When Sarah died, Abraham wanted to give her a proper burial. Although he was wealthy and highly regarded among his neighbors, and although he had lived in Canaan for many years, he still felt like an immigrant. “I am a stranger and a sojourner among you,” he said to his neighbors. “Give me a possession of a buryingplace” (Genesis 23:4).
The neighbors were dumbfounded. “Thou art a mighty prince among us,” they said. “In the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre” (Genesis 23:6). Abraham offered to buy a field containing a cave in a place called Machpelah. The owner, Ephron, protested, “Nay, my lord, hear me: the field give I thee, and the cave that is therein, I give it thee; in the presence of the sons of my people give I it thee: bury thy dead” (Genesis 23:11). Abraham insisted on knowing how much the land was worth. Reluctantly, Ephron replied, “The land is worth four hundred shekels of silver; what is that betwixt me and thee?” (Genesis 23:15). Without further discussion, Abraham paid him for the property.
King David had a similar experience. God commanded him to build an altar on a threshing floor which belonged to a man named Ornan. David offered to buy the property, but Ornan responded, “Take it to thee, and let my lord the king do that which is good in his eyes: lo, I give thee the oxen also for burnt offerings, and the threshing instruments for wood, and the wheat for the meat offering; I give it all” (1 Chronicles 21:23). But David wouldn’t accept the gift. “Nay,” he said, “but I will verily buy it for the full price: for I will not take that which is thine for the Lord, nor offer burnt offerings without cost” (1 Chronicles 21:24).
I’m not suggesting that we should never accept gifts. One way to show love to one another is by giving and receiving gifts. But there are times when gifts are inappropriate. Abraham wanted to make clear that he had purchased his wife’s burying place, probably to avoid future disputes, and possibly also as a way of honoring Sarah. David wanted to pay full price for the threshing floor, because his offering to God would be meaningless if it cost him nothing.
When King Benjamin called his people together at the end of his reign, he emphasized that he had not taken advantage of his position of authority for financial gain. “I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne” (Mosiah 2:14). When Korihor accused Alma of “glutting on the labors of the people,” Alma replied:
I have labored even from the commencement of the reign of the judges until now, with mine own hands for my support…
And notwithstanding the many labors which I have performed in the church, I have never received so much as even one senine for my labor; neither has any of my brethren, save it were in the judgment-seat; and then we have received only according to law for our time.Alma 30:31-33
Nephi warned us against taking advantage of our neighbors (2 Nephi 28:8). And Malachi condemned those who “oppress the hireling in his wages” (3 Nephi 24:5, Malachi 3:5). Just because you can get away with something doesn’t make it right. We ought to be fair to the people around us and pay attention to power differentials which might give us an unfair advantage in negotiations.
Today, I will be fair and honest in my interactions with others. I will respect the rights and interests of my neighbors and colleagues as I decide how much I can contribute and how much is appropriate for me to receive.