A few years ago, someone had done me a good turn—I think he had left a gift on my car seat.
The next time I saw him, I had cash in hand to repay the gift. He immediately and forcefully said, “Don’t try to pay me back. I don’t want you to steal my glory!”
I stammered for a moment and struggled to figure out what in the world he meant. And then my mind locked upon some of those Bible passages that talk about doing good works for a future heavenly reward.
Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them, otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:1-4).
When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous (Luke 14:12-14).
Of course, we understand that works do not provide eternal salvation. Of course, we understand that good works on earth, while very much a part of the Christian life, do not translate into stars in our crowns on a one-for-one basis.
But he was very serious. He didn’t want to exchange a few bucks for God’s promises. I found it a well-placed rebuke.
I enjoy doing things for others. Why then should I make it difficult to allow others to do things for me? I certainly don’t want to act like a beggar when there are real needs elsewhere, and I won’t allow someone to use gifts to take advantage of me. But I think perhaps all of us could act a little differently when someone helps us in sincere kindness.
Don’t try to pay back gifts.
Allow people to bask in the glow of having done a good deed. Within the last couple of months, I have helped a stranded couple jump start their car and helped another couple get into their locked vehicle. In both cases the people offered—insisted really—on paying for the help. I literally had to push the money away and walk the opposite direction, saying, “No, I’m just happy to help.” One of them actually tried to toss money in my open window as I drove away.
Ooh, how I hate that! It turns my willingness to be useful into payment for a service. It completely changes the motivations and feelings involved. I would feel regretful if I accepted the money. So, I become annoyed at people who would even tempt me by dangling cash in front of my face. I intended to help you, not bill you!
So, I ought to learn from this and stop offering to pay others for their good deeds! Jesus said, “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35); and Solomon said, “Happy is he who is gracious to the poor” (Proverbs 14:21). Grant the giver the pleasure and blessing of having been kind, without having to go through the awkward step of turning down a twenty dollar bill.
Instead, learn to say thank you.
If you simply must do something, say thank you (Luke 17:11-19). For bigger things—a meal when sick, a large sum of money, a special effort—learn to write simple but heart-felt thank you notes.
Don’t keep a running tally of the people you owe favors to.
Most people don’t do kind deeds in order to indebt others. Paying them back six months down the road isn’t any better than paying them back on the spot (Luke 14:12-14). If the same person falls into legitimate need, then of course you can rejoice in an opportunity to help, as even the Lord has designed the family of God to do, since fortunes tend to change (2 Corinthians 8:14). But check your heart to be sure that your service is not stirred only because they first helped you.
Be generous yourself when you see others in need.
Be sure to offer the same generous help to those who have never helped you (Proverbs 21:13, Luke 10:27). As the opportunity arises, offer the same help even to your enemies (Matthew 5:38-48).
As we learn to meet the needs of other people, we become good stewards of our blessings (1 Timothy 6:17-19) and spiritual profit increases to our heavenly accounts (Philippians 4:15-19). Don’t rob others of their glory as they try share the love of Christ and meet your needs. —John Guzzetta