Have you ever tried to pay for something, but the person who has just helped you out insists that he or she won’t take any money from you? Maybe it’s a family member who is pleased to help you with a maintenance project, or friends who help you move your belongings to a new apartment. Perhaps you have been told this by a shopowner or cashier, who either tells you that someone else just paid for your order, or that they are simply willing to share something with you free of charge. (It might not be common, but I have experienced both of these latter situations when dining out.)
When this occurs, we may be pleasantly surprised, but also feel a sense of debt. The idea of getting something for nothing (through our own discovery of loopholes, or via clever negotiation) may be fun, but when we realize that we have been given a gift, we might also feel a little awkward. When someone we are close to does this, we may feel like we must pay them back or return the favor, even if that just means being a better friend. When a stranger helps us out anonymously, we may wish that we had the chance to thank them.
Take a look at these verses from the Psalms:
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
Psalm 51:16-17 NIV
It doesn’t matter how much we may give to the church as an offering, or do good works to try and “pay Jesus back” for His salvation. No matter what we may do, say, or give, there is simply nothing we can do that compares to the magnitude of His gift.
Still, some viewpoints promote the idea that Jesus calls His followers to a checklist of actions, in order to receive His favor: “Give money to good causes.” “Help those in poverty.” “Go to church a lot.” While these are great things to do (and, in the right context, are consistent with God’s Word), trying to follow a formula in order to impress God is sort of like an engineer (one like myself, with minimal graphical creativity) trying to create art. Many of my constructs are quite functional, but need input from others to actually look good. It’s great that we want to do good things in our walk with Jesus, but we’re not going to turn those into “payment”.
Said another way, we can focus on trying to give, serve, or doing things to “impress” God. In reality, though, we may not have a lot of money, or we might not be in a situation where we encounter a lot of people in need (although true need can be found everywhere, even in environments where there is a lot of external affluence). Perhaps our job, or a need to care for a family member at home, keeps us from getting to church as often as other people. What do we do, then? Should we resign ourselves to not being “good Christians” if we can’t check all of those boxes?
In short: No.
The good news is that God doesn’t gauge our service to Him by a financial metric, or by racking up “church points”. As the passage above shows, a repentant heart means more to God than external sacrifices.
As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Luke 21:1-4 NIV
When we start with the heart, we end up living in ways that God likes to see. So, don’t feel like you can’t be an integral part of the Body of Christ if you don’t have the means, time, or opportunity to glorify Him in exactly the same way as others. Wherever you are, know the true power of God’s love, and just seek to return some of that love from your own heart to Him, and to others. No one can pay God back, but each of us can “pay it forward” (by sharing His love and His message with others) and pay Him the respect that He deserves.
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