LCN Article


Something for Nothing

January / February 2019

Jonathan McNair

“I’ll do that for you... if you do something for me.”

Just the other morning, my daughter Ellie asked for my help opening a bucket of honey. We get our honey in bulk, and the five-gallon buckets are quite a challenge to open.

My normal reaction would probably have been to say “in a minute,” or perhaps, “Can you get your brother to do it?” But, I was feeling particularly generous with my time that morning, so I said, “Sure!” and jumped up to help. With grunts and groans, I wrestled with the lid until it finally relinquished its hold on the bucket. But then I caught myself thinking about what I could ask my daughter to do in return for this wonderful favor I’d done for her.

My first thought was to say, “Okay, now that I’ve done this for you, could you please do the dishes in the sink?”

Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with asking a son or daughter to take care of a chore. This is done all the time in our house, as it may be in yours. Even so, a thought flashed into my mind: If I always ask for a favor in return for a favor, what am I teaching my daughter? I mean, there are times when I ask my kids to pick up their laundry, or clean the car, or take out the garbage, and I expect them to just go ahead and do it without negotiating for a return favor. After all, I’m just asking for their help in making life better for all of us, because I’m a parent and because the task needs doing.

So, I bit my tongue and didn’t ask Ellie to do anything in return. I simply accepted her thanks and went on with my business.

And then it struck me. This lesson applies as much to our relationship with God as it does to human relationships.

How many times do we catch ourselves thinking about our obedience to God in terms of what He will do for us in return? “I’ve kept the Sabbath, God, so in return, I’m really expecting You to give me wonderful favor with my boss,” or perhaps, “I’ve been faithful in my tithing, so I’m looking for those financial blessings that You owe me in return, God.”

But we really shouldn’t be trying to negotiate with God. He has given us wonderful favor and blessings and has never demanded “equivalency” in return. If we really think about it, how could we possibly give God the equivalent of “life and breath”? How can we possibly return the favor of eternal life, to which He has provided access through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ? 

He’s already given us what only He has the power to give—and He’s given to us graciously, lovingly, and mercifully.

Maybe we should change our perspective a bit when, as we read the Bible, God tells us to honor Him, or to keep His Holy Days holy, or to love our neighbor. Maybe we shouldn’t think about what we can get out of the deal, but instead, just positively and happily do as He says.