Speaking of neighbors, I recently returned from Colorado and while I was absent a neighbor graciously agreed to pick up our mail and look after the house. I decided to provide a small gift to show our appreciation and the response I got, though very thankful, was not unusual. It went something like this: “Thanks but you didn’t have to do that!”
Since I read into life’s experiences far more than what is usually intended (the peril of a philosopher), that got me thinking about how gifts are received. On the one hand, it’s quite true that I “didn’t have to do that,” since my neighbor made it clear that she was more than willing to help. From a different angle, however, the fact that I really did not “have” to do that is what made the gift a gift. By definition a gift is not a business transaction between two parties for services rendered, but an intended blessing for the recipient. Thus, we give gifts because we want to, not because we have to.
Maybe that’s why God’s gift of eternal life is so special. He gives simply because He wants to, not because he has to. Out of sheer mercy and grace “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). It’s no mistake that the word for “gift” and the word for “grace” come from the same root, “χαρίσ” and the verb Paul uses here of God giving us all things is “χαρίσεται,” also from the same root. Thus, God graces us with grace and gifts us with the gift of eternal life.
I’m thankful to my neighbor for her response to my gift as it reminded me of God’s unconditional love in salvation (John 3:16; Romans 5:8) as a gracious gift to be received, not a reward to be earned (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).