It is highly likely that our deepest relationships are with people who have something to offer to us that we value. Our nature is reluctant to enter into commitments that are one-sided and require more from us than we receive in return. Marriages fall apart often because one spouse feels like there are more withdrawals than deposits from the other spouse, and they eventually reach a point where they close the matrimonial account and leave with whatever is left. Many children are left seeking validation from somewhere other than parents because many parents find that sacrificing for their children simply isn’t worth it. Any partners with a healthy reproductive system can create a baby, but only a sacrificial mother and father will invest in a child. Our churches in America are now the same way; three generations ago it was nearly unheard of that people would approach their choice of a church with a consumer’s mentality: How does the music suit me? Are the services long? Does the preacher confront my lifestyle or affirm me? What kinds of programs do they offer my children? Is the worship experience exciting or mellow? You see, in our culture of the enthroned self, we have given ourselves permission to be people who are conditionally connected with others. This is not new in its essence, but it is clearly grown in its extent.
“Many seek the favor of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts. All a poor man’s brothers hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him! He pursues them with words, but does not have them.” – Proverbs 19:6-7
Solomon observes in the verses above a trait among us. He notes that those who seemingly have much to offer often draw the fullest entourage. If a man is known for giving, then he will regularly find himself in a crowd of those who are takers. Everybody is his friend because he clearly has a great benefits-package. To be his companion is to become one who receives and, consequently, this fellow is never alone. Contrasted with him is the individual who has nothing. He is described as poor. Maybe he has no money. He likely has no influence or power. He might be ugly or unpopular, or perhaps he is impoverished in education or intelligence. Those who would consider a relationship with him aren’t going to be receiving anything valuable as far as the eye can see. It might even be that this poor man is irritating, abrasive, unspiritual or offensive. Whatever he is…there he is all alone. Look at what the verse says: he is chasing down his would-be friends and calling out to them but they pay him no heed. They are too occupied with getting close to the man who has much more to offer. The generous man is conditionally connected and the poor man is conditionally rejected.
As Christmas and new calendar year come upon us I’m wondering who would be surprised if you would reach out to them. Who assumes that they have nothing to offer? Is there a person in your life that needs somebody desperately to connect with them unconditionally? You may easily uncover a dozen reasons why they are not a worthy investment of your limited time but… is there something gnawing in you that feels for them in their aloneness? Get brutally honest with yourself and do an inventory of the relationships you have cultivated. Is it more about what you can get – even if there is a mutual benefit – more than what you can give? Is there even one relationship that you are currently pursuing which is primarily, if not entirely, for the benefit of the other person? This is rare in our lives but I’m going to tell you that you have been on the receiving end of exactly this type of relationship. You were once the poor man who had nothing to offer and the Generous Man left the crowd to befriend you.
Jesus Christ, the Generous Man, gives you grace while you give Him nothing but need.
He grants you forgiveness when you offer Him sin.
He pours out compassion when you hold up your weakness to Him.
He extends yet another chance to you when all you have is a record of repeated failure.
He is patient when you are indifferent. He is passionate for you when you are running from Him.
He loves you with sacrificial love even as you doubt Him with unbelieving skepticism. He knows you – your poverty, your depravity, your fickleness, your unlawful desires, your selfishness, your bitterness, your anger, your spite, your fear, and your self-love – and He still moves ever closer to you. He does this, not to receive, but to give and give and give.
Now let us go and do likewise…with some poor soul whom we have wrongly and arrogantly believed has nothing to offer us. This is unconditional connecting and we must become proficient at it if we are to ever be like the One who loves us.