Getting It Back

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 6:38

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.

Luke 6:37,38 RSV

Have you ever heard the expression, “What you see is what you get”? That’s a word about authenticity, about transparency. When we say it about a product, we mean there will be no unpleasant surprises. The car or lawn mower will perform as advertised. No deceptive publicity here. What you are buying is genuinely what it appears to be.

When we say it about persons, “What you see is what you get,” we’re talking about basic integrity. Your first impression about this person will be confirmed in all your future interactions with him or her. He won’t let you down. He will deliver what he promises. What you see is what you get.

I’m thinking today about a similar expression that comes right from the words of Jesus. It’s a message about how our way of living eventually comes back to us. You could say it like this: “What you give is what you get.” Here’s how the Lord puts it in Luke, chapter 6, beginning at verse 37. Listen:

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.

There it is. What you give is what you get.

DANGEROUS BUSINESS

The first two examples Jesus gives of this principle bring us up short. These are sobering words. “Judge not, and you will not be judged. Condemn not, and you will not be condemned.” Put positively, it seems to say this, “Judge others and you will be judged yourself. Condemn them and you also will be condemned.”

What kind of judging is the Lord warning us against here? He surely doesn’t want us to be morally dense, to lack discernment. Nor is there any virtue in being indifferent to the abuses and character flaws of other persons. Doesn’t Jesus tell us, “You shall know them by their fruits”? Doesn’t He caution us against casting our pearls before swine? Doesn’t He want us wise as serpents even while we’re harmless as doves? What kind of judging then gets us into trouble?

It’s the attitude toward other people that tends to put us in the superior place. It’s when we assume the right to pronounce a verdict on the character and conduct of others. We put ourselves in the judgment seat. We act as though the task of the Almighty Himself had been delegated to us. It’s as though we understood the other person’s motives, as though we were qualified to make a final assessment of the kind of person he or she is. We’re playing God.

Jesus doesn’t want us dimwitted or gullible, of course. We can’t help noticing the way people act and have it register on our consciousness in some way. But we can avoid the severity that comes down hard on them, that refuses to give them the benefit of any doubts. By “judging” here, Jesus means a censorious attitude, a tendency to mete out harsh criticisms, a mindset that forgets that we, the ones judging, are equally flawed and faulty.

Don’t judge that way, says Jesus, because it will come back to you. We can see that with the hypercritical people we know, can’t we? After enduring that kind of treatment from them, other people delight in giving it back, in exposing their foibles, in commenting on their inconsistency. Being judgmental has a way of coming full circle for us.

But even that’s not the worst part. It’s not only a counter-criticism from others that we will experience. When we judge others, we invite God’s judgment. It’s as though He says, “Is that the way you want it? Is that how you believe people should be treated? Very well. I will deal with you on the same basis. And that will be bad news.”

The word about “condemning” underlines what’s meant here by judgment. Don’t pronounce people to be in the wrong. Don’t consider them and treat them as though they were worthy of God’s condemnation. That’s not your place. And what’s more, when you do it, you bring the same condemnation upon yourself. James, the Lord’s brother, captures the heart of this when he writes, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:12).

You see, it’s a dangerous business to condemn. Sometimes magistrates and public officials have to do it for the protection of others. Law courts are required to assess guilt. But for us to do it personally on the basis of real or imagined injuries done to us is to make ourselves vulnerable to the worst that could befall us.

HOPEFUL NEWS

Now for the positive side of this, the good news. “Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.”

Suppose someone has slighted you. The snub was public and painful. It hurt at the time and it still rankles with you. You can’t think about that person now without anger rising within you. You rehearse to yourself all kinds of speeches in which you tell him off. You might not put it into words, but it would seem to you eminently fair if he were covered with shame. You’re nursing a grudge about this and you’re not about to let it go.

Jesus says, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” It’s pretty sweeping, isn’t it? Jesus doesn’t say, “When they apologize, accept their apology,” or “when they make amends, treat them well again.” He simply says, “Forgive! Let go of the grudge. Let the resentment die. Stop demanding that they “pay or else.” In your heart of hearts, however difficult the situation has been, however distasteful to you, forgive them, Jesus says, and let them go.

“And,” He goes on, “you will be forgiven.” That means not only that others will adopt a more forgiving attitude toward you (that may or may not happen), but that God Himself will. When your failings come to light, when all sorts of charges are made against you on the last day, God will say, “He’s forgiven. She’s pardoned. The slate is wiped clean. No condemnation.”

