The Liberating Impossibility Of Repayment

resized_creepy-willy-wonka-meme-generator-oh-you-can-t-pay-me-back-yet-i-see-you-got-your-nails-done-and-is-that-a-new-outfit-3df07fOn an episode of the second season of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon (Jim Parsons) discovers that Penny (Kaley Cuoco) has gotten him a Christmas present. Angered, he reminds Penny that the “foundation of gift giving is reciprocity,” and that she hasn’t given him a gift, she’s given him “an obligation.” He says that he now has to go out and purchase for her “a gift of commensurate value and representing the same perceived level of friendship” as that represented by the gift she’s given him.

His solution is to buy three gift baskets (of various sizes) of bath products. His plan is to see what her gift to him is, excuse himself from the room, give her the appropriate gift basket and return the other two baskets to the store. What happens, though, is that Penny has gotten Sheldon a napkin that Leonard Nimoy has used and autographed. Sheldon notes that he now not only has Nimoy’s signature, he has his DNA.

After excusing himself, Sheldon returns with all three gift baskets…barely able to carry the weight. “I know, I know…” he wails. “It’s not enough!”

And that’s the problem, isn’t it? We don’t know how to react when we get really good gifts. When the gift is that good, no response is good enough. Certainly a plain “thank you” won’t cut it. There is no bath product cornucopia that can balance the scales when Leonard Nimoy’s DNA is on the other side, and there doesn’t seem to be an adequate response when Jesus’ death for our sins holds that place, either.

Many of us Christians spend our lives trying to “reciprocate” for Jesus’ gift–to adequately say “thank you.” But if we turn a big enough gift into an obligation, we are crushed by it.

Let’s acknowledge from the beginning, then, that this is a gift that tips the scales forever. Let’s treat the gift like a child would, with excitement and joy, and go play, remembering that even our most heart-felt gratitude (which is a good thing!) is not commensurate with his life-giving gift–liberating us from the impossible burden of “repayment.”

  • Jeremy W says:

    All my christian life i’ve felt obligated… there’s always a catch in God’s love – ie ”Yeah, He loves you, but you better start producing fruit soon!” …or “God loves you unconditionally, but if you’re not willing to go as a missionary to the worst place you can think of – eg Iraq or North Korea, than His love won’ be so ‘unconditional’ !”…. etc etc….often it’s just a huge vague impression of thinking that i can’t relax REALLY…..To me the biggest miracle isn’t to see healings or someone raised from the dead but to simply believe that God loves me fully, NO MATTER WHAT!
    As for giving gifts, i’ve suffered from the crush of obligation so much that i’d rather not receive gifts from people at birthdays etc……I find the feeling of ‘having to’ give them something back too painful……to be honest i’ve never known the freedom of wanting to give naturally, except occasional random times when i think of something i know someone will like…but as for occasions like birthdays etc …these are times of obligation to the max….

  • Monica says:

    “Let’s treat the gift like a child would, with excitement and joy, and go play…” Excitement, joy, play instead of striving like crazy or dragging around a burden like a ball and chain. There is such freedom in accepting the gift and letting it be its unfathomable self. Wow!

  • Steve Martin says:


    Jesus even tells us that when we give (lend) money, not to expect it back. To not give it a second thought.

    I’m sure all the legal scheme lurkers that peek in here, and other gospel based ministries, from time to time, are able to do that.


  • Christina says:

    Pastor Tullian, can you please write a devotional for teens? I often share your posts with my 16 year old daughter as a way of slipping gospel into her life…because she’s at that age:) She has listened to your sermons and you seem to speak her language. I don’t want to control but want her to be fed the gospel that I never heard growing up. Any recommendations?

    • Steve Martin says:

      I hope you don’t mind my butting in, Christina.

      If your daughter has heard Pastor T’s sermons then she is hearing the gospel. But hearing the gospel is a life time endeavor.

      You can remind her of what God in Christ Jesus has done for her in her Baptism. That is pure gospel. And a gospel Word that will keep her from looking inward for any evidence. She can recall what God has done for her (externally – to her) in her Baptism.

  • Ed Nugent says:

    My favorite moments as a Dad have been seeing my children’s reaction to a gift that they really loved and didn’t expect. It’s almost more fun when they are so thrilled with the gift that immediately start playing with it and forget to say “thank you”. If one of them tried to repay me or worse, swear undying fidelity to me I think I would be sad (and a little shocked). I want them to play, not work. I want them to know that they are loved, not that they owe me their love in return. I love that God has revealed Himself to us as a good father, who loves His children and gives them good gifts. Thanks for the post!

  • Pastor FedEx says:

    Thank you, Pastor Tullian,
    This is indeed a very powerful message. We have found this to be especially true in our street ministry. People, especially women, are only valued for what they have to give, and the idea of giving something without expecting a return is truly revolutionary. There is no greater feeling in our work than having someone realize that there is a love that gives without expecting something in return. Keep preaching the good news, brother.

    Pastor FedEx

  • Links I like says:

    […] The Liberating Impossibility Of Repayment […]

  • Vicente Mattos says:

    This is a very different and nice way to share a word about JESUS to motivate us to rethink all the time if we are having a good “behavior” about the Christ truth.

  • Alan F. says:

    Few of us like “freeloaders,” but the opposite can also be annoying: those who cannot graciously accept acts of generosity or kindness from others without having a burning drive to reciprocate (or said another way, the inability to appreciate gifts/deeds, etc. from others because they think, “now I’m obligated to do the same…”).
    I challenge everyone to joyfully accept gifts and good deeds from others — knowing that it gives that person joy to give the gift — without feeling a sense of guilt or obligation.

    • Jeremy W says:

      But even those of us who ”cannot graciously accept acts of generosity from others” and are “challenged” to joyfully accept gifts” need grace to even do this! I am hoplessly addicted to being obligated….I can’t be challenged to receive gifts without a sense of guilt or obligation….ironicially, this can encourage those of us plagued with guilt to feel guilty for feeling guilty! The word challenge is used alot of many churches and is often equated to ”trying harder”….
      Further to my first comment, I want to say that i love Tullian’s book ”One Way Love” and reread it often, but it’s still to a degree head knowledge to me. The journey to the heart is sometimes a long one.

  • Paula says:

    Why is exegeting Big Bang theory more powerful than the Scriptures? I don’t get this…

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