The forgotten meaning of giving and receiving

Ruth meets Boaz. No one ever became poor by giving. Giving and receiving

Ruth Meets Boaz / Edward Burne-Jones, 1879

It’s more blessed to give than to receive. But God is such a generous giver that we receive all the time. And in fact, what we receive depends very much on what we give.

Unfortunately, we concentrate so much on material things that we easily forget how much else giving and receiving means.

Let’s take a look at one of Jesus’ teachings on the subject:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 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. Luke 6:37-38, NIV

The image of someone pouring something into our laps can easily focus our attention on the material. But the sentence about giving and receiving directly follows references to judging, condemning, and forgiving.

We can turn the negative commands into positive statements. Give judgment and you will receive judgment. Give condemnation and you will receive condemnation. Then he says forgive and you will be forgiven. So we can say, give love, hate, honor, disrespect, kindness, rudeness, etc., and that’s what you’ll receive.

If it were only so simple that if we love someone, that person will love us back. Or if we respect someone, that person will respect us back. Sad experience teaches otherwise.

So what did Jesus mean?

A case study of giving and receiving, part 1

helping a stranger. Giving and receiving

Helping a stranger

The prophet Elisha apparently traveled an established circuit. It frequently took him to the town of Shunem.

One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat. She said to her husband, “I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.”

One day when Elisha came, he went up to his room and lay down there. He said to his servant Gehazi, “Call the Shunammite.” So he called her, and she stood before him. Elisha said to him, “Tell her, ‘You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?’”

She replied, “I have a home among my own people.”

“What can be done for her?” Elisha asked.

Gehazi said, “She has no son, and her husband is old.”

Then Elisha said, “Call her.” So he called her, and she stood in the doorway. “About this time next year,” Elisha said, “you will hold a son in your arms.”

“No, my lord!” she objected. “Please, man of God, don’t mislead your servant!”

But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her. 2 Kings 4:8-17 NIV

How long did Elisha accept hospitality before he decided he wanted to give back? Maybe years. And the woman continued to give without expecting anything back. But long after she had given up on bearing children, Elisha promised her a son. And the son came right on schedule.

And they all lived happily ever after. Right? Unfortunately, no.

Part 2 of the case study

Elisha raising the son of the Shunammite. Giving and receiving

Elisha Raising the Son of the Shunammite / Frederic Leighton (1881)

The story continues in 2 Kings 4:18-37. Evidently the woman continued to support Elisha’s ministry as before. He still stayed in his special room when he came to town.

The boy grew up. When he was old enough to go to his father in the field, he had a tremendous headache.

A servant carried him back home, where he died in his mother’s arms. She took him to Elisha’s room and asked her husband for a donkey to go find Elisha. She didn’t tell him why.

When Elisha saw her in the distance, he sent his servant Gehazi to ask of everything was all right. She wisely didn’t trust him and said, “I’m fine.” But when she reached Elisha she fell at his feet in her distress. She didn’t even tell Elisha that the boy had died. Instead: “‘Did I ask you for a son, my lord?’ she said. ‘Didn’t I tell you, Don’t raise my hopes’?” (v. 28)

Elisha sent Gehazi ahead to lay his staff on the boy’s face. He and the mother followed. The boy was still dead when they arrived. Elisha lay on top of the boy, “mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands.” Eventually the boy came back to life.

The woman showed unusually strong faith. But what does her story tell us about giving and receiving?

  • She did not receive back the same thing she gave. How do we equate room and board with a son for a barren woman?
  • Yet the boy’s birth was a consequence of her hospitality.
  • She gave Elisha what he needed most from her. He gave her what she needed most from him.
  • Receiving a blessing does not mean we will have no problems regarding the gift.
  • God did not love the woman any more or any less when her son died.

This post has barely scratched the surface of the meaning of a story about a woman whose hospitality sprang from a deep commitment to God. She was not interested in being rewarded, but God is in the business of rewarding commitment, both in this life and the one to come. And so as her earthly reward, she received a son—twice.

What Jesus had to say about giving and receiving means, among other things, that we can’t calculate what we will get out of giving. We might not even recognize the connection between what we give and what we receive.

But we can’t get through life without giving something, either positive or negative. And we can’t give without receiving something comparable back.

Let’s be careful not to give judgment, condemnation, or anything else we don’t want! Let’s bless others and see what blessing we get in return.

Photo credits:
Ruth meets Boaz. Public domain. Found on Women in the Bible
Helping a stranger. Some rights reserved by Ed Yourdon
Elisha raising the son of the Shunammite. Public domain

When Christians ought to judge


Society acts like it’s a good thing! The church mustn’t.

Have you ever noticed that much of the American church today doesn’t like to mention sin?

Try saying aloud that something is sinful. If you’re not careful about what company you say it in, someone is bound to thunder, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

Why do they always quote it in King James? Simply because they have memorized it that way, and it becomes a handy club to beat up anyone who dares to criticize sin.

They have no clue that their use of the verse amounts to judgment of you, the one who dares to bring up the very idea of sin.

