Reciprocity


Luke 6:37-38


It was a beautiful day. It was not too hot, I am guessing, but if it was too hot people would have fainted from the heat. It was not windy, if it was windy the huge crowd would not have been able to hear His voice. Jesus walked and talked with the twelve every day, but occasions like this occurred only a few times. Huge crowds followed Him and He taught constantly. But this time, He was in a natural amphitheater where His voice would carry and the crowd was exceptionally large. 

Jesus sat for His lecture (Matthew 5:1), and He presented central truths for kingdom living. The truths He taught summarized the law and gave practical ways to apply the law. 

The kingdom is God’s kingdom. Living in the kingdom of God means one must obey or please God and get along with his fellow citizens. The law addresses these two different aspects of kingdom life by commanding love for God and love for our neighbor.

Loving our neighbors is an important part of kingdom living.

Since I brought up the kingdom, I want to define what I am talking about. The kingdom of God has both “now” and “not yet” aspects. When we ask Jesus to be our Savior, the Holy Spirit joins us to the Body of Christ. We become children of the kingdom. Right now, at this very moment, all of us who are children of God through faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ, are participating in, and are citizens of, the kingdom of God. The kingdom is a present reality, and we are to live as citizens of that kingdom. However, the kingdom is not of this world. The world is under the dominion of a different prince who is in opposition to, at war with, our prince. A time is coming, and is close at hand, when the prince of this world will be bound and our prince, Jesus, will come and rule on this earth. Then our “not yet” will become the “now” and the reality of that day. 

When Jesus reigns on earth, there will be justice and peace throughout the entire world. The earth will be prosperous as never before in history with no poverty, and life spans will be absurdly long. These things are coming but are not here yet. We are citizens of this kingdom and as such, our prince expects us to live by His laws.

It is important to understand that living by these laws does not make us citizens, and breaking these laws does not remove our citizenship. We are citizens by grace through faith. In other words, our citizenship is a gift because we believe in Jesus. Our citizenship is not lost if we break the law, but we are accountable to our king. He will ask us what we have done with our citizenship.

This time of inquiry, called judgment, is part of the reason these teachings of Jesus are so important. We will be asked to give an account of our lives. Jesus and the New Testament are not bashful about talking about rewards and treasures stored up in heaven.

Our king has told us we must love our neighbor. This is not optional. Love is mandatory.

As Jesus sat on the hillside that day along the shores of Galilee, He was not giving spiritual platitudes, but rather He was giving practical insight into how relationships work. As Jesus sat overlooking the Sea of Galilee, He taught us how to live in God’s creation. Part of this is to recognize the law of reciprocity. We find this in Luke 6:38 where Jesus says:
For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38 ESV)

What measure is He talking about?

If you purchase dry goods such as grain by the measure, say like a cup or a quart or even a bushel, shaking the measure will cause the contents to settle and then the measuring cup, bucket or basket will be able to hold more. When I make a bulk purchase and the seller shakes and fills the measure to its fullest possible capacity, I am pleased. I am pleased because I believe that the seller is trying to do right by me.

However, while the market place is definitely affected by this principle, Jesus is not teaching for the market place. He is teaching for the kingdom. The measure you use being measured back to you is talking about reciprocity. Wikipedia says the following about reciprocity:
 In social psychology, reciprocity is a social norm of responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions.

I would add to this definition that reciprocity is more than a social norm. It is a principle established by God at work in the universe and in relationships. While the definition speaks of kind actions, reciprocity works for unkind actions as well. Many of us learned this with our siblings and then had it confirmed for us in school. When we were children, if I punched my brother, I was sure to receive a blow in return. And I usually got back more than I gave. My brother is a nice guy and he believes in paying back with interest.

Jesus gave us several examples of how this works. 

