As a child before I understood the concept of idioms, I remember hearing adults asking if someone had been raised in a barn. I remember thining, What an odd question. What they were really saying was that this person behaved as if they were a barnyard animal. Sometimes I would hear a similar question: Were you raised by wolves? Apparently this was even worse because what they meant was that this person behaved as if they were brought up by wild animals without any benefit of civilization. At least the barnyard animals were domesticated and there were actual human beings around. Anyway, neither is meant as a compliment.
Some people like to judge others, or maybe it would be more accurate to say they like to compare others and usually they themselves wind up on or near the top of the hierarchy that results. There is always someone who isn’t as couth as they are – couth of course meaning cultured, well-mannered, and refined.
For many years Emily Post and Amy Vanderbilt were considered the experts on etiquette. Etiquette is the principles on which manners and acceptable social behavior are built. People would turn to the books these women wrote with questions about manners. Sometimes people were making sure they were doing things correctly. Sometimes they were trying to see just how wrong someone else was.
One thing most so-called experts on manners agree on is that it is not good manners to tell people exactly what gift you would like to receive, and it is worse manners to tell people to just give you money. When my husband and I got married we asked that people not give us wedding gifts, but if they really felt they wanted to get us something they could make a donation in honor of us to a charity we mentioned or to the charity of their choice. I guess there are those who would not consider that very couth of us. Well, the times they are a changing.
It’s not that we don’t like gifts. Gifts are wonderful. We just didn’t need a lot of the stuff that most people give as wedding gifts, the kinds of gifts you give a couple when they are just starting out. Although we were just starting out as a family, neither of us was just starting out as an adult on our own. We already had household stuff. On the other hand, we didn’t want to deny anyone the joy of giving, and that’s why we suggested that people made a donation in our honor to some organization doing good works. Many people did make donations in our honor and we are still grateful for their generosity.
All of that to say, that a gift is freely given without expectation of receiving something in return.
It is not something you exchange with someone. When there is an expectation of receiving something in return it is a purchase or a trade. There is no such thing as a free gift with purchase. Anything given that requires a purchase is a premium, not a gift. Any gift that isn’t free, isn’t a gift.
In the letter to the Ephesians 2: 8 we are told, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” Our salvation comes to us as a result of grace. We receive grace by means of faith. None of this happens because of anything we do. It all happens because God does it. It is a gift of God. It is freely given. God doesn’t require anything in return, although there are appropriate responses such as gratitude. This ends today’s lesson in theology from a Reformed perspective.
It’s a little ironic that this lesson in the etiquette of grace comes to us as a result of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who, while not necessarily raised in a barn was traditionally understood to be born in a barn. Maybe we need to rethink this whole couth business.