How to Pay It Forward as a Christian
You may not know this, but this Thursday April 28th is Pay It Forward Day for 2016. This is a day where people from over 75 countries around the world will spread random acts of kindness at every opportunity. Pretty cool, huh?!
A lot of people are familiar with Pay It Forward from the drive through at Starbucks. There's a common story where a person pulls up to the window to pay for their coffee and the window attendant says that the person in front of them has already paid their bill. The customer is so encouraged that they decide to pay for the person behind them and thereby "pay it forward." Sounds like fun to me! This is a perfectly harmless way to experience the joy of spreading random acts of kindness in creative ways.
But then I heard a different story that took Pay It Forward to a whole 'nother level. Same setting... the drive through at Starbucks. This time a person is distracted on their phone while waiting for the line to move forward and doesn't notice that the car in front of them has already pulled forward. The car behind them then gets impatient and honks the horn while holding his hands up in frustration. So, the distracted person then pulls up to the window to pay for their coffee and says, "You know what? I think I'll pay for the person behind me as well. I'd like to brighten their day." This sounds less like Pay It Forward and more like Prepay!
My question is this: Which of these two scenarios is more like Christian giving? Which of these is more uniquely Christ-like? It's a trick question... The answer is neither one.
1 John 5:2 says, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments."
What this is saying is that a Christians love for people is always united with a love for God and obedience to his commandments. It's a love that seeks to give to people in such a way that it permeates a love for God and all that he commanded. It's a love that recognizes that if a man is without God and perishing, what he needs most is not a free cup of coffee, but to hear the good news of the gospel which can save his soul (Matthew 16:26, Romans 1:16). The good news is that true happiness in this life is not found in free coffee, or a hot meal, or any amount of money but in being united with Christ who satisfies all who hunger and thirst (John 6:35). He is the One who died for our sins that he might bring us to God, Our Maker (1 Peter 3:18).
As Christians, we are not in the business of making people more comfortable on their way to eternal destructions, but are always strategic in the ways we give. Random acts of kindness of perfectly harmless. In fact, they can be quite enjoyable. So do them. But let us not forget that in all of our giving, we must remember that we have something that all people need more than anything: the good news about Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 9:16). So, buy someone a free cup of coffee. But do it while you're meeting with them to talk about what God has done for them. Give in ways that lead people to Christ.