Lending or Gifting
If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:34-36)
So I was listening to someone explain this recently and they said Jesus meant we should have the attitude of giving someone a gift when we lend to them.
At first that sounded somewhat plausible. But after contemplating that idea for awhile I began to question whether in fact this is really what Jesus had in mind. If God expected us to just give gifts to others then it would have made more sense to simply say it that way. The question begs itself as to why Jesus would choose to use this word 'lend' when it has such obvious definitive implications that seem so incongruent with how He is teaching it here.
Yesterday I began discussing this with my nephew while we were riding to work. As we talked it began to dawn on me a deeper meaning of this verse that has puzzled me all my life. Now I am beginning to see that Jesus actually had some very good reasons for connecting this teaching to the word 'lend' and how He wanted to convey something beyond what appears here on the surface.
The idea of lending something to someone needs to be carefully examined and brought more clearly into the light. The very definition of lending involves an expectation of, or at least the possibility of getting something back at some point in time. If you take these words of Jesus literally without any better explanation, then it could easily appear to be an oxymoron, an incompatible conflict of ideas, for if you say you are going to lend to someone, then by its very definition you have to leave open the possibility that it may come back to you. On the other hand, if you are choosing to give a gift to someone, then if it is returned that could easily be interpreted as an affront or even an insult.
Generally speaking, when we give someone a gift there is usually a motive behind the giving that a deeper positive relationship is desired. Gift-giving is sometimes not that far from bribing, but we don't like to think about that aspect of it. Yet in reality, given the dynamics of the selfish world we grow up in, when we give gifts we very often are secretly expecting a return of a different kind, not so much the gift itself returned but something else we hope to gain from the receiver. This becomes evident when a gift is given and the expected result is not forthcoming. That is when feelings of disappointment or possibly resentment or any other number of negative feelings may begin to show up that betray our deeper motives for giving.
But that does not directly address this issue of lending without expecting a return. What did Jesus have in mind when He said we should lend without having it linked to expecting it to be returned? Why would He use the word lend if He was not allowing for its very definition to remain intact? How can it even be possible to lend yet deny the very implication of the word to remain? Why didn't He just instruct us to not lend in the first place but simply give others anything and everything they might want from us? That's what this can sound like to some people and at times it has had disastrous and detrimental results. There must be more to this than what appears on the surface.
I want to continue to explore the difference between these two concepts of lending and gifting. To have a gift returned to the giver usually signals a lack of appreciation not only for the gift but is usually a sign of disrespect to the giver. We feel so strongly about this that we usually will accept a gift that is completely useless to us and pretend to be grateful for it even when we are not. We believe it is simply too rude to refuse a gift or to return it to the giver. We would not only be saying the gift had no value to us but in addition the person who gave it to us has little or no value in our lives. This can make this a touchy subject and can generate a lot of complications in our lives.
Lending is very different than giving gifts. Lending involves a great deal more trust than giving gifts. And while we very often secretly hope for at least an improvement in our relationship with the one we give gifts to, there is nowhere near the same expectations we have as when we offer to negotiate a deal with someone where we offer to lend them something.
Implied in the idea of lending is much stronger suggestion of assumed value more than in gifting. I can give a gift to someone and have no clue whether they will value it or not, need it or not or even give a hoot about it. This is very evident around Christmas time when gifts are poured out on the order of billions of dollars. Yet many of not most of them fail to produce the intended results. This time can become a frenzy of manipulation and selfishness and greed that often produces more harm than good. On the other hand, when we enter into a relationship of lending someone something, it usually does not take place outside the parameters of an intelligent discussion about the arrangement and an agreement on both sides about the terms of the transaction.
That word transaction is also central to understanding this issue. To lend usually implies that we have come to an agreement with someone and have worked out detailed arrangements to have an understanding on both sides of what is mutually expected. The borrower may have asked because we have something they very much need temporarily and hope we will be willing to be amenable to letting them use it without charging them for it. On the other side, we generally only lend things that people already have indicated that they want and need but may not have the means to procure for themselves otherwise. So a mutual understanding and agreement of needs and availability and terms all come together to form a transaction.
In the way we typically think about the concept of transactions, there is an agreed upon arrangement that usually involves a promise and requires trust in each other's integrity. To lend to someone who clearly has no intent to return whatever it was we lent them usually means there was no trust invested. We don't think of that as lending but more like throwing something away. Many people assume that's what Jesus had in mind – that if anyone asks us for anything we are required as a good Christian to simply hand it over without objecting. Unfortunately there is no shortage of people in the world eager to exploit this kind of confused thinking on the part of many Christians and have become quite adept at laying guilt trips on anyone not willing to fork over whatever they want.
Somehow I don't think God is the kind of giver or lender that indulges our crass desires whenever we demand He give us what we want. Most people realize that even giving a child everything they want is one of the worst things you can do for their character development. God is not in the business of spoiling us. I don't believe Jesus is teaching us that we simply need to give people whatever they need or want with no consideration to the effects it will have on their character or our relationship with them.
A question came up about the arrangements we have with people when we work for them. We don't usually consider this lending but rather more like a contract of full expectations on both sides based on compensation. But could this teaching of Jesus apply even to situations like this as well? When we give our time and energy and resources to someone else in an employment relationship, to some degree we are lending these things to them with expectation of a return in the form of fair compensation are we not? Unless we are paid up front before we do the work, we have no iron-clad guarantee that we will receive a return from the investment of our services. And if we have been paid up front then the other party is in reality lending to us the money with expectation of a return for their trust in us. So in some way, if there is an exchange taking place that is not happening simultaneously, there is a period where one party is in effect lending to the other with an expectation of a return.
