Give without Gain

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Whether or not we realize it at the time, we often give to gain. What if we thought differently about giving and gaining? What if we gave with no strings attached? What if we gave to people who have nothing to give in return? Let's talk about this in Preferential Treatment.

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. One good turn deserves another. Tit for tat. Quid pro quo. We barter, we network. Someone has us over for a meal, and we look for a time to return the favor. Marketing teams talk ROI, hoping to produce a solid return for their efforts. We try to make it even out; we try to make it fair and balanced. But whether or not we realize it at the time—whether or not we want to admit it—we often give to gain.

What if we thought differently about giving and gaining and how we view others? What if we gave just to give? What if we gave with no strings attached? What if we gave to people who have nothing to give in return?

What kind of a world would that be?

The World Is Not a Level Playing Field

The Theology of Work Project has written about “Provision & Wealth,” pressing us to consider how to give to those who have nothing:

Wherever we find ourselves working—in government departments, political parties, non-governmental organizations, municipal structures, multinational corporations, small businesses, health or education systems, local neighborhoods—we too should seek to work for the welfare and prosperity of those we serve.

The authors continue, “In the fallen world we inhabit, God’s original intentions for provision and wealth are disrupted in several notable ways … on a global scale, we don’t live in anything close to a level playing field. The fallen world is neither fair nor even-handed. None of us start life from the same position.” What do they suggest we do? Show preferential treatment to others, especially to those who can’t give back. “[G]enerally Scripture is less concerned with identifying the particular causes of poverty and more concerned with the obligations of those who have wealth to care for those who lack provision.”

Joseph Sunde of Acton Institute wrote about serving the least of these in our daily work, highlighting a book by Lester DeKoster called Work: The Meaning of Your Life. DeKoster contends that work is service to others, and thus work is service to God. Sunde excerpts from DeKoster’s book:

The Lord does not specify when or where the good deeds he blesses are done, but it now seems to me that Jesus is obviously speaking of more than a vocational behavior or pastime kindnesses. Why? Because he hinges our entire eternal destiny upon giving ourselves to the service of others—and that can hardly be a pastime event. In fact, giving our selves to the service of others, as obviously required by the Lord, is precisely what the central block of life that we give to working turns out to be!

He then breaks down Matthew 25 into the various ways the believers served Christ by serving the least of these: feeding, clothing, tending the sick, welcoming the stranger, visiting the person imprisoned. For each of those actions, DeKoster indicates industries that naturally operate in those realms, including the food industry and municipal water industries, medical workers and social services. Depending on our industry, part of fulfilling that call to serve and offer preferential treatment to the least of these can take place in our daily work.

“To work is to love—both God and neighbor,” DeKoster writes. “For the ‘love’ required by the Bible is the service of God through the service of man. And because God wills to be served through our service of others, he provides us with civilization to facilitate our working at our best.”

There Are No Ordinary People

The Heritage Foundation interviewed contributors to For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty.The book offers biblical exegesis and proven economic principles to present a case “for why markets and trade are the world’s best hope for alleviating poverty.” Dr. Art Lindsley launched the one-hour panel discussion, offering a C. S. Lewis quote: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” Dr. Lindsley said, “We want to affirm people’s dignity. They’re not ordinary people; they’re not mere mortals. They’re image-bearers of God."

Dr. Anne Bradley, co-editor and vice president of Economic Initiatives, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, also contributed to the conversation:

We need to unleash the creativity that is written on the human heart … theologians tell us over and over again that work is a pre-Fall ordinance. Work is what we were created to do, whether you’re a software engineer or a teacher or a stay-at-home mom, all of these things are vocational callings that God has created you to do uniquely … so we all have some social capital, some creativity, to unleash on the world. What I am concerned with is how we think about this for the poorest among us.

Dr. Bradley described women in the Congo who wake up and walk for miles to fetch water from a dirty lake and hike back to their home with children in tow, expending a lot of calories, only to wake up the next morning and do it all over again. “They, too, are image-bearers,” she says. “They, too, have creativity and skills that the world wants to see. How do we unlock that? We unlock that with an opportunity-society.” People, she said, need mobility and a chance to unleash their gifts and skills and talents. Dr. Bradley continued:

There’s never been a time of more hope … We need to get in relationship with the people we’re trying to help … you have to know them. You can’t just write them a check and walk away. That’s the model of Jesus … He got His hands dirty. He got into a relationship and loved the people He was trying to help, and that’s the only way we’re going to be able to eliminate abject poverty.

Look Out for the Interests of Others

My husband and I selected Philippians 2:1-11 to be read aloud in our wedding ceremony because verses three and four in particular conveyed a sense of servanthood and humility—a sense of preferential treatment of others—we wanted to live out in our marriage. We hoped it would emanate into the rest of our lives, including our work:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (NASB)

This unselfish, service-minded preferential treatment of others felt revolutionary, especially with Christ as our model. We wanted to live that way every day, in our home, with friends, in the workplace. I don't know how effectively we've done so these past two decades, but the truth continues to inspire me to live it out daily with our suburban neighbors, with our supervisors, with the people who can do us a good turn and the people who have nothing to offer us.

We’ll need to continue to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant … he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2: 6-7, 8)

Jesus gave us preferential treatment, making Himself nothing to serve us—He died for us when we had nothing to offer in return. He gave it all, for our gain.

With that as our saving hope, it seems a small thing for us to give to others, expecting no gain.