Expecting Nothing in Return? Not Usually.

For a long time, I have found this sentence from Jesus to be both extremely beautiful and terribly convicting:

But love your enemies, and do good, and give, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (Luke 6:35)

This is the definition of generosity: giving, expecting nothing in return. Nothing.

That means that a generous person doesn’t keep an accounting in their relationships, i.e. a running tally of who has done more for whom. They don’t keep score. They are free from that – free to give, expecting nothing in return.

That’s a lot easier said than done though…

Recently in my conversations with two people, this topic came up. One in particular likes to help people. He’s always helping people and doing favors. Nice, right? Except there’s one problem: he’s become resentful towards some of the people he’s helped out.

The other person explained to me that he likes to buy things for other people, little token gifts. But he too struggles with feelings of resentment, when he feels that his gestures of kindness are not reciprocated.

Both of these people would say that when they do these things, they don’t expect any form of compensation for them, but yet, both of them feel resentful. Why?

At least in the case of the first person, it is because, albeit subconsciously, oftentimes he isn’t just helping for the sake of helping – he’s doing it because there is a form of compensation that he hopes to receive for doing it. In his case it is not money, it is friendship. If and when friendship does not result, he feels that he was involved in a transaction in which the other party did not pay. The only thing is: the other party wasn’t aware of the assumed agreement and didn’t realize it was a transaction.

“Free” is rarely free.

What that means is that some people give a lot, but they’re not generous – because they give for selfish reasons. For example, the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 gave a lot to the Temple, but the reason he gave was so that other people would see it and praise him as a good person. His giving was a means of self-justification and self-glorification. The money still went to good use, and it is certainly better to give to a good cause for bad reasons than to spend money wastefully or only on yourself, but God is also concerned about why we give what we give.

Tim Keller, speaking about generosity, says that some people are always doing things to help other people, but they are actually using those people to feel good about themselves – i.e. they need those people to need them. They need for people to think they are good people. It’s their source of identity and their means of trying to justify their life. They’re not doing nice things for other people for the sake of those people themselves as much as they are actually doing it for themselves.

True generosity is when you act from selfless motivation, giving something and expecting nothing in return.

This is what Jesus encourages, saying, “your father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4)

Again, that is easier said than done. The way we can be motivated to truly act that way is through the message of the Gospel. First of all, the Gospel is that God has been generous to you, not as a transaction, but simply just because He loves you and enjoys blessing you. That’s grace. Secondly, the Gospel gives you an identity: it affirms you, saying that God not only knows you fully, but loves you completely.

Many people believe that they can either be known completely or loved completely, but not both – because if someone really gets to know them, they couldn’t possibly love them. Therefore, in order for people to love them and accept them completely, they cannot possibly allow anyone to know them completely.

But the message of the Gospel is that God BOTH knows you completely and loves you completely – at the same time. That’s incredible love and affirmation.

The message of the Gospel is that you have been justified in Christ, therefore you don’t need to work hard to justify yourself.

And when you really understand that – you’ll be free to give, expecting nothing in return: like God who gives even to the evil and the ungrateful. You’ll be free to give for the sake of giving, for the sake of another person or a cause, with no strings attached, because you are so firm in your identity, that you are already loved and justified and have value. The Gospel sets us free from our ulterior motives in doing even good things and from feelings of resentment towards those we have done acts of kindness for.


6 thoughts on “Expecting Nothing in Return? Not Usually.

  1. In reality, the statement attributed to Jesus is hypocritical. The Bible makes it unequivocally clear that God/Jesus does not give, expecting nothing in return. He/they require that you must accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, and give ETERNAL worship and praise to God. Otherwise, you’re going to Hell (or at least not to Heaven). That’s about the highest price you could demand, while at the same time claiming God gives freely, expecting “nothing in return.” And He wants your money, too. “The Lord loves a cheerful giver.”
    According to the author, that’s not being generous: “This is the definition of generosity: giving, expecting nothing in return. Nothing.” -nickcady.
    By that definition, God is definitely not generous. As the author correctly stated, “‘Free’ is rarely free.” God puts us in a transactional relationship with Him, that we didn’t ask for, yet then demands everything, under threat of eternal damnation.
    Jesus doesn’t appear to practice what he preaches. Or perhaps he was misquoted? I tried to live by that quote for most of my life, and felt a lot of guilt for experiencing any resentment toward people who happily took advantage of my generosity, giving nothing back in return. It took many years for me to realize the hypocrisy in that statement. God DOES expect something in return. In fact, He wants EVERYTHING. That’s the opposite of the author’s definition of generosity.
    I’m still a generous person by nature. Some people are not. But if God expects something (everything) in return, then it isn’t unreasonable for the rest of us mere mortals to expect at least a little something as well. If God can’t live up to the definition, it’s hypocritical for Him to expect it of us. I realize the author will reject my response, but hopefully a few readers will learn from it, and be able to let go of some of the undeserved guilt they’ve felt for expecting a little appreciation for their generosity.

