Saturday, 4 November 2017


Jesus said, “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 6:38

As you look at your life, can you think of people who have shown you great generosity?

I certainly can. In fact, I find myself wondering how I would have managed without them. I thank God for them.

Generosity can take many forms. The most obvious one is money, or material things in general: people who give or lend when our need is great. But there are other types too: generosity with time, with emotional support, with sympathy and understanding, with hospitality, with forgiveness when we’ve behaved badly. To this day I still shake my head with gratitude as I think of people who were generous to me for no particular reason even many years ago.

When we think of the generosity of others we’re bound (I hope, anyway) to ask ourselves how generous we are. Well, if Jesus’ words here mean anything at all, an ungenerous Christian is a contradiction in terms. “Give,” he says, and then adds some words to encourage us to do so.

He uses an illustration which perhaps for many of us today doesn’t immediately connect. He talks about a “measure”, presumably of grain, “pressed down, shaken together and running over” being poured into our “lap”. (Wouldn’t it all just fall to the ground? – especially if we are wearing trousers.)

We have to imagine, perhaps, a Palestinian market-place in the ancient world – or, indeed, a market-place in many parts of the modern world. Your “lap” was a kind of pouch formed by a flap on the front of your tunic (the older versions translate lap as “bosom”). Think kangaroo.

A modern equivalent might be a large sum of money transferred electronically into your bank account – or a home-cooked meal in a bag on your doorstep.

Whatever, Jesus tells us to be generous. And he adds that word of encouragement. Putting it crudely, it’s in your own interest, because you will get back even more in return: “Give, and it shall be given to you… with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”.

Great stuff! But I think we need to be careful as we read this. For two reasons…

First, we mustn’t think that Jesus is encouraging us to give in a calculating way: “Right, I suppose I had better be generous, then, because if I’m not I won’t get anything back in return.”

No! the Bible tells us that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Perhaps Paul here is drawing on the Old Testament. In Exodus 25:2 we read that offerings should be received from “everyone whose heart prompts them”, not from anyone who’s looking after their own interests. In the same way, the people of Israel are told to give “without a grudging heart” (Deuteronomy 15:10).

Generosity brings rich rewards, yes. But those rewards are a spin-off, a by-product, not a conscious incentive. We give, if we give at all, “asking for no reward, save that of knowing that we do God’s will”, as the Anglican prayer book put it.

Second, we mustn’t imagine, anyway, that what we get back will be in the same form as what we gave – that if we give lots of money, say, then we are bound to get even more money back.

Again, no (in spite of what some preachers are heard to say)! Material generosity might very well result in spiritual rewards. Christian history gives us examples of people who gave away even large fortunes – and who remained poor for the rest of their lives. But they never regretted it.

Sum it up like this… To get right to the heart of what Jesus is saying we need to stop thinking about acts of generosity alone; what he is really talking about is a whole attitude, a whole life-style.

We live in a world which emphasises getting, getting, getting. But Jesus calls us to a whole new life of giving, giving, giving. And that results in a happy, cheerful, joyful, care-free, adventurous mind-set.

Come to think of it, aren’t those the very characteristics which make the memories of the generous people I mentioned earlier so precious to us?

Let’s be generous, then! – not because of what we hope to get out of it, but simply because this is the way of Jesus, our generous Saviour.

Lord Jesus, please take away the fear of loss, please show me the misery that comes from being mean-spirited and tight-fisted, and so teach me the joy of generosity. Amen.

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