Saturday, September 5, 2009

Patron-Client Relationship and God as Benefactor

I have been given a new picture of God as benefactor. This picture is the ancient Greco-Roman patron-client relationship. In this relationship, the Patron is the benefactor who gives altruistically, without expecting anything in return from His “client.” He makes the gift strictly for the sake of giving. The goal is not to create servants, but to serve. The term for this altruistic benefaction is “general reciprocity.”

The expectation of clients in this situation is a form of praise and respect for the patron. In fact, ingratitude is considered in this culture one of the most reprehensible affronts, more offensive than murder, cheating, lying, and idolatry. This system not only applied to political agendas, but also to Deities. God gives freely, and God needs nothing in His completeness. The appropriate and expected response of a mortal to the Divine Benefactor was the gift of power and authority. Thanksgiving is the natural duty to a God who has given all. There is nothing else that can be given, and He does not NEED anything. No one is so poverty-stricken that he cannot spare praise. It is a commodity that is always available even to the most destitute.

“The commitment is understood here: God gives, we return honor and gratitude to the Benefactor who continues His benefaction—thus loyalty and faithfulness are shown by both parties, that is commitment.” (Neyrey, God Benefactor and Patron).

This is the “sacrifice of praise.” There are four categories of offerings made by mortals in exchange for the gifts of the Benefactor. These are: Sacrifice, commitment, praise, and influence. In response to God’s altruistic gift to the clients, they offer Him an altruistic gift of God-centeredness. The highest form of God’s benefaction is found in the very popular text of John 3:16, and then later in John 15, where we find that greater love cannot exist beyond our Lord’s gift in laying down His life for His friends, even when they are His enemies. The response that God expects from us is that we obey Him and do what He has called us to do by keeping His commands. Our faith is reckoned as righteousness. Though out of our faith flows the fruit of the Spirit, our response to the benefaction of the Father God is not directly our works, but our worship, trust, and friendship.

I see the application here as this: I have been given the gift of life through the sacrifice of the Benefactor. He has saved my life. He has restored my life. He has freely given first eternal life, and secondly a gift of preservation in the midst of crippling odds of death. He has also given me abundance and provision in this present life. I see the Psalmists’ responses to God’s provision all throughout the book of Psalms, especially in Psalm 107. The Psalmist says “let the redeemed of the Lord say this, those He redeemed from the hand of the foe, let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds before. Let them give thank offerings and tell of His works with songs of joy.”

I cannot help but declare what the Lord has done in my life. The story of my life points back to Him and His great work. He has pulled my life from the pit, He has put my feet on a rock and given me a firm place to stand. The greatest joy of my life is to respond to my Patron. What He expects from me is something that I delight in doing. Does there exist a better deal?

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