You must not steal. [Exodus 20:15 (NLT)]
The wicked borrow and never repay, but the godly are generous givers. [Psalm 37:21 (NLT)]
Pay it Forward is more than the title of a novel or a film and today happens to be “Pay It Forward Day:” a worldwide celebration of kindness that takes place every year on April 28th. The pay it forward movement began with Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novel in which a young boy starts with the idea that, by doing a good deed for three people and then asking them to “pay it forward” to three more people, a human chain letter of kindness would be created that could go on forever. Paying it forward, however, is a long-standing philosophy. More than one hundred years ago, novelist Lily Hardy Hammond wrote, ”You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward,” and, in 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that, “The benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.” We can trace the idea back further to Benjamin Fanklin but the source of the concept is found in Scripture.
We’re all familiar with the prohibition against stealing in the eighth commandment. Most of us think of stealing as a criminal offense. Since we’re not likely to rob a bank, mug an old lady, break and enter, or even defraud people of their life savings, we probably feel pretty self-righteous when pondering this commandment. Reading Psalm 37, however, brought me to a wider interpretation of theft: “The wicked borrow and never repay…”
After a little thought, I think we’ll agree that if we borrow money, a lawnmower or even a book and don’t return it, we’ve stolen the item. But, what about other things that we might have taken from our family, friends and neighbors? What about the time someone spent teaching us to knit, change a tire, or use a computer? What about the guidance someone gave during a difficult time in our lives? What about the mentoring we received from teachers or fellow workers or the assistance offered by a neighbor when we were laid up and couldn’t fend for ourselves? What about the person who took a risk, trusted our ability, or gave us a valuable opportunity? Granted, the people who offered these things never expected payment in return. Moreover, in most cases, they don’t need those lessons, guidance, mentoring, assistance or opportunities returned. Regardless, don’t we still have a debt to settle? If we’ve received the gift of a good deed, don’t we have the obligation of repaying that debt to someone else in need?
Paying it forward means far more than just buying coffee for the person behind you at Starbucks. Perhaps it’s time to give that eighth commandment some serious thought. Is there a debt we haven’t yet repaid? And yet, even if no one ever did anything kind to us, we are still called to pay it forward. By God’s grace, we are saved and there is no way we can ever repay our debt to Him. Nevertheless, we can pay it forward by extending His grace and kindness to all we meet. Rather than just doing kindness, let us live it!
I do not pretend to give such a deed; I only lend it to you. When you … meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money. [Benjamin Franklin, written on April 25, 1784]