Transactional Relationships

Love comes in many forms. Author C.S. Lewis wrote about the “four loves” he learned of via his study of Greek wisdom – storge, philia, eros, and agape. Love can also be expressed in a variety of ways. Gary Chapman wrote about this in his best-selling book “The Five Love Languages.” But this post is not about the “four loves.” Nor is it about the expression of love This entry is about the bastardization of love – also known as “transactional love.”


Our culture is innundated with examples of this form of love – also referred to as “transactional relationships.” This form is the foundation of capitalism. I give you something and you give me something of equitable value in return. We used to trade rare stones and coins made of precious metals. Today we exchange pieces of paper along with digital transactions on our credit and debit cards.

When it comes to doing business, this works well for most the relationships upon which we rely to get our basic needs met. A landlord accepts monthly or weekly payments for shelter. A retailer swipes your card to pay for clothes to keep you warm. And your local grocer will take cash or card in exchange for the food you bring home to your table.

This form of exchange can even work in some of our personal relationships. You pick up coffee for a coworker one week and they do the same for you the following week. A family member watches your kids for a weekend and you give them tickets to a show they’ve been wanting to see. Or a member of your congregation falls ill, so you bring them a casserole with the expectation they will do the same for you when you are in need.

However, this form of exchange fails when it comes to our most intimate relationships. A child can never repay the love, nurturing, and protection that its parents provide. Though in some cultures, there is the expectation that children are responsible to care and even provide for their parents when they are old enough to do so. A close friend or family member stricken with late-stage cancer cannot repay the brother or sister who takes her into their own family home and holds her hand as she faces her final days. And lovers cannot repay the selfless acts of love given to one another over their years together – they don’t even think of keeping score.

A parent loving their child freely. A friend helping someone face death. And lovers facing the challenges of life together. These are all examples of “unconditional love” – the polar opposite of “transactional love.”

The following passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians explains the nature of unconditional love. To love someone unconditionally means to take them “unto thyself” – to consider them a part of you. Like your hand or foot – you care for this person (or animal) as you do your own body. You concern yourself with their well-being just as much as you do your own. And you do this without expecting anything in return.

Ephesians 5:25-33: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, …”

The Ephesians were the residents of the city Ephesus to which Paul visited and wrote the Book of Ephesians too in the form of a letter to the church (while imprisoned in Rome). Ephesus was a prosperous city because it was located in a natural harbor, which served to increase the wealth of the residents there. Ephesus was an important city for Christianity because it was strategically located so that the gospel could be spread via the many trade routes of commerce that passed through and beyond Ephesus. Even after the Roman’s took control, many of her citizens were very rich. Perhaps because Ephesus was a rich city, the Romans gave their residents more freedom and more rights than others in the Roman Empire.

Much like in the time of Paul, today having monetary wealth still equates to having more freedom  and more rights. When you possess greater wealth, you also have more available to give freely. But ironically, in the United States, it is the poorest among us who give the most to charity.

In the Gospel of Mark (12:41-44), we see this behavior reflected in the ancient story of the Widow’s Offering.

“Jesus sad down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people thre in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They gave out of their wealth, but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.”

The widow in this story lived long before the Women’s Rights Movement. In her day, to be a widow meant to be a beggar – to live off the generosity and good graces of family members or kindness of others in the community. So for her to give her last two copper coins was not only an act of generosity, but also an act of tremendous faith. She believed that even if she gave away all she had, somehow she would be provided for. Some may think her a fool, but that level of faith is rare, indeed.

So why do the wealthiest among us give relatively so little? Successful businesses build their empires on the backs of working men and women who exhange their time and talent for a paycheck. Many of these workers in “right to work” states must deal with the uncertainty that the job they have today will still be theirs if they should ever fall ill, face injury, or lose a loved one – any of these things leaving them unable to perform to their employer’s expectations. Many of these employers offer little (or no) paid leave, holiday pay, retirement fund matching, or disability insurance.

Corporations utilize publicly-funded resources – roadways, water lines, utilities, etc. – to grow their profits. Should these corporations not be willing to share their success with those struggling to find their own? Why must they be forced to do so via Corporate Income Tax – which the current lawmakers have chosen chosen to lower in recent months?? For those of you not in the know, on December 15th of 2017 the “Tax Cuts & Jobs Act” lowered the Corporate Income Tax Rate from thirty-five percent – to just twenty-one percent for the 2018 tax year.

To give you some perspective, the Corporate Income Tax Rate is only one-percentage point higher than the Individual Income Tax Rate. In 2018, an unmarried individual earning up to $38,700 is responsible for paying twenty-two percent of their earned income back to the government.

Whether or not the “Tax Cuts & Jobs Act” is sound economic policy is debatable. It is based on the Reagan-Era idea of “trickle down” economics. For those of us toward the bottom of the economic ladder, we have been waiting for nearly forty years to feel its effects beyond higher taxes for the working poor.

For our Country to truly experience growth, business leaders must come to acknowledge the uncompensated contributions of their employees as well as the public. And with that acknowledgement, the spirit of charity should ignite.

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  1. Nice piece!

  2. Reblogged this on Just One Take and commented:

    This was another popular post from earlier this year. I have more to say on this topic and look forward to writing more about it in 2019.


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