“You reap what you sow…”
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth..”
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
These are all expressions of the Law of Reciprocity. It is the ruling principle for economic and social relationships in the natural world.
Jesus came to radically reverse the economy of the world system. In order to do this, He had to pay the massive debt owed by every person as the result of sin. “The wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a). Jesus cancelled the sin debt by enduring the pain of suffering and death of crucifixion. The new economy is based upon grace and mercy. Jesus Christ paid all debts with His act of love on the cross and provided a superabundant fund of good merit from which anyone may draw when they put faith in Christ.
The natural world is primarily ruled by “balanced reciprocity,” which is: “the direct exchange of goods of approximately equal value within a relatively narrow period of time” (Green, “The Gospel of Luke” from The New International Commentary series, p. 202). Next there is “generalized reciprocity”. This is found among the members of a family—usually parents and children, but in some cultures and instances the extended family as well. In generalized reciprocity, “the exchange is essentially one sided, altruistic, the giving of a gift without explicit stipulations for any reciprocation in kind” (ibid. p. 202).
Jesus taught His disciples to invert the world system, to extend generalized reciprocity beyond the trusted boundary of family into the hostile territory of our enemies. As Jesus’ disciples we are to love our enemies by doing good to them, praying for them and blessing them, even though they may curse us. This is no lofty, unattainable ideal for super-Christians, it is Christ’s expectation for all of His followers all of the time. It is central to the life called “Christian”. If this teaching of Jesus were heeded seriously, it could radically transform every society and culture where there are Christ-followers.
How can we do this? Is Jesus calling us to be dishonored doormats? He is calling us to be like Himself. As the Roman soldiers drove the nails into His hands, Christ prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Yet how will we have the courage to do this? Jesus said, “if someone takes your coat, do not stop him from taking your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes something from you do not demand it back” (Luke 6:29-30 contemporized by Pastor D). Do I have to give up all of my possessions simply because immoral people demand them? Do you open up your home to anyone who is homeless? Should we to spend all of our leisure time “going the second mile” for ungrateful people (see Matthew’s version of Jesus’ message, in 5:41)? Who will protect me? Who will take care of my needs? That is exactly the point: the Father will provide for and protect me. I must follow the Holy Spirit’s conviction.
I don’t just give without thought. I pray. I must abide in Christ. I ask for wisdom from His Holy Spirit before I act rashly, or refuse to act on the basis of self-protection and selfish motives. I act: 1) in obedience to Christ’s command, 2) with discretion from the Holy Spirit, and 3) in the true best interest of the other, whether friend or foe, family or outsider, honest or criminal. This is God’s agape’ love. We can do this because we have a God and Father who promises to repay and care for us. In fact, when we act in obedience to Christ’s command and teaching, we are abiding in Him and thereby actively placing ourselves in the care and favor of His Almighty Father, and ours (cf. John 15:5-10, Psalm 41:1-3, Isaiah 58:1-10).
“Give and it will be given to you…”
The way the world works when it concerns money or the use of any material resource is this: Get as much as you can. Invest in whomever or whatever will bring you the most profit. Giving is foolish. Why give your money to someone who hasn’t earned it, or who will do nothing for you?
The way God’s Kingdom works is different. Giving is investing. It is investing in a person who needs help, or in a church that promotes God’s love and preaches the Good News. The person who gives from a cheerful heart to a holy cause relies on God, not human beings, to bring the increase.
I believe that when I represent Christ and tip a waiter or other service person, I will receive an increase from God. When I give assistance to a person in genuine need, God will reimburse me and bless me over and above my gift. When I tithe to my church, I am demonstrating my trust in God’s provision and promise regarding money.
If human beings were in touch with God and allowed their hearts to be their guide, government welfare programs would be largely unused. There would be less poverty. They would follow the primitive Christian example: sell property (or valuable possessions) and give the money to help the needy among them. It was a sort of voluntary communism. Christ-followers weren’t forced to do this, they chose to do it to help their brothers and sisters.
Now, I’d say there would be no poverty if we all followed the leading of our hearts and listened to God, but I realize that what Jesus said remains true. “The poor you will always have with you.” Why is this? Not everyone can handle wealth. Not everyone will work. People make mistakes with money. So, there will always be a need for charity to help the poor. That is good. It teaches all of us what’s important.
So, do you follow the worldly model for money, or God’s economic plan. God’s plan will lead you to be a consistent giver. Following this plan means you trust God–not people–to bring you the increase and meet your needs. What you do with your money says everything about what, or who, you believe in.
A brief word on reacting naturally vs. responding with wisdom from God and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.
1) The need is not the call. You cannot help everyone everywhere.
2) Give cheerfully, not grudgingly or under compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7)
3) Give without expecting a return.
4) Don’t loan if you cannot do without it (Prov. 22:36, 5:42)
5) Pray globally, serve and give locally. Help your neighbor.
6) Don’t run after well publicized, and usually well-funded, campaigns. Look for the underserved and underfunded.
7) Be practical. Ask critical questions. What can I/we do that will help the situation/these people. You’re not there to be noticed or make your conscience feel better.
8) If you’ve gone to serve somewhere, do something helpful. Don’t stand around. Don’t get in the way of others. Let the more experienced lead the way.
9) If you think you’re too busy, or that you don’t have enough money to help. Pray. You may have something to give that others do not. Technical skill, contacts/connections, the ability to motivate others who can help.