After Jacob left Laban's employ, he prepared to go home. As he was walking, he worried about how his brother, Esau, would react to his return. Since they didn't have a great sibling relationship, he feared that Esau would attack him and his family.
In an effort to make peace, Jacob sent his servants ahead of him with gifts to offer Esau. He hoped to use the gifts to help him reconcile with his brother.
As we consider Jacob's situation in Genesis 32:20, we can also reflect on how we approach our own relationships. What are the motivations behind the gifts we give?
Are we trying to buy love?
Some of us may find ourselves guilty of using gifts to compensate for the lack of time we spend with family. When we are unable to make it home for dinner, or to sports tournaments and dance recitals, we may bring home a long-desired gift, hoping to turn the look of disappointment into a smile.
Although the gift may bring some joy, it is only temporary. In actuality, no gift can truly make up for not spending time with family. That kind of time is priceless.
Are we trying to fill a void?
We may also choose to purchase gifts for ourselves. We work hard, and we deserve to treat ourselves, right? Another rationalization is buying something nice to celebrate an accomplishment. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we may buy something to help us feel better after experiencing something negative.
But the most common challenge we run into with buying things for ourselves is making purchases within reason. We tend to spend more than we can afford to spend, rather than staying within our budget.
These things are also temporary fixes. They can't really make us feel better. The void that we are feeling will never be filled with anything that is available at the mall. Rather than running ourselves into a financial hole that could lead to a deeper sense of discomfort, we should seek help in being able to identify and correct what is truly lacking in our lives.
Are we showing off?
Another reason that we give gifts is to publicly display our accomplishments and status. When we make sizable donations, we are essentially telling the world that we have "made it" to some degree. Those donations show the world that we can afford to give away large sums of money and still be comfortable.
Giving anything to be noticed by others is an issue of pride. Are we too proud of our accomplishments? We have to remember that pride is a sin. God will not recognize sacrifices and gifts presented with ill intentions.
As Christians, giving is part of our foundation. God set the stage for that when He gave His only Son for our salvation. But God didn't do it to buy our love. He allows us the right to choose whether or not to love Him back. God doesn't have to fill any voids. He is everything and lacks nothing. God is our Creator, so He doesn't have to show off.
Giving has to be done for the right reasons. It has to be out of love and for the betterment of our community. Any other motivation devalues the whole act.