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

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