What makes a gift a gift? On the receiving end, it costs you nothing. But on the giving end, it must cost you something.
I posed this statement recently in a sermon, with some uncertainty on my part as to its validity: “True kindness, true love, always involves sacrifice on the part of the giver.” For us as human beings, the giver is diminished in giving the gift. If not, then it’s not an expression of genuine love. What do you think? Is this true?
If you offer hospitality in your home, it involves time and preparation. Even hospitality outside the home involves time and expense. An act of kindness—mowing a neighbor’s lawn or transporting them somewhere—this involves physical labor and, again, time. No matter what kindness we show, no matter what gift we give, it will require either time, labor, money, or using our abilities to benefit another person. Sacrifice.
And generally the receiving person recognizes this and expresses their thanks to you. So what do you say then?
“It was nothing!” “Don’t give it another thought.” “Don’t mention it.” “Don’t worry about it.” “It was no big deal.” “It was easy.” And in the case of a tangible gift, “I won’t miss it.” “I didn’t need it anyway.”
Why do we say such things? Perhaps we feel uncomfortable that they might feel indebted to us. That they might feel obligated to return the favor somehow. But the truth is, it did cost us. And if we really don’t have the sense that it cost us anything, if there was no sacrifice involved, was it really kindness? Was it really love?
“True kindness, true love, always involves sacrifice on the part of the giver.” Is this true for us humans?
What about God? “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). He is the source of all the daily gifts we take for granted. However, while we humans may be diminished by our sacrificial giving, God is not diminished. In his immutability, he does not change. He does not become less.
Even so, God knows sacrifice. When he gave the greatest gift ever given, sending his Son to this world, with the goal and purpose of suffering and paying the death penalty for us sinners in our place—the sacrifice was real. God felt loss on our behalf. This is genuine and authentic love.
We, the recipients of his undeserved kindness, are absolutely indebted to him, forever indebted, and forever grateful to Jesus Christ.
Rev. Brent Juliot serves as pastor of Oak Ridge Lutheran Brethren Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin.