“Pay it Forward” is an expression that describes the concept of repaying a good deed to others instead of the original benefactor.
Lily Hardy Hammond may have originally coined the phrase when she wrote in her 1916 book, “In the Garden of Delight,” “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward.”
While the expression has been around for a while, it was made popular in the movie, based on Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book, “Pay it Forward,” starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment.
The movie shows Osment, as a 12-year-old boy, Trevor, who develops the idea of paying a favor from someone forward, as part of social studies assignment to find a way to change the world.
As it catches on we see people engaging in acts of kindness to others only to say, “Don’t pay me back – I’m looking for nothing in return – pay it forward.”
Trevor’s efforts to make good on his idea bring a revolution not only in the lives of himself, his mother and his physically and emotionally scarred teacher but in those of an ever-widening circle of people completely unknown to him.
Today the phrase, “Pay it forward,” has become iconic. And it is often reported in random acts of kindness by complete strangers in everything from paying for a meal at a drive-through restaurant to paying the toll of a person behind you, to paying off a stranger’s Christmas lay-a-way gifts.
Just yesterday I read of an anonymous person who paid at $77 check for 5 emergency responders at an IHOP restaurant in Toms River, N.J. When they asked for their bill, the server told them not to worry about paying. Instead, they received a receipt that said “Paid, thank you for all you do!” and a smiley face. It was signed “recovering addict.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his 1841 essay Compensation, actually wrote about this concept: “In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.”
Actually the heart of “pay it forward” is based on Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:12, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
As I was reading that chapter this morning, I was reminded again of the simplicity, but profundity of that passage. Often called, the golden rule. It calls on us to treat other people the way we want to be treated. It releases the love of God in our lives. And enables us to make a difference.
Paying it forward requires us to take the focus off of our lives, our problems, and our self-interest. Look for opportunities to do good. To give a helping hand. To contribute to worthy causes. To offer assistance to someone in need. The Bible exhorts, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people…” (Gal. 6:10).
Paying it forward calls for us to genuinely care about other people. It is almost a proverb that “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The Good Samaritan paid it forward because he cared and felt compassion for a hurting, helping man (Lk. 10:33-36). Paying it forward may not be that dramatic, but simply a kind, encouraging word. Author David Chiles suggested, “Pay it forward with free compliments. They are returned in due time.
Paying it forwards involves humility. A heart that truly wants to help doesn’t care who gets the credit. That’s why in so many “pay it forward” acts of kindness the donor is anonymous or at least doesn’t linger to receive any praise. Remember “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas 4:6).
In her book, Harvest of Hope: Living Victoriously Through Adversity, Dana Arcuri challenges us with these words, “Today, I challenge you to pay it forward. You don’t need to save a village—only one lost soul. Be the reflection of Christ and shine His light. The cost is little, but the reward is rich.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman