By: Bodé Adeboyejo
Not too long ago, my wife met with a friend she hadn’t seen in a long time for lunch. After lunch, she offered to pick up the tab. Immediately, her friend started saying, “Girl! I owe you. Our next lunch is on me.” My wife told her not to worry about it. She told her that she felt like paying for their meal, and that she shouldn’t think much of it, or feel that she had to buy her lunch in return. But no, her friend wouldn’t hear of it. She kept telling my wife how they had to meet for lunch again soon, so she could buy her lunch.
While this was going on, my wife must have been saying in her head, “Here we go again. Why can’t a person just accept a kind gesture or a gift without feeling guilty or feeling that he or she has to return the favor?’’ This was not the first time this has happened to her. It’s happened to me too; several times. In fact, it’s happened to us together, when we've gone out to eat with friends. And we’ve always wondered why many people are like that; why some people are into this tit-for-tat thing – you do me, I do you.
Particularly, I remember the first time I experienced this payback attitude when I first came to this country; several years ago. I had met a new friend (at the time) for lunch one day. And he offered to pick up the tab. I thanked him, and went my way, not thinking much of it. But I noticed that my friend started acting weird after that meeting. And from later conversations I noticed that he kept bringing up the fact that he had taken me to lunch and I didn’t return the gesture. Ah!
Talk about culture shock, to me at that time that was a huge culture shock. Simply because where I came from, paying for someone’s lunch or doing someone a favor is not considered a big deal. People do it all the time; even people who don’t have much. Where I came from, people believe that if you do someone a favor it’s within your means to do so; and so shouldn’t expect anything in return.
So, when my wife told me about her recent encounter with her friend, I had to ask her the same questions I’ve always asked every time I’ve found myself in similar situations as my wife. I asked my wife, “Why is it that we (as a people) cannot receive an act of kindness or a favor, without feeling that we have to return the favor? Or why is it that we cannot do a favor, without expecting the favor returned?”
Personally, I’ve tried to understand the reasons; I mean the real reasons why some people are into this tit-for-tat thing. So far, I’ve only been able to come up with two reasons -- pride and low self-esteem! I believe that these are the main reasons why people feel beholding to a person when they receive a favor; or when they do someone a favor. Think about it. It has to be pride; to think that when a person does you a favor, you have to return the favor. It has to be pride to think that receiving a favor makes you a lesser person. It has to be pride to think that receiving a favor makes you beholding to a person.
So to prove that they are not beholding to anybody or prove that they got it going on, what some people do is to try to return the favor to cancel out the favor. But rather than prove that they are not beholding to anybody or that they got it going on, what they portray is their pride or low-self esteem. Because a person with self-worth is free to receive favors without feeling guilty or beholding to anyone.
If it’s not pride, it has to be low self-esteem to think that when you do someone a favor that you own the person; and the person has to answer to your beck and call. It has to be low self-esteem for you to think that when you do someone a favor, that you are superior or better than the person, financially, emotionally or spiritually. You definitely portray low-self esteem when you expect a favor in return for a favor.
Now, another observation I’ve made about this payback attitude is that the same people who go out of their way to return a favor are the same people who expect you to return a favor when they are the first one to do you a favor. That is, these are the same people who pay for your meal, but expect you to pay for the tip. Or volunteer to pay the tip when you pay for their meal, just to prove that they are at least paying for something. They either cannot do a favor or receive a favor all the way.
Some people are so used to playing this payback game that it seems as if they keep a mental log of all the favors they’ve given and received. It’s like every time they do someone a favor or receive a favor, they are saying in their head, “One for me; none for you.” Or, “Two for him; one for me.”
What is worse is that this payback attitude has crept into the Church, and filtered through into Christianity. Many Christians do a person a favor, expecting a favor in return, from the same person. Even preachers and church leaders are not exempt from this practice. In fact, a common practice among many preachers is to give into each other’s ministries.
And when preachers are not giving to each other’s ministries, they are luring people to give to their ministries with a promise of giving them something in return. This is more common among radio/TV preachers. For instance, they ask you to donate to keep their radio/TV broadcast on the air, and in return they promise to send you a book, tape, CD or DVD; which makes you wonder if you are actually giving or you are paying more for the so-called ‘gift.’
