Giving… so it can be given you.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 February

For certain Christians, whenever the topic of generosity comes up, this is the first bible quote which comes to mind. It’s part of the Sermon on the Plain; Jesus said it, so you can take it to the bank, right?

Luke 6.38 NIV
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

And that is what they’re counting on. Give, and it’ll be given you. Give, and you’ll get. And not just mere karma-style reciprocity: You’ll get more. You’ll get a lot more. You’ll get a tenfold return on your donation. A hundredfold return, if we can borrow a line from the Four Seeds Story

Mark 4.8 NIV
“Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

A hundred times what you put in. Doesn’t that sound like the best reason to be generous? You only get that kind of return when you’re gambling. And this is no gamble! It’s on God. Jesus himself said there’d be some kind of hundredfold return on what gets put in.

Now yeah—Jesus only said there’d be a hundredfold return in this parable, and in it he was talking about sharing the word, namely God’s word; it produces a hundredfold return, but that’s a trait unique to God’s word. Pulling it out of context to claim it can also be applied to charity, is in no way a legitimate use of the scripture. Doesn’t matter how many preachers claim, “No it is legit; it’s a biblical principle, and combined with 20 other verses it reveals a profound cosmic secret about how the kingdom works!” It’s not, it doesn’t, and they’re using your greed to con you out of your money. Don’t fall for that.

’Cause I point out to you something which should be fairly obvious to those of us who practice basic reading comprehension: Jesus’s statement in the Sermon on the Plain does not say we’re getting back more than we put in. It says quite clearly, “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” You’re getting back the same. Jesus talks about his Father’s overabundant grace a lot, but here, in this particular favorite proof text, he’s actually describing reciprocity.

So what about the whole “good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over” bit? That presumes that’s what we gave. We gave others a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. We were generouslike any fruit-producing Christian oughta be. We gave abundantly, so we receive abundantly.

If we didn’t give abundantly? Well, “with the measure you use, it’ll be measured to you.” You gave stingily? Expect others to reciprocate stingily. If it looks pressed down, shaken together, and running over, it’s only covering up the fact everything below the top layer has weevils in it.

Or, because not every Christian is a covetous dick, someone actually practiced generosity towards you. Which is awesome. Now pay it forward.

But if your only motivation for generosity is because you think you’ll be in God’s karmic debt, and because he’s infinitely rich he’ll overdo it when he repays you, and you are banking on him falling for your clever money-making scheme… man are you missing the point.

Greed’s ulterior motive.

God is not gonna reward fleshly behavior. Not even if we think one of “God’s promises” obligates him to reward us, regardless of how awful we’re quietly being… or even obviously being. I guarantee you he saw through all our clever schemes billions of years before we were born. Nobody outsmarts him. (Might outsmart his followers easily, and regularly. But never him.)

So those people who figure, “I was extremely generous to those needy people, therefore God’s gonna be extremely generous to me, ’cause didn’t he himself say in the bible,

Proverbs 19.17 NIV
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD,
and he will reward them for what they have done.

“—so he owes me. Big-time!”

Okay. First of all, that’s Solomon, not God, and while Proverbs consists of God-inspired wisdom, the catch with wisdom is it’s situational. Sometimes it applies to our situation. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s false to claim it’s always applies to every situation; it’s valid no matter what. That may be true of Jesus’s teachings and the LORD’s moral commands, but wisdom requires we use our brains and figure out whether that verse fits our circumstances.

Fr’instance when someone is kind to the poor because he wants to be worshiped instead of God. Or is helping the needy because he’s been exploiting them all this time, and figures giving them a few gift cards is gonna make up for years of keeping them down. In fact he totally plans to continue keeping them down; the gift cards are just good public relations. You seriously think that guy’s lending to the LORD?

That’s an obvious example. Here’s a less obvious one: Someone who’s been regularly voting for politicians, regularly contributing to the campaigns of politicians, who promise to get rid of social programs—on the grounds she doesn’t want her tax dollars going to those programs. (Even though, thanks to tax loopholes, she’s paying less in taxes than the needy people who could really use those programs.) “The government shouldn’t be helping people,” she objects, “charities should. And I give a lot to charity!” And okay, let’s be fair—she does. But the $2 million she gives to charity doesn’t compare with the $20 million government program which barely helps them. Now again: You seriously think this woman is lending to the LORD?

Then there are the folks who aren’t billionaires, who can barely pay their own bills, who’ve been told by prosperity-gospel TV preachers, “Please give generously to our ministry, and we promise you God will pour out a significant, tenfold blessing to you in return. He promised he would. It’s in scripture. You send a check for $1,000, and you know God’ll send you a financial windfall of $10,000. It’s a biblical principle. And for your generous contribution, we’ll send you this lovely plastic sculpture of praying hands, to remind you to lift us up in prayer.” Because they need that money to upgrade to a Gulfstream G650ER. But is either the TV preacher, or the people who are hoping to win big by betting on God’s ponies, lending to the LORD? Is fruit of the Spirit in any way part of this transaction?

Break your dependence on wealth.

God wants us to give cheerfully and generously. 2Co 9.6-7 And wants us to give to the needy. If we’re giving to the wealthy, it’s either because we’re hoping they’ll somehow repay us… or because we’re suckers, because they never will. But the rich don’t need our money! God himself especially doesn’t need our money. Our churches might; they have expenses, and we should pitch in. But whenever God requests our money, he wants it given to the needy. With no expectation we’ll get anything back for it.

Matthew 5.42 NIV
“Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
Matthew 6.12 NIV
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

Assuming we have forgiven our debtors. Some won’t, and will scream at the top of their lungs Matthew 6.12 ought not be interpreted that way. But as Jesus’s Unforgiving Debtor Story makes clear, yes it should. Generosity doesn’t expect payback, much less interest. Be generous like your heavenly Father is generous.

Give without expecting a return. Because sometimes it’s ludicrous to expect one! When Jesus told that rich young ruler to give up everything and follow him—

Mark 10.21-23 NIV
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

—you know it’s an absolute corruption of this story to claim this was just a test of the kid’s character; that his property would be restored and then some. Not that this has stopped some prosperity-gospel preachers from saying so… regardless of the fact it undermines everything Jesus said next.

Mark 10.24-27 NIV
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

They’ll leapfrog those verses and go straight to the ones where Jesus said when we give up everything for him, we receive a hundredfold in the present age, and eternal life in the next age. Mk 10.29-30 But whereas Jesus is talking about our ability to tap God’s infinite kingdom resources, they’re thinking of material personal possessions. Wealth. Riches. Mammon. Jesus is a means to an end, and that end is Mammon. Their real god.

Nope nope nope. And we gotta stop expecting material compensation for kingdom living. We’re concentrating on treasures in heaven, folks. Give, and that’ll be given us—and it’s way better than any decaying earthly trinkets.

So does this mean God will never materially compensate us for what we give away? In my experience… sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes the stuff we give away was stuff we were never meant to have in the first place; it was always meant to be given away. (Stuff you can’t afford to own, obviously.)

But in general, I’ve found the reason God grants people money is because he knows he can trust them with money. He can trust them to not hoard it, not depend on it instead of him, not worship it instead of him, not try to justify these Mammonist behaviors by claiming it’s just “good stewardship.” They won’t let you be a pharmacist if you eat all the drugs in the pharmacy. It’s the same with God granting wealth to his followers. Prove you can follow him in spite of money, and he might let some pass through your hands. Otherwise you’re like that rich kid who had to first give it away before he could follow Jesus—and if you can’t give up your wealth either, it’s gonna be just as hard for you to enter his kingdom.