By Mike McElroy
“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” - Luke 6:38
I’m taking a risk here. Be honest. When you read the text, were you tempted to overlook this column because you already know this verse and what it says? Are you tired of preachers and churches using these words of Jesus to try to get you to give more? I realize I may have lost some readers when the first word was “give.” But please don’t be one of them. This is about you, me and us on a level that goes far beyond our billfolds and bank accounts.
It’s true that this verse has been often quoted and printed to encourage generosity. Preachers (including this one) have used it that way. Graphic designers (including this one) have employed its promise in slides the church sees on the screen during the offering. And there are many people in the room when it’s preached or projected who nod their heads in agreement because they’ve learned from experience that it is true. They have been blessed. God has out given them over and over. There are other texts that teach this specific lesson about generosity and blessing. 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 are two whole chapters based on God’s promise to bless and enrich those who share what he gives us. Here’s a pretty good summary of it: “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11). The principle is absolutely true.
But today I call your attention to a little-known point about this well-known verse. When we use Luke 6:38 as a text about giving money, we are using it out of context. The principle is true and Biblical; the teaching is accurate. But when Jesus said it, he wasn’t talking about increasing your contribution or sharing material blessings with others in need. Then what is the context? What kind of giving and receiving was Jesus talking about? Will you look at it with me? We really only need one adjacent verse to get the contextual intent of Jesus’ words. But be warned: The contextual meaning may be more uncomfortable than the usual one.
Let’s read our text again, this time with the immediately preceding verse. Verse 38 is part of a longer sentence that spans two verses in the ESV: “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 with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:37-38). Do you see it? It’s not about giving money. It’s about giving mercy. It’s about forgiving and not judging others. If you want to receive forgiveness, forgive. If you don’t want to be target of condemnation and harsh judgment, don’t make others the target of your condemnation and harsh judgment.
So, our prejudices and grudges do not fit well with our need to receive mercy instead of judgment. I may want it to be so, but I cannot expect to be forgiven by or God my fellows when I refuse to forgive. I am flawed and weak. I sin. I hurt people’s feelings sometimes. I need forgiveness in abundance, running over. So I don’t need to withhold from others the very things I know I need from them (and God).
I pray that we have done no harm in making a valid Biblical point about giving and receiving material things from this text. But I also pray that we won’t miss the context meaning, because we all need it.