drug, so giving can become manipulative. I will find a way to give so I can get what I need. I gave something to you so now you “owe me” something in return. Instead of giving and receiving it really is a form of buying and selling but without visible price tags. In many ways, my marriage had become transactional: I would “serve” my wife but with an expectation of receiving something in return. My motivation wasn’t love, but it was to get something that I craved in my addiction. That was not loving and giving to my wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.
As the fog of selfishness has lifted for me in recovery, there has been a renewed desire to learn to love and give unselfishly. I am still very much a novice, but here are some things that I am learning.
Focus on the receiver and the experience not the costs. When someone asks me to do something, I automatically want to examine the costs. If I take a half a day off to take someone to an appointment, how much will it cost me in lost wages? This is the wrong approach because it is a transactional view. Instead, I am starting to think of how much it will bless the other person. We will be able to converse and enjoy some fellowship with them. It will give my day some variety and a chance to get away from the office. Because I am self-employed, I recognize the flexibility that I have and experience gratitude for it. I may meet some interesting people along the way and can be a witness to them of God’s grace.
Understand what it means to be unappreciated. This seems like a strange thing to consider, but no matter how much we give, there are people that won’t express appreciation and will even take us for granted. I wonder if this is how God feels when people reject His Son. The apostle Paul hinted at this when he wrote these words:
“And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15, emphasis added).
This feeling of being unappreciated or being taken for granted can serve as a test for the sincerity and purity of our love and the motives for our giving.
Find the joy in giving by itself. Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. For those of us that have lived selfishly, we have to take this statement by faith. But the more we apply ourselves to giving without thoughts of receiving, we can see how true it is.
Give as unto the Lord, not to men. In Matthew 25, Jesus says that when we feed the poor, visit the sick and those imprisoned, we do it to Him. That will take the edge off of feeling unappreciated. “Lord, I am taking you to this appointment, and I know that YOU appreciate it.” That is what we see in this passage also:
“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23, 24).
Don’t give grudgingly. “God loveth a cheerful giver.” Don’t be afraid to say no when you can’t give. We all have obligations and responsibilities that prevent us from always saying yes. It’s better to say no than to do it grudgingly. When we are abused and taken advantage of, it may not be wise to give to that person at all.
Recognize that we always receive when we give. This may sound counter to everything I have said so far, but giving allows us to receive things that we might not expect. If it is more blessed to give than to receive, we will receive blessings through giving. They might not be material blessings but the blessing of knowing that we are obeying and pleasing God. The blessing of internal peace and joy.
To love and give as God intends, we do it through His power and grace, so we will experience these things in our own lives. When we give to people, we are rewarded by God. But God’s rewards don’t usually come in the way that we expect them. When we give to people that can’t repay us, we will often receive blessings, material and otherwise, come from unexpected places. I am recognizing this more and more in my life and it is very exciting!
One of my 12-step friends told me that he is trying to serve his wife as much as possible as she deals with the trauma that his addiction has caused her. My immediate thought was that he can never repay her for the damage he has done to her and their marriage. She will always have the “moral high ground” and he will be paying forever. But I realized that I was falling back on transactional thinking with the idea of “repayment.” Instead, maybe he is learning to love and give unconditionally. Maybe he is learning God’s love and that is what will heal his marriage.
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