“Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, [and] running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” – Luke 6:38
Maybe you have been to a Sunday morning worship service and have heard Luke 6:38 being read right before “tithes and offering.” It could be that you are familiar with this passage because some well-meaning Bible teacher utilized it to encourage you to increase your financial contributions to the local church. However, when we come to this text, one of the main inquiries we should make is “what are we to give?” Are we able to take the “it” of this verse and supply any meaning that we want. The general consensus in many evangelical assemblies is that the “it” of this text applies to money. Maybe you are of this same opinion.
If you believe the Bible is the word of God, then you are affirming that the meaning of Scripture rests in the mind of God. Therefore, we want to avoid at all possible cost, arriving at an understanding of the text that reduces His word to mere human opinion. Our concern is what did God mean when He wrote what He wrote? Another question which gets to the heart of the matter is what did a particular verse mean to those who first received it? Getting the answer to those questions will move us in the right direction in apprehending the sense of the passage.
It Doesn’t make Sense
When looking at Luke 6:38 in isolation from the surrounding context, you may be hard pressed to make any sense of it. I previously mentioned the term “it” as in “Give and it will be given to you.” The interpreter cannot possibly know what “it” is, without context. For example, if I told you “Send it.” or “Keep it.” Your response would be “Send what?” or “Keep what?” The reason being is simple. You have no idea what “it” is. You need context. The first rule of hermeneutics is “Context is king.” Context is the sine qua non of Bible interpretation. It is absolutely indispensable.
Roy B. Zuck has identified three reasons as to the importance of context. He states, “First, words, phrases, and clauses may have multiple meanings…and examining how they are used in a given context can help determine which of several meanings is more likely. Second, thoughts are usually expressed by a series of words or sentences, that is in association, not isolation. Third, false interpretations often arise from ignoring the context. (Basics of Bible Interpretation, p. 106)
All three of those observations are worth paying attention to. It matters that we get God’s word right. If you ignore the context, you will fall flat on your face when it comes to arriving at the correct understanding of any verse in Scripture. This is the most basic aspect of hermeneutics. So, with that in mind let us examine the context of Luke 6:38.
Now I See
First, we need to know where the beginning of this discourse is. One of the worst things you can do is come in on a conversation in the middle of it, walk away from it before it ends, and think you know what the whole of the dialogue was about. The majority of people do not start a good novel in the middle of a paragraph six chapters in. Because the Bible is literature, and more importantly the word of God, we desire to avoid such absurd introductions into its discourses as well. Therefore, we need to look for some sort of starting point. This is especially true of this passage because it is a monologue – Jesus talking with His disciples. How would I know that? Luke 6:20 denotes that Jesus “began to say.”
It becomes quite obvious that this is where we need to begin in order to understand v.38. This is what is known as the context of the paragraph (Zuck, 109). The significance of this contextual category is that it can make clear a term, an expression, or a sentence. This can be extremely helpful if there is a word that lacks clarity in the particular phrase you are studying. In our case, we are looking to find what is to be given, and what will be given back to the person who gives.
In verses 20 – 22, Jesus is laying out what is infamously known as the “Beatitudes” – a designation arising from the term “Blessed” in reference to the one doing whatever follows. Though not a Biblical term, the connotations are true. Some have rightly suggested that these are the attitudes you should be. The next section is words of warning (24 – 26). Christ delivers three admonitory “woes” to His listeners who are comfortable in the here and now, whether it be a reliance on wealth, being well-fed, or well spoken of. Verses 27 – 36 sets forth the disposition that Christians should have towards others with regards to what they posses.
As to the principle of “giving and receiving,” it is interesting that Christ would have His disciples give to people who are not inclined to give anything back – “enemies” (v.27; 35). Furthermore, Jesus says “lend and expect nothing in return (v. 35). There, the verse argues from the lesser to the greater. You are to give to those who do not deserve it because God, who is infinitely greater than man, gives to those who do not deserve it. God is “kind” to “ungrateful and evil men.” What sort of reception should we expect when we give to them? Continuing along that same train of thought is v.36 which states that the Father is merciful, so you ought to be merciful. Can you see it? The Christian is to give as God gives, expecting nothing in return apart from what sinners are prone to reciprocate. This giving is from sheer delight.
Verse 37 brings the reader into the immediate context. Notice the judicial language in this text. “Judge,” “condemn,” and “pardon,” are words used in courtroom settings. Do not judge, do not condemn; you are to pardon. From the context, we see that Christ’ disciples are being taught to take the “low road” so to speak. Therefore, when we get to the promise of v.38, there is recognition that though we give, we are to expect nothing from the recipients. This should be the attitude of the giver. What is to be given is what is not deserved. Contextually, we see that we are to treat everybody right. Doing good to others is not predicated on their fitness to receive it. Doing right to others is what should be done if you are a true disciple of Christ.
What follows in verses 39 – 45 makes this clear. “A pupil is not above his teacher;” (v.40). Ultimately, how we treat others is directly tied to how we will be treated. If we give with attitudes that do not expect receive – if we give kindness, mercy, and pardon to others, this is what will come back to us. Our giving is not for the purpose of gaining, but an abundant return is promised. Many times we hear this passage when its offering time, but to limit it to financial contributions is to miss the point of the passage. Among the weightier matters of the law, Christ mentions “mercy” along with “justice” and “faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23). This is what we cannot neglect to give, and when we give we should recognize that the best rewards come from God (Luke 6:35).