TAKERS, TRADERS, GIVERS
Written by Doug Ponder on March 22, 2013
How to Think about Your Life
There are lots of ways to think about the different kinds of people in the world. You could categorize us according to gender, according to nationality, according to age, and so on. Or you could categorize people according to preferences. For example, you might say there are two kinds of people in the world: those who think baseball is boring, and those who are wrong.
Cheap shots at baseball aside, there’s an important sense in which we there are only three kinds of people in the world. There are takers, traders, and givers. You and I are no exception to this. How we live places us in one of those three categories of people, whether or not we’re even aware of this fact, and even whether or not we like it. (Just as a thirty-year-old is thirty, whether or not they like it.)
The First Kind of Person
Takers are people who do what they want without consideration of others pretty much all the time. A taker is only out to help themselves, even if this means ignoring, using, or abusing other people along the way.
Suppose you’re at a party with a ton of people and not enough food to go around. Let’s say there are fifty people but only twenty brownies, twenty beverages, and enough chips and salsa for ten people. A taker looks at the situation and thinks, “I’d better get in line first, or else I won’t get anything.”And as they go through the line, they’re not content to take one of everything either. Three brownies, two drinks (one for now, and one for later), and half the chips and salsa. Even though everyone else is obviously annoyed, a taker doesn’t care what they think. Nor does a taker care about their not getting anything to eat or drink. Takers only care about themselves.
Of course, the silly situation overlooks the serious ugliness of being a taker. While chips and brownies are not that big of a deal, when people live like takers in other areas of life, others get hurt or cheated or used or abused or neglected or abandoned. No one likes a taker.
The Second Kind of Person
Traders care a little about others, just not as much as they care about themselves. Traders always make self-serving deals and tradeoffs (hence the name) that seek to maximize what’s in it for themselves.
Go back to the party again. A trader might notice the same lack of food that the taker did. The difference, though, is that a trader might be willing to “trade” getting less food in order to gain something even better in the process. Suppose the trader thinks, “If I offer to let everyone else go first, then I’ll look like a super nice guy.” He’s trading a bit of food for a boost in his reputation. He’s not mainly concerned for the well-being of the people at the party. He’s concerned about himself. The difference between him and the taker is that he’s willing to give up something small in order to get something bigger.
Notice that traders are not any less selfish than takers. The reason we may not see a trader as such is because their selfishness is hidden behind their decisions to trade one thing they don’t care much about for another thing that they really want for themselves. But the truth is they’re every bit as selfish, and then some, since they also care very much about how they look in the eyes of others.
The Third Kind of Person
Finally, there are givers. Givers are truly selfless, not selfish. They are focused on others completely, sometimes at great cost to themselves.
At the same party, a giver would happily let others consume all the food. But unlike a trader, a giver wouldn’t be thinking about how good this makes her look. Instead, she would truly be thinking of the needs of those around her, and how she can meet their needs.
What Kind of Person Are You?
As we think about the three kinds of people, we should stop to ask ourselves: Which kind of person am I?
There are very few pure takers, people who do what they want without caring at all what others think of them. Instead, the overwhelming majority of us are traders. We go about our lives making “trades” with the hope of gaining more for ourselves. For example:
Maybe you clean the living area so that your roommate won’t complain. You aren’t cleaning the room as a genuine act of love toward them. You just don’t want to have to listen to their gripes any longer.
Maybe you do the dishes so that your spouse will be intimate with you later. It’s not love for your spouse that drives you to do the dishes. Your making a selfish “trade off” to fulfill your own desires.
Maybe you don’t cheat on your taxes—not because you care about honesty—but because you don’t want to face the consequences of getting caught.
Maybe you leave a decent tip a local restaurant to save yourself from embarrassment. You have no intentions of blessing your server, you just don’t want your friends (or your server) to think you’re cheap.
Maybe you think obeying God means giving up fun in this life for eternal rewards in the next one. You’re not obeying him because you love him. You’re just hoping for more stuff.
This is how traders live every day, doing good things but with selfish motives. It’s a destructive way to live, because we convince ourselves that other people (takers) are the selfish ones, not us. And we go about our lives overlooking the real needs of other people, living as if we were the most important person on the planet. How arrogant and prideful!
The World’s Only Giver
So are there no unselfish people, then? Well, an honest look at humanity compels us to conclude that there one only one: Jesus. He was the only person who was ever a pure giver.
He never did anything with a selfish motive. He never acted on his own behalf. His entire life, from beginning to end, was lived for the sake of others. That’s why, when he faced with impeding death, he could honestly say to God, “Father, not my will, but yours be done.”
A taker would never give up anything. A trader would only give up something they don’t want to get something they do want. But Jesus gave up his life for his enemies. It’s hard to get any more selfless than that.
What Jesus Has Given
As we take in this reality, it hits us with a kind of force that shocks our souls and begins to change us from the inside out: Because of what Jesus has done for us, God forgives takers and traders like you and me, adopts us into his family, and begins to work in our hearts to set us free from our sinful cravings and desires.
When you really see the gospel for the first time, or for the four thousandth time, it changes you. Takers see themselves for who they really are: selfish, self-serving, users and abusers of other people who do not treat others like they want to be treated. Traders, too, see themselves for who they really are: selfish, self-serving deal-makers who hide their real motives from others as they seek to get what they want and make themselves look good in the process.
But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
You don’t have to live for yourself because you have an infinitely greater treasure in Jesus. What can compare to forgiveness of sin, freedom from guilt, victory over death, and unending fellowship with God, the source of everything good and beautiful and true? Nothing! The more that you value the treasure you have in Jesus, the more you’ll be able to let go of the things that once held you captive.
You don’t have to selfishly take and grab; you already have more than you’ll need in Jesus.
You don’t have to trade to get what you want; you already have something better in Jesus.
Those who believe this find that they slowly become less of a taker and trader than they once were. As the gospel moves in to replace the old desires in your heart, new desires are put in their place—desires to give and serve and love others, even without thought to what we might receive in return. That’s how the gift of Jesus turns selfish takers and traders into selfless givers, people who share their money, their possessions, their time, and their lives. God has been doing this in the hearts of Jesus’ followers for thousands of years, and he calls you to this kind of life, too.
The way to get there is not through greater resolve or renewed commitments to be less selfish and to be more giving. No, the only way to become more of a selfless giver is to see that you already have greater treasure in Jesus. “He died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who died and was raised for their sake.” (2 Cor. 5:15)
 This concept has been adapted from the writings of Miroslav Volf, a Protestant theologian and the founding Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.