But this payback mindset is wrong, either by Christians or their leaders, because it’s contrary to what the Bible teaches. The Bible is replete with scriptures that warn us not to do favors, expecting to receive anything in return. Jesus admonishes that “…When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:12-14
Jesus also admonishes us saying, “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.” Luke 6:33-35.
If Jesus admonishes us to “lend, hoping for nothing in return,” then why do we do someone a favor, expecting something in return? As Christians, if we only do favors to people who can or will return our favors, then we’ll never be of good to God. Because He determines who receives our favors, and as yielded vessels in His hands we should let Him make distribution as He sees fit.
Jesus also warns against doing a favor when it’s not within your means to do it. But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you. -- Luke 11:41
Also, Jesus says “Let your light so shine before men that they might see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” That is, the only reason people need to see your good works is to glorify your Father in Heaven not to glorify you. So, if you do your deeds to feel superior or so that men can see you and glorify you, then you have your reward already.
Even worse still, this “do-me-I-do-you” mindset is not just something Christians have towards each other or others; but towards God! This attitude permeates our relationship with God. For instance, when we do something for God we expect Him to do something for us in return. And when He doesn’t, we think that He owes us. We think that just because we serve in a local church, pay our tithes, and strive to live holy, God ought to bless us in return. And when He doesn’t, we become angry at Him.
As a result, many Christians walk around today mad at God because they think that He owes them, in spite of all they think they’ve done for Him! Many Christians think that they ought to have more than they have or live better than they are living. I know; because earlier in my Christian walk I used to be that way. Even though I was scared to tell Him I was mad at Him.
But let me tell you something, Honey! Nobody owes you anything! Nothing! Nada! Zilch! Not your mama, papa, aunt, uncle, cousin, children, etc. And definitely not God! So, if you are holding a grudge against somebody just because you think someone owes you something, I say, “Just get over it and move on!”
Thank God! God is not like we are. Sometimes I wonder…“What if God expects us to return every favor rendered us? What if He wants us to return His favor of salvation?” We’ll spend every waking moment trying to return the favor, yet still fall short of returning the favor. Why? Because salvation was a gift! We didn’t earn it; couldn’t earn it, or deserved it. Yet, God gave His only begotten Son to take our place on the Cross.
So, just before you think that someone owes you a favor, think about what God did for you through Christ. If you cannot return God’s favor, through Jesus Christ, then don’t hold someone’s feet to the fire to return your favor. Likewise, if you’ve received a favor from someone, don’t go about feeling guilty or feeling that you have to return the favor. If you cannot return Christ’s unconditional love, don’t try returning someone else’s favor.
What am I saying? I’m saying that we all should learn how to give and receive without thinking that someone owes us or that we owe someone else. If a person gives you something or does you a favor, gladly and joyfully receive it. Thank the person and move on. Better yet, thank God for the person in your life who is in a position to do you a favor. That was what Apostle Paul did whenever someone gave unto his missionary work; either financially, administratively or physically. He thanked God for the person.
Recently, my wife and I found ourselves on the receiving end again. One of her friends gave us an almost brand new lawn mover when she moved. Now, the natural thing to do would be to ask her how much she wanted for the lawn mover. But we didn’t. Instead, we gratefully accepted the lawn mover, thanked her, and moved on.
Besides, why insult the poor woman by asking her how much she wanted for the lawn mover? If she wanted to sell it she would have asked us to pay for it. But she didn’t.
Whether we give or receive, we ought to thank God for giving us an opportunity to give or receive. We’ve all been in positions to give or receive. And in the future, we’ll be in positions to give or receive again; whether we think we have to give or not. That’s life!
So, don’t think more highly than you ought to think if you do someone a favor. Neither should you feel less of a person when someone does you a favor. And if you feel the need to return a favor, return the favor to someone else, not the person that did you the favor. That’s what God will want us to do. That’s why He told us not to do someone a favor, hoping to get back from the person, or do someone a favor who can return our favor.
May the Lord teach us all how to give and receive! Amen.
P.S. Don’t mistake a favor for a loan. If you borrowed from someone (say money) and promised to pay it back, you ought to pay it back. A favor is a gift. A loan is not! Your word should be your bond.