I have talked about the dynamics of giving gifts and I have talked about the assumptions involved in lending and even contracting. Now I want to move in to see how Jesus brings the two close to each other without losing their definitions.
When I give a gift to someone, as I mentioned previously, I naturally should not have a desire or expectation of getting that gift back. So why would Jesus use the term 'lend' here instead of 'gift'? What I am starting to see is that the word 'lend' leaves the door open for a return without the added baggage that such a return would likely involve if I viewed it as a gift. This takes us to a central issue that riveted my attention a couple years ago when I did a very intensive study on Matthew 18 which is all about offenses. In light of that the pieces of the puzzle now produce a great deal more coherence.
The reason Jesus did not use the word gift is because what He may be really touching on here is the issue of offense. He knew that when someone returns a gift to us that it can be very easy to get offended. But if someone returns something we have lent them, the very opposite usually happens. When we lend something to someone and they return it according to our agreed-upon arrangements, we usually experience increased trust in that person as well as a little better emotional bond with them.
When I lend something of value to someone, it often is not just valuable to the person I am lending it to but usually has value for me as well. That is why I want to have it returned. If it had no value to me in the first place then I would likely just give it to them to start with. So in any lending situation there is usually a sense of value attached from both sides of the arrangement.
Now if someone fails to return something of value to me when I was expecting them to return it, what is very likely to happen inside of me? That's right – I am likely to be very tempted to become offended at them. We don't often think of this as a temptation but rather go straight to being offended. If you don't see this yet, think about a scenario like this carefully allowing your emotions to be involved and its not hard to imagine how our reactions can take us into feelings of offense when we suddenly realize that our trust has been violated and something we value has been lost. Offense is never far away.
This is where I now realize how closely tied these two issues really are. I had never thought about this before, but now it begins to make much more sense. Jesus is not here addressing the problem of enabling someone else's dysfunctional habits or careless ways by never holding them accountable. That is a different issue that needs to be addressed. There may be many times we should refrain from giving or lending when it involves an abuse of trust on our part. But that too is part of what Jesus is addressing here.
I believe what Jesus is pointing out here is the great danger of our falling into the trap of offense. When we allow offense entrance into our heart, it takes over our thinking and feelings and begins to quickly blind us to the real issues involved. We lose perspective and we begin to react from our fallen nature instead of being able to perceive things from heaven's perspective.
Offense may possibly be the greatest danger than any of us ever face. Offenses were what put Jesus on the cross. Offenses involve rights we assume we have to enforce against others in our relationships with them. But when we operate from the position of seeking redress or even retaliation for an offense, we will always be gratifying the desires of our sinful nature rather than enjoying the freedom that belongs to the children of God.
When I take offense over not getting back something I have lent as I expected, I will begin planning how to settle the debt created. Offenses and debts in the Bible are actually synonymous. I have learned that debt-collecting is one of the most subtle traps of the enemy, and yet we often justify it and believe we have a righteous right to enforce such activities. Yet the more I perceive in the teachings of Jesus the clearer it is becoming that demanding compensation for incurred debts, especially emotional debts, is a sure route that will direct me away from God.
Is it always true that when something valuable to me is not returned as expected that a debt is created? Absolutely! There is no question that we are surrounded with myriads of debts, for what I also learned was that not only is offense and debt used synonymously, but the word sin is also used interchangeably with these throughout Scripture.
I now see that Jesus is warning me here that I may be in grave danger of getting sucked into the trap of offense if I insist on maintaining an attitude of always expecting a return every time I lend. In reality I am setting myself up ahead of time to become offended if I am let down by someone who fails to meet my expectations o return what they borrowed from me. At the same time Jesus is not saying that the solution is to simply turn everything into a gift. What He is saying here is that I need to be much more aware about my own attitude and be very careful to avoid setting up a trap into which I may fall myself whenever a lending situation may go awry.
There is one more point that came out of this that I find interesting. If I choose to lend instead of viewing something as a gift, I leave the option open for the person to return what I have lent without becoming offended over the return. Remember that it is also easy to feel offended if someone returns a gift to us. We can see that in both situations there is potential for offense if we are not careful. As I have been learning over the past few years and that increasing conviction, offenses are the number one enemy of our spiritual life possibly more than any other factor.
If I lend something of value to someone but leave open the option that I may never get it back, in essence I am setting up a barrier against the temptation to become offended if and when I realize I may never get it back. When viewed from this perspective I now see great wisdom in this teaching of Jesus. I am seeing more and more how so many of His teachings revolved around seeking to free us from the prison of offense. And that is where forgiveness becomes so important. But that is another subject.
Father, it is one thing to learn this new revelation about Your truth. But You know better than we do how vital it is that these discoveries take root deeper at the heart level where they can become natural ways of responding to real-life situations. It is so easy to take a simplistic approach to things You have said and end up distorting them or even making them say something opposite of what You intended. This instruction is a good example of that. But I want to know Your ways the way You intended for them to be experienced and to learn to live this way from my heart.
Thank-you so much for the wisdom that You continue to pour into our lives and the grace that continuously counteracts the sin and dysfunction and misconceptions that affect so much of my thinking. You are so consistently gracious, forgiving, merciful, kind and loving. Thank-you for Your promise to never leave me alone and to give me wisdom anytime I ask for it.
Fill me with Your wisdom, compassion, insight and peace. Transform me into a better reflection of Your beauty as You continue to finish the work of grace You began in me. Do this for Your reputation's sake and so that others may be attracted to come to know You better for themselves.