In fact, it’s a safe bet that these people can’t tell you the context of the quotation or whatever else the Bible might have to say about judgment. Including where it commands that we judge. Continue reading

New clothes for a new life

Gift wrappingDid you give or receive clothing for Christmas? God gives clothing, too. He always has. And if you gave or received underwear, God gives that, too.

When Adam and Eve sinned and became ashamed of their nakedness, they covered themselves with fig leaves.

Fig leaves aren’t very suitable clothing. They’re not sturdy enough to wear for very long, and I understand they’re itchy.

God clothed them in the skins of animals. But first, they had to take off their useless old clothes. Continue reading

The sin in Jesus’ family tree: why the virgin birth of Jesus was necessary

Adoration of the Shepherds / Murillo. virgin birth of Jesus

Adoration of the Shepherds / Bartolomé-Esteban Murillo, ca. 1650

Matthew describes the virgin birth of Jesus from Joseph’s viewpoint in Matthew 2. Have you ever studied the first chapter of Matthew? Most Christians probably skip it. It seems like nothing but a boring genealogy.

But let’s pay some attention. Matthew mentions four women in the first six verses. And all four names recall stories of sin.

Jesus had to be born sinless, live a sinless life, and die as a perfect and unblemished sacrifice. Everyone from Cain and Abel onward has been conceived and born in sin.

And that’s not because they were conceived through sexual union. God planned for that from the beginning. But when Adam and Eve fell into sin, they could only pass on to their children the sin nature they had acquired.

So first, let’s look at those four women to see why Matthew thought them worth mentioning. Then we can see what God did to make sure Jesus would be fit to save us.  Continue reading

Oh how I love your—law?

Moses / Michelangelo

Moses / Michelangelo

We Christians love God. We sing of our love for God in hundreds of hymns and praise choruses. But have you ever thought about what it is about him you love?

Somehow, I suspect many Christians would come up with a long list before they ever echoed the psalmist:

Oh, how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandments have made me wiser than my enemies,
for they are continually with me. – Psalm 119:97-98 ( all references from MEV)

I have no idea how many times I read past that verse before I noticed a problem: It’s easy to love promises and attributes. But how do we really love commandments? Continue reading

Insidious weeds: a curse of garden and mind

weed-dandelion-pixabaySuggest that some natural disaster represents God’s judgment, and people will fall all over themselves condemning how judgmental you are. After all, God is love. But God is also judge.

And he’s also Father. Disobeying any father always has consequences.

No one can connect whichever natural disaster is currently in the headlines with any particular judgment.

So I’d like to suggest a sign of judgment, indeed a sign of a curse, we all know.

Weeds. Continue reading

Is God an angry taskmaster? Don’t be fooled by stinking thinking

Cain Fleeing from the Wrath of God (The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve) / William Blake c. 1805-1809

Cain Fleeing from the Wrath of God (The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve) / William Blake c. 1805-1809

God has a reputation as an angry taskmaster who’s difficult to please. He has a bunch of rules and punishes anyone who falls afoul of them. He lives in a place called heaven. Everyone wants to go there, but it’s hard to be good enough.

A cursory reading of the Bible confirms this picture. A careful reading reveals an entirely different picture.

Actually comparing the Bible with other ancient literature confirms the truth: God is love. He prefers mercy to wrath and grace to judgment.

These days, too many people don’t even bother with a cursory reading of the Bible. They take other people’s word for it that God, if they’ll admit he even exists, is completely unreasonable.

If they read the Bible at all, they’ll only look for evidence that confirms their prejudice. They’ll read right past all the evidence of God’s love and mercy, because they’re not looking for it. That’s stinking thinking. Continue reading

Peter, Rhoda, and feeble unbelief


Rhoda leaves Peter outside the door -- peter freed from prison

Rhoda leaves Peter outside the door

Peter was miraculously delivered from prison. He had more trouble getting into a prayer meeting.

The story is told in Acts 12. It has a haunting resemblance to Jesus’ first resurrection appearance. In both cases, people who should have had faith show the sin of unbelief instead.

The chapter opens with the murder of James, one of Jesus’ inner circle.

The king apparently planned to follow it by executing Peter after a public show trial. Passover interfered with his plans, so he put Peter in prison under heavy guard.

Peter had no apprehension the night before his scheduled death. He was sound asleep, handcuffed to two guards. An angel had to be rough with him to wake him up. He got dressed and followed the angel in a stupor until he was safe from pursuit. The angel vanished. Peter, fully awake by now, went where he knew he’d find friends Continue reading

Judgment, grace, and natural disasters

Earthquake damaged houseRecord drought in California. Record flooding in Louisiana. Earthquake in Italy. Insurance companies call these and other natural disasters “acts of God.”

Is God trying to tell us something?

Someone, it seems, always comes out of the woodwork to say that a particular disaster God’s judgment on—take your pick—homosexuality, abortion, taking prayer out of schools, or whatever other issue riles them.

It’s not. Continue reading

Finishing well: running for better than gold

Running a race. Finishing well

Finish of a women’s 100 m race

Was Paul a sports fan? He at least had an active interest in races.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.

Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NASB

Continue reading