I have been fielding a number of questions and comments from a sermon preached this past Sunday. Are people actually listening? (By the way, I can see you texting in church!). Here's the manuscript. Radical generosity versus reciprocity.
The object of Monopoly is to become the wealthiest player through buying, renting and selling property. Monopoly is a system of reciprocity. You pay money, and you get a property in return. You lease your property, you get rent in return. The goal is to be the monopolist in control of the entire economy.
In many ways, our world is dominated by a system of reciprocity.
If I buy you lunch today, you’ve got next time.
If you give me an assist, I’ll pass the ball to you next time.
If you contribute to my campaign, I’ll advance your cause in the legislature.
And in a negative way:
If you punch me, I’ll punch you back.
If you don’t invite me to your party, I won’t invite you to mine.
If you won’t talk to me, I won’t talk to you.
In Luke 6, Jesus presents a radical alternative to the system of reciprocity. He takes the Monopoly board and turns it upside down.
Let me warn you. Jesus is going to make you uncomfortable. If Jesus doesn’t make you uncomfortable, you’ve haven’t been listening to him. The Bible is filled with things that I don’t like. And this is one of the reasons I believe the Bible is true. If the Bible just reinforced my likes and preferences, then it’s probably a man-made religion. God’s Word must challenge us. Because it’s God’s. He is God, and we are not. So it’s only natural that God’s ways would challenge us.
In Luke 6, Jesus presents two ways of living. One is the way of reciprocity.
Giving with the expectation of a return. “This for that.”
Love --------- those who love you (6:32)
Do Good ----- those who do good to you (6:33)
Lend --------- those who can repay (6:34)
In the 1st century, there was a system of benefactors. Benefactors had lots of resources and they would give those resources to those who had little to nothing. Benefactors would expect a return. On the one hand, it worked. But it was also abused. The benefactor could use their resources to exploit those with very little. They could give so much that it would enslave and own the borrower.
Jesus says, everyone – even sinners – operate in a reciprocal fashion. Even the wicked love people who love them. Even nasty people do good to those who show them good.
So then Jesus presents an alternative system, the way of radical generosity.
Give with no conditions or expectation of a return.
Love ----------------- enemies (6:27)
Do good ------------- those who hate you (6:27)
Bless ----------------- those who curse (6:28)
Pray ------------------ those who abuse you (6:28)
In a system of reciprocity, you would retaliate against your enemies, not love them. You would hate those who hate you. You would curse those who curse you. Which is why Jesus’ proposition is near inflammatory.
Jesus advocates a generosity that has no expectation of return. No conditions, qualifications, or strings attached. He calls his disciples to love, do good, bless, and pray for those who can offer them nothing in return. In fact, give to them and expect hatred and pain in return.
Your thoughts may be on ISIS right now. “How can I love ISIS? How can we do good to those who hate us?” Here is where generosity is tested.
Personally, I don’t pray for ISIS. I pray for people, those who are angry and blind. I pray for justice. God return their evil with wrath. I also pray for their repentance. After all, Saul was a murdering terrorist to the early Christians. Could God turn enemies into his agents? I pray for it. For a further discussion the particular topic of praying for ISIS, see Russell Moore’s post here.
Why would you ever be this radically generous?!!!!!
The text provides three reasons you might consider being radically generous:
Be Like Daddy.
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
“Even as” infers imitation. Young children watch and imitate their parents. You sip your beer, so does the toddler. You shave, he shaves. You tie a tie, he wants to tie a tie. You do, then he does. He says, “I want to be like daddy.”
In the same way, Jesus presents us as imitators of the heavenly Father. God is radically generous, so you will be as well. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
“Love your enemies, and do good, and give, expecting nothing in return . . and you will be children of the Most High” (Lk.6:35).
Notice that the use of familial language continues in this text. In verse 36, God is “Father.” In verse 35, you are “children, sons and daughters.” Parents say to their children, “You represent our family.” How you conduct yourself reflects on your upbringing. In the same way, you represent God in the world.
You are the sons and daughters of the Most High. You are recognized by the fact that you are different. You represent your family, the family of your Father in heaven. They will know who he is by looking at your life. Your generosity represents God.
There will always be more.
“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap” (Lk. 6:38).
We often think, “I can’t afford to give much away because I don’t have enough.” Or, “If I give that away, there won’t be anything left.” But here is a counterintuitive Biblical truth: Give away and there will be more. As you are generous, God’s generosity produces endless supply.
Jesus uses the example of a basket or sack of grain. It’s full. Then press it down and shake it so that the grain settles and you can pack as much as possible. It’s maxed out. And then, he says, there’s more. It’s running over.
With God, there’s a secret surplus. From out of nothing, he provides abundance. Only by faith can you believe there to be an invisible and unending source. When you hoard, you’ll find that you never have enough. When you give generously, you’ll find that you always have more.
Reach into your empty pocket and there’s always more. Help when you’re tired and you’ll discover Divine strength. Look for time when you have none and there will be extra minutes and hours. Share five loaves and two fish and two fish and it becomes a feast for thousands. With leftovers!
Where are you being reciprocal when you could be radically generous?
Your neighbor is inconsiderate. Their dog leaves treats in your yard. You’ve politely noted this trend, but it continues nonetheless. You feel like collecting it and putting it on their front porch, but you don’t. In fact, you resolve to be exceedingly generous by raking their yard and shoveling their driveway. You act with generosity, not reciprocity.
Joe’s brother blew up at him last Thanksgiving. In front of the family, he accused Joe of being a liar. He really owed Joe an apology, but Joe was exceedingly generous. He went to his brother’s house, knocked on the door, and asked for forgiveness. He acted with generosity, not reciprocity.
Jill has a friend who’s a single mom and whose life is a soap opera. In addition to helping with occasional bills, Jill will make meals for her friend. And she will spend an hour just listening to her friend on the phone. Jill’s husband rolls his eyes when her friend has a need again. She will never be repaid, but she keeps giving. She acts with generosity, not reciprocity.
I know that some of you are in severe situations where generosity is a hard choice. Where the call to be generous is tested by an enemy. Or by someone who curses you. It’s hard to be generous when you’ve been burned.
There’s a saying, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Here’s a warning. If you are going to truly be generous - like Jesus - you’re going to get punished.
People say that generosity gives them a good feeling. Or that being generous is supposed to make you happy. I disagree. The goal of generosity is not to be happy, or to feel good. The goal of generosity is to give what God has first given you. God is known for his radical generosity, and if you give like him, you will be punished.
Jesus Christ was radically, liberally, foolishly, wastefully generous. And his generosity got him punished. In fact, it got him killed. But thank God for his generosity! He was generous when he didn’t have to be. He was generous when we didn’t deserve it.
Thank God Jesus doesn’t play Monopoly. We’d lose every time. God isn’t reciprocal when it comes to our sins. So can I be generous? Only by looking to Jesus can I say, “Yes, I will love my enemies. Yes, I will give expecting no return.”