If you receive a Christmas gift, please don’t “pay it forward”


In sermons and blog posts, I’ve been emphasizing the “free-ness” of God’s gift of saving grace, especially in the face of our built-in resistance to receiving a gift. This Facebook post from a local Atlanta TV station is a case in point.

One-hundred fifty students at the Georgia Institute of Technology (my beloved alma mater) raised money to give a campus security guard a Christmas gift of $1,600. A smartphone video shows the man’s reaction.

Nothing to complain about here, except please notice the headline: “Ga Tech Security Guard Brought to Tears after Students Pay it Forward.”

First, inasmuch as “paying it forward” has any meaning, it means exactly opposite what the headline implies. Taken literally, they would only be “paying forward” $1,600 to this security guard if they had received an amount equal to $1,600 from someone else in their past. “Because Mark helped me once when I needed it, I’m going to now help Steve because he needs it.”

Even if the security guard had given these students an in-kind contribution worth $1,600—through service over and above the salary that Georgia Tech pays him—their giving him this gift isn’t “paying it forward.” It’s paying it back. And if they’re paying it back, then they’re not giving the security guard a gift at all. These students are saying, “Merry Christmas. Now we’re even.”

How depressing!

Put in these terms, it’s not nearly as heart-warming a Christmas message as Fox 5 News wanted to communicate, is it?

2 thoughts on “If you receive a Christmas gift, please don’t “pay it forward””

  1. Well, maybe you are being somewhat of a “Scrooge” here! 🙂 I agree that it is unlikely that the students are just “passing forward” something they received (hence a misleading title), but they could be saying, “I’ve been blessed in life–I’d like to bless you.” “Freely you have received; freely give.”

    1. I’m not at all criticizing the students! I’m sure they did want to bless this man’s life. Wonderful! I dislike the concept of “payment” in relation to a gift.

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