“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and it shall 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.” Luke 6:37-38
I’ve heard verse 38 quoted during offerings more times than I care to count. Pastors, deacons, TV preachers, and all manner of offering takers will often break out this verse and spout something like, “Give in the offering today and God promises to give back to you more than you can handle. He’ll receive your money, shake it real good to be sure it’s compacted. Then he’ll add a bunch more to it and it’ll overflow into your bank account!” Or something like that.
While there are plenty of promises in the Bible regarding God’s provision, especially in the Old Testament where the promises were mostly intended to be corporate than personal, this one is not one of them. I’m not saying that God doesn’t provide for his followers or that sometimes he provides in abundance. I’m just saying that this passage is not one of those we should launch over the wall at God like a grenade, expecting money or other blessings (material or not) to fly back over into the backyards of our split level homes. Let me tell you why I think this is true.
First, let’s zoom out a little and notice that this passage is right in the middle of Luke’s account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I’m actually not convinced that this is the same event as the more complete form of his mountain message in Matthew 5-7, but be that as it may, Luke 6:20-49 is some of Jesus’ strongest teaching on discipleship. It’s all about how Christian radicals are supposed to live.
Early in the sermon he said, “You’re blessed if you’re poor and hungry… and woe to you if you’re rich and well fed.” (verses 21-26) Of course there are exceptions to this rule, and the Lord does sometimes make certain people rich and those who do end up wealthy are commanded to be “generous and willing to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18) But my point is, why would Jesus five minutes before say that we’re blessed if we’re poor and woe to us if we’re rich, and then turn around and say, “When God gives you money he’s going to tamp down so much coin and then put a bunch more on top of that, that it’ll run over and you have achieved the American Dream”?
Though Jesus did talk a lot about money and material things, Luke 6:38 isn’t one of them.
Secondly, when Jesus said, “Give and it will be given,” I know it sounds like giving money, but what was actually he referring to? He said, “Give,” but give what? And what’s the “it” that will be given back to us if we give? Let’s zoom back in a little from the larger context to the more immediate.
He’d just said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” And then right to, “Give and it will be given to you.” If the NIV translators are to be trusted in this case, there’s no paragraph division between the two verses. They’re both part of the same thought. Just before he said, “Give,” he said “forgive.” So “giving” must be related to “forgiving.” In other words, “Give others the benefit of the doubt, give them unconditional love. And when they fail you, instead of giving them what you think they deserve, give them forgiveness.”
What about the “… and it’ll be given to you, pressed down shaken together” part? He means, “If you give them mercy what you’ll get back is so much of the same that you won’t be able to contain it!”
Speaking of “mercy,” going up just one sentence more in verse 36 Jesus said, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” It wasn’t money that was on his mind, but rather mercy. If we’ll give it we’ll get it. And we’ll get it “pressed down, shaken together and running over”! I don’t know about you, but that’s how much mercy I need.
Thirdly, what about his statement, “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”? It might sound spiffy at offering time to say that if we toss a thimble-full in the plate, we’ll get back a thimble full in our bank account. But if we give a truck load, God will back up a dump truck full of money and unload it on us! But the thing is, it’s just not what Jesus was talking about here.
We only have record of him using this figure of speech about the “measure” two other times. The first one is in Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. It’s the same context as in Luke 6, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2) There as in Luke Jesus was talking about our judgmental attitude, not about our giving at offering time.
The other place he used the metaphor was in Mark 4:24 where he said, “Consider carefully what you hear. With the measure you use, it will measured to you – and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” The theme there is clearly not about giving money or material things, but about paying attention to what the Spirit is saying to us – “how we hear.” If we give him give him more attention (not necessarily more money) he will give us more revelation (not necessarily more money back).
“Yeah, well, what about the promise to pour his blessings into our ‘laps’”? If you’ll look up all the passages in the Bible that use this figure of speech you’ll find that it never signifies a lap full of money!
Am I arguing against trusting God to provide for us financially? No way! I have to all the time and he provides for me often out of no where. Does this mean that the Bible doesn’t teach tithing and giving? It most certainly does. I believe it and practice it regularly. Am I saying that there is no correlation between our generosity and God being able to trust us with more so we can give more? Of course there is a correlation. But does he promise abundant riches to everyone who tithes and gives offerings to their church or favorite ministries? I don’t think you can prove that from anywhere in the Bible, and absolutely not from this passage.
So if you’re the offering taker at your church, please find another verse to preface your prayer. The Bible’s a big book that contains plenty of other worthy alternatives. If you’re not, you might consider a stealthy tweet or email with this URL to the one who does.
To end on a positive note, I couldn’t improve on The Message version of this passage…
“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failure, criticize their faults – unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back – given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”