Now the principle becomes even broader. Jesus says, “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.” Jesus is talking here about your whole lifestyle, how you treat other people, what you do with your resources, how generous you are. And He sets forth an astonishing principle: the more you give, the more you will receive. He says it just that way, “For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” That’s surely true about love, isn’t it? Think of the people you know who are the most deeply loved. Their family, their friends, almost everyone who knows them loves them. Aren’t they usually quite loving people themselves? When you give love away, it tends to boomerang on you. It keeps coming back.

It’s true about compliments, words of affirmation. It doesn’t always work this way. There’s no exact correlation. But people tend to speak positively of those who respect them, who say encouraging things to them.

On the other side, it surely holds true for angry words too, doesn’t it? Keep spouting off at people and those same tones of annoyance, the same words of scorn will come right back at you. What you give is what you get.

Can it even be true with our wealth, our financial resources, that when we give them away we get them back, with interest? I’ve heard of churches and preachers who taught that with a peculiar personal twist. They say, “If you support my church, if you give to this my ministry, God will give you back a rich recompense.” I’m told that some who have tried that accordingly and been disappointed, have even been ready to sue the ministries involved, for breach of promise, I suppose.

But that doesn’t destroy the principle. The Bible is full of this idea. Listen to God speaking to His people: “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing” (Mal. 3:10). The ancient proverb says, “The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that waters will be watered also himself.” Again, “Honor the Lord with your substance and with the firstfruits of all your produce. Then your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will be bursting with wine.” The more you give, the more you get.

The apostle Paul waxes eloquent on this subject. When Christians give generously, he says, here’s what happens: “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor. 9:10,11). The more you share, the more you’ll be enriched to share even more. And the more joy will abound, the more thanks will be raised up to God. The people you give to may not be able to reward you financially. When you give to them, you ultimately give to the Lord. Then He, the infinitely generous One, will not be outdone. No one can outgive God.

Can you believe that this really happens? To the unbelieving world, it sounds like sheer foolishness. Listen to these lines from John Bunyan, “A man there was and they called him mad. The more he gave, the more he had.” Can it be that the best of all investments turns out to be sharing what you have with the Lord and with people in need? That’s the word of the Lord, friends. It’s not a shrewd con man telling us that, not a promise tied to contributions to this or that ministry. It’s simply the way it is. The givers keep getting back. And not meagerly either: good measure, Jesus says, pressed down so that more can be fit into the container. Shaken together to fill up every available place, and then running over. That’s what comes to you when you are a genuinely giving person. Do you believe that?

HOW CAN IT BE?

If you’re like I am, this teaching of Jesus kicks off a lot of questions in your mind. He seems to say, doesn’t He, that our destiny is pretty much in our own hands? If we keep on judging and condemning other people, we’re going to be judged and condemned. But if we forgive them, God is going to forgive us. If we’re generous, God will keep pouring down on us His blessing. But how, we wonder, do we fit this into the rest of the Bible’s message? Where’s the word about God and His beforehand mercy? Where is the message of Jesus Christ and His saving work on our behalf? Where’s the good news about the power of the Holy Spirit to make us new people? Well, all of that, though not spelled out in so many words, is in the picture here. It’s in the background. It provides the frame.

In the verses just before this passage, Jesus has been saying to His followers that they ought to love the unlovely and lend without expecting return because God is “kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.” He’s been telling them that they ought to be merciful because God is merciful. In other words, everything starts with God’s action and God’s character. In Jesus Christ, He has shown Himself to be a God of marvelous, forgiving love. In fact, He gave His Son to die for us when we were yet sinners, when we had nothing about ourselves to commend us to Him. And now that we have been so incredibly loved in Christ and graced with such great gifts, we’re to take our cue from that in dealing with other people.

If we continue to judge and condemn, we show that we’ve never really known God. We’ve never tasted His forgiveness, never appreciated what He’s done for us. We’re not in the kingdom of grace. We’re still under the condemning law. But if we forgive those who injure us, we’re modeling Calvary love. We’re showing our kinship with the One who said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And when we keep on giving out of a generous heart, that’s the sign that the Lord of love has taken up His abode in us and that we’re beginning to bear the family likeness.

It’s not that God’s forgiveness, His fatherly kindness come to us as a reward for performance. These are simply gifts He delights to bestow upon His children.

You can count on Jesus’ word that what you give will be what you get, but that’s not why grateful children give, is it? They give because they have a generous Father, a Savior who gave Himself for them, and a Holy Spirit pouring out love in their hearts. And that’s all for you, all for you, when through faith in Jesus Christ you become one of God’s dear children. May it be so!