The Law of Reciprocity
The generous soul will be made rich, And he who waters will also be watered himself.
There are plenty of times when life confuses us, but God has orchestrated the world so that many things are amazingly predictable. The laws of nature include cycles of weather and rhythms of planting and harvest. In human relationships, too, we find easily identifiable principles at work. One of these is the law of reciprocity: People get back what they give out.
The book of Proverbs contains a number of examples of this law. Anger expressed results in angry replies, and kindness offered is rewarded with kindness received. The way we handle our resources, too, produces reciprocal responses. Here and in other passages in the Old and New Testaments, we find the remarkable principle that generosity will be rewarded in kind. To make the point crystal clear, Solomon, in the verse above, says the same thing in two different ways.
To guard against a selfish, mechanistic approach, Solomon includes the small but critical element: “The generous soul will be made rich.” God wants His people to be generous at the deepest level of their hearts, caring for people and His Kingdom instead of looking for a great return on an investment. A great return is promised, but only for those who give with willing, gracious, full hearts of thankfulness. Those who give generously and gladly don’t care as much about the promise of return. They are far more interested in using their resources to make a difference. If the return takes a while, they aren’t flustered, and if God takes them through a time of difficulty, they accept, like Job, both blessing and adversity.
The law of reciprocity is a principle God instituted to bless us, but He’s more interested in the attitude of our hearts than the numbers on a check.
Goodness is the only investment that never fails.
Henry David Thoreau
The secret to leading a fulfilled life is to serve others. Jesus spoke about this to the disciples when describing His purpose here on earth.
“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles have absolute power and lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them [tyrannizing them]. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your [willing and humble] slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many [paying the price to set them free from the penalty of sin].”
The disciples hadn’t yet learned the way of a blessed life. Their mind was still engaged in the thinking of the world around them. Everywhere they looked they saw people desiring wealth and power. From emperors and kings to the high priest and religious leaders, they had observed that almost everyone wanted such things. Not much has changed in our world today. It really wasn’t such a stretch for James and John to ask for elevated positions. In their minds at the moment, they believed that wealth and power satisfied life.
Jesus had come to show them and us another way. He knew that the greatest satisfaction one can receive is by generously giving and serving. Had not that been true from the beginning? Had not God in His desire to give created humans to share all He had with? Isn’t that the whole plan of God? As we read the story of creation and hear God proclaim that everything created was good, we must pause and ask why did He create it all? Genesis tells us that it was for Adam and Eve and their descendants. But into the world came the devil who brought the question. Does God really love you and will He really take care of you and bless you with what you need? That’s the question that affects whether we will be generous servants or whether we will seek wealth and position. If we come to know the love of God and the generosity of God we can trust that He will always take care of us so we have no need to hold on to all our possessions from fear of lack. When we know that God unconditionally loves us we have no need of seeking positions that some believe makes them more important. When we believe that God is just and faithful we can become willing servants-to God and others- because we know at the end of the day God will bless us wherever He places us.
What a release and freedom we experience when we give and when we serve. Someone has said that there’s no greater feeling than that of when we have served someone else or when we have given a gift. It’s almost addictive. I think the reason for such feeling is that in that moment we are acting a little like God and that gives back to us such pleasure.
Giving and serving aren’t always easy for sometimes God asks us to give beyond what we believe is our capability. In His wisdom He knows that when we go to that limit we are growing our faith to trust Him more and we are creating room for greater blessings. Most of the time it’s not an investment return(giving to get), but teaching us to let go of things that keep us stressed. Those who hold to wealth and position as their source often walk in fear and stress because they are afraid of losing what they have gained but those whose trust is in God know that they have an unfailing Source.
Jesus was clear in this matter. Just as He came to serve rather than to be served, likewise as Christians we also are called to the same life. None of us could ever be at the level of Christ and since He is God, to be served would be a normal response from His followers. Without stretching the point at all, Jesus could have rightfully sought to be exalted and served. Paul in writing to the Philippians encourages them to “have the mind of Christ.”
“Have this same attitude in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus [look to Him as your example in selfless humility], who, although He existed in the form and unchanging essence of God [as One with Him, possessing the fullness of all the divine attributes—the entire nature of deity], did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or asserted [as if He did not already possess it, or was afraid of losing it]; but emptied Himself [without renouncing or diminishing His deity, but only temporarily giving up the outward expression of divine equality and His rightful dignity] by assuming the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men [He became completely human but was without sin, being fully God and fully man]. After He was found in [terms of His] outward appearance as a man [for a divinely-appointed time], He humbled Himself [still further] by becoming obedient [to the Father] to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also [because He obeyed and so completely humbled Himself], God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow [in submission], of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess and openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord (sovereign God), to the glory of God the Father.”
This is the law of reciprocity in it’s purest example. Only because Christ “emptied Himself” did He earn the “name above every name.” We will never achieve to that level but in as much as lies within us, we can attain to the level that God has called us to. Today would be a great day to choose to become a generous servant. I’m sure if that’s your heart, God will provide opportunities for you to give and serve. You’ll be glad you did!
Dr. John Thompson