Quite often the words of Jesus in Luke 6:38 are used to encourage believers to give generously.
Luke 6:38 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.”
Among the most prominent of such preachers at one time was Jim Bakker of the PTL ministry. In the 1980s, he raised many millions of dollars from Christians for his religious empire. Based on his interpretation of Luke 6:38, Bakker promised investors that God would bless them financially many times over in this life on earth if they gave to support the ministry of PTL.
In 1987 a well-known scandal over broke out over Bakker’s use of PTL funds, and eventually he was sent to prison. While in prison he experienced a profound change of heart and mind. Eventually he wrote a book entitled I Was Wrong in which he publicly repented of his attitude toward money and how he raised funds from God’s people using Scripture.
Now let us examine the context of Luke 6:38 so that we can properly interpret Jesus’ teaching.
Luke 6:35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 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.”
The context is clearly not about finances, but rather loving one’s enemies and being merciful to them. If we do not judge or condemn them but rather forgive them, then our Father will do likewise for us. He will not judge us, He will not condemn us, and He will forgive us. As we do for our enemies, he will do for us. “Give, and it will be given to you.” “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Therefore Luke 6:38 should not be used as a basis for encouraging people to give. Other Scriptures which are often cited to encourage God’s people to give are taken from 2 Corinthians 9.
2 Corinthians 9:6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:
“ He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
Here Paul the apostle describes giving to God’s work as sowing seed. Whoever sows generously will also reap generously, and conversely. But what is it exactly that we shall reap? Verse ten tells us that God will “increase our store of seed” and “enlarge the harvest of our righteousness.” According to this, therefore, we will reap more seed which of course is to be sown again,and also reap a greater harvest of righteousness. What is this “harvest of righteousness”? We shall see. Then verse 11 tells us that we can be generous on every occasion since God will increase our store of seed in this life.
By sowing seed, therefore, we will reap even more seed to sow in this life. And what is the eventual result of all this sowing? It is an enlarged harvest of righteousness for us. What does this mean, and where will we see it?
Paul gives the answer in his first letter to Timothy.
1 Timothy 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Here we discover the meaning of the “harvest of righteousness” to which Paul referred in 1 Corinthians. When wealthy believers give generously to God in obedience, they are laying up treasure for themselves in heaven. This will be a firm foundation for them in the coming age, where they will take hold of the life that is truly life.
This is the scriptural basis for giving to God. We should not see giving primarily in terms of giving to get more back from Him on earth, but rather giving as laying up treasure in heaven. Our primary goal in giving should ultimately be to reap a greater harvest of righteousness—and accompanying reward—for ourselves in the coming age.
It is reasonable to conclude that this applies not only to wealthy believers, but to every believer who is called to give to the work of God.
Let us give therefore not primarily to get back in this life, but rather to reap a harvest in the coming everlasting age. Whatever we get back from God in this life will be used up and gone. But our harvest in the coming age will be eternal. Therefore let us not be shortsighted and think only in terms of giving for the sake of short-term earthly gain.
This is not returning to salvation by works. No, it is by grace we have been saved, through faith—not by works, so that no one can boast. We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10). God has prepared some believers to do good works like supporting the work of His kingdom. When we obey and do these good works, there is a reward for us in the coming age.
Revelation 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.