    1. Hi Jeremiah, thanks for reading and engaging! There is a very real sense in which judgment is essentially God giving people what they insisted upon. Think about it: if a person didn’t want a relationship with God, i.e. if they did not want Jesus to be their king (the one to whom they submit as authority and obey), then for that person to spend eternity separated from the presence of God (2 Thessalonians 1) is God ultimately giving them what they have insisted upon. This point is made in Romans 1, in which the phrase “God gave them up” is used 3 times to describe judgment as God ceasing to strive with people and giving them over to the things they have insisted upon apart from His will for them.
      When we talk about God giving and expecting nothing in return, one area where this is evident is in the area of “common grace,” i.e. the blessings that God bestows on all people, regardless of their orientation towards Him: rain and sun on the righteous and the wicked alike, for example.
      God bless you Jeremiah!

    2. “God puts us in a transactional relationship with Him, that we didn’t ask for, yet then demands everything, under threat of eternal damnation.”

      God does not PUT you in a transactional relationship with him. He gives to the just and the unjust. When he gives to the unjust, it is not done in the hopes that they will reciprocate. This version requires an open theist to believe it. You have to believe that God does not know whether the unjust will reciprocate with thankfulness. God knows they will not. So, there is nothing transactional about that. His generosity towards unbelievers is a testimony to his own love and compassion; not a bait or a lure to draw them.

  2. Thanks for responding, nickcady! However, you seem to have missed my point. I wasn’t referring to wanting or not wanting a relationship with God. My concern was about the unrealistic definition of generosity, “giving, expecting nothing in return. Nothing.” If God sincerely expects nothing, then why the Ten Commandments? And why did Jesus teach rules to live by, and threaten punishment for those who failed to follow them? Why did He declare that “no one comes to the Father except by Me?” That’s a very clear expectation. We may all be offered eternal life, but the Bible teaches that God clearly has expectations for us to earn it.
    Another contradiction in your definition of generosity is when you quote Jesus, saying, “your father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4)
    So, in essence, Jesus is offering a reward if our generosity is done in secret. But if we are to be secretly generous, to avoid getting something in return, why tell us we’ll get a reward? Jesus is actually encouraging us to expect something in return, which contradicts the definition.
    I do agree that Jesus’ quote about selfless giving is a well intentioned sentiment, but it’s not realistic. Jesus/God doesn’t even follow it. And it can create a lot of undeserved guilt in otherwise good, generous people who might resent being taken advantage of at times. Personally, I try to be a very generous person, and generally expect nothing in return. But I also have in rare cases ended relationships which were one-sided, as the other person gave nothing. People should not feel guilty for occasionally being a bit hurt or resentful for expecting a little appreciation for their generosity. As I indicated in my previous comment, the Bible provides overwhelming evidence that even God has expectations of us. You also used the term “His will.” Anyone who imposes their will on you has expectations.
    And as for God’s “common grace,” the “blessings”of bestowing rain and sun on the righteous and the wicked alike, He also bestows sickness and suffering on the righteous and wicked alike. That hardly seems like generosity. More like indifference.
    Anyway, my point is, by your definition, God is not truly generous. The Bible repeatedly gives examples of His expectations of us. And we should not be held to a higher standard of behavior than God Himself.
    As you know, Jesus’ words were not written down until several decades after his death. And they were translated into Greek. The quote about giving and expecting nothing in return, as noble as it sounds, is just not consistent with the overall message throughout the Bible. And I believe it has done more harm than good.
    Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my comments. You are clearly a caring and considerate person.

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