First, He said,
Judge not, and you will not be judged; (Luke 6:37 ESV)

Consider the opposite of this statement. Implied here is that if you do judge you will be judged. This is the meaning of: “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

This teaching follows immediately after Jesus’ statement:
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36 ESV)

Even though being merciful and not judging are closely related, at this point in the discourse Jesus is changing focus. He has been teaching that we are to love our enemies and do good to those who would harm us, and now he is adding to this our relationship with God. Practically speaking, reciprocity works everywhere, among unbelievers and believers alike. But this thing about judging becomes ominous because God is the final and only true judge. If we blame and criticize other people, they will turn and blame and criticize us right back. However, God says:
Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. (Romans 12:19 ESV)

Now, that is scary! God will do the “payback”! In another place it says:
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12 ESV)

This passage raises a lot of issues, but I want to zero in on one subject. Notice first that it says there is only one lawgiver and judge and that is God. Therefore, if we set ourselves up as judge, we set ourselves up as God. As God, we have authority to fix blame and assess damages and inflict punishments. We don’t view ourselves as equal with others; rather we believe we are superior. Oh, we would never say it, but this is what this passage in James teaches us and this is also borne out by life, experience and study. Because of the law of reciprocity, when we treat others this way, we inspire or even cause them to act the same way toward us. I am not saying we are responsible for their behavior, only that we invite and even encourage them to judge, blame and criticize us in return for our doing the same to them.

Please follow me closely here and see if you disagree. If, for example, I judge my wife as being unreasonable and demanding, I have a corresponding need to justify myself. After all, I am judge and my judgments must be right. So, without knowing it, I set her up to be unreasonable and demanding as far as I am concerned. No matter what she does, I will find fault and proof that she is actually unreasonable and demanding. We do this to ourselves all the time and are blind to it because we tend to find fault with others and in so doing fail to look at ourselves and our part of the problem.

Others have problems, but as Jesus says in some of the verses that follow the passage we are considering, we cannot see clearly to pull the sliver out of another’s eye if we have a log in our own. This is a key concept. The only person you can control is yourself. The only person I can control is myself. But if I am focused on others and their faults, then I am not looking at me and my faults.

The key to stopping a vicious cycle of judging, blaming, criticizing and conflict is to stop judging. This is easier said than done, but there is a concept that can help. We can purposely begin to view people as equals, as having opinions, needs and feelings just as valid as ours. If we place ourselves in the place of gods and judges, the opinions, needs and feelings of others are not considered nor are they deemed as important as our own Loving your neighbor as yourself assumes that your neighbor is just as important as you are.

Now we have set the stage for the rest of what Jesus says in Luke 6:37-38. He says:
Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:37-38 ESV)

When we condemn, we pass down a judgment or punishment in an exact or personal manner. The condemnation is the sentence imposed by our judgment.  This punishment inspires a response with interest from our fellow human beings, but what about God whose place it is to take vengeance? Do we think that God will recognize our authority or right to pass judgment on those who do the same things we do? When we judge and condemn others, we deceive ourselves in the worst possible way.

There is a positive side to the law of reciprocity and Jesus points out two acts of generosity and love that pay great dividends. First, He says, “...forgive and you will be forgiven.” In another place, Jesus says that if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us. Forgiveness leaves vengeance in the hands of the One to whom it belongs, God. Forgiveness also recognizes that I also have offended, hurt or caused damage to others for which I need to be forgiven lest I be condemned by the One lawgiver and judge. Forgiveness is an essential part of loving my neighbor as myself.


The second act of generosity Jesus points out is giving. If others have needs as legitimate as mine, then it only follows that I would give of what is mine to help meet those needs. It might be as simple as giving up my seat for someone who physically needs it more than I need it. It might be as generous as risking my life to protect the life of one weaker than myself. Jesus is the ultimate example of this in that He laid down His life to save us. This kind of generosity is not unknown in the world. Soldiers will give their lives for their friends. Policemen and firemen risk their lives for others. Doctors and nurses risk exposure to viruses and diseases for others. These risk physical life, but what about souls? People are eternal beings. Every single person will exist forever, either in heaven or in hell. What are we willing to risk for the souls of people? Can we consider ourselves generous if we are willing to let the lost perish when we have comfortable retirements saved up but no missionaries in our budgets? Can we consider ourselves generous when we can afford cable television and cell phones for the family, but cannot give 10% to God’s work? We need to examine our priorities in view of the kingdom and our place in it. You may be doing all that God has asked of you as a good steward and know that God will be the one to reward and recognize your generosity. But many of us deceive ourselves into thinking we are doing all that we can and in so doing miss out on the return that God promises, good measure, pressed down and running over. 

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