"Pay It Forward"

Luke 6:27-38; Galatians 5:22-23

Jim Davis

Pay It Forward, is a movie about a seventh grader’s ingenious plan to make a difference in the world. On the first day of school, Trevor McKinney (played by Haley Joel Osment) and his classmates are challenged by their social studies teacher, Mr. Simonet (played by Kevin Spacey), to change the world. Written on the blackboard, the challenge reads: "Think of an idea to change our world—and put it into action." While most children disinterestedly slouch in their desks, Trevor is mesmerized by the possibility of changing the world.

As Trevor rides his dirt bike back to the modest home in which he and his struggling, alcoholic mom live, he detours to a place where the homeless gather. An unkempt, unshaven man devouring a chocolate cookie catches Trevor’s eye. Motivated by his teacher’s challenge, Trevor invites the man to come and sleep in his garage. Trevor’s mother (played by Helen Hunt) is unaware of this arrangement until she awakens one evening to find the homeless man working on her broken-down pickup. Holding the man at gunpoint, she asks him to explain himself. He starts the truck to show her that he has successfully repaired it and tells her about Trevor’s kindness. He says, "Somebody comes along like your son and gives me a leg up, I’ll take it. I can’t mess up again, or I’ll be dead. I’m just paying it forward." Quizzically, Trevor’s mom asks, "What’s paying it forward?"

The next day Trevor explains to his class his amazing plan of paying it forward. Mr. Simonet and Trevor’s classmates are enthralled by Trevor’s idea. To explain his plan, he draws a circle and explains, "That’s me." Underneath it, he draws three other circles, saying, "That’s three other people. I’m going to help them, but it has to be something really big—something they can’t do for themselves. So I do it for them, and they do it for three people. That’s nine people." And nine lives turn into 27.

As the movie proceeds, "paying it forward" changes the lives of the rich, the poor, the homeless, and a prisoner.

The Bible emphatically teaches that we in a very real sense pay life forward through sowing and reaping.

"Give and It Shall Be Given to You."

The Bible fully supports the idea that God blesses those who bless others.

Genesis 12:2-3
2 "I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you." NIV

Jesus taught that life is reciprocal in that we receive what we have given to others.

Luke 6:27-38
27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 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." NIV

These verses definitely teach us that we in a very real sense pay life forward. Jesus says, "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?" Salvation is not meritorious. It is an act of grace without merit, but we must realize that our works do have merit. Here, there seems to be the idea that you will be given credit for what you do. But the surety of payday is stated even more clearly when Jesus says, "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." This promise is not limited to finances; it embraces our relationships with others also.

Paul refers to this as reaping what we sow.

Galatians 6:6-10
6 Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.

7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. NIV

Paul mentions the financial rewards of sowing and reaping.

2 Corinthians 9:6-11
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. NIV

Paying it Forward Requires Faith in God

Hebrews 11:4 says, "By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain." Here the writer of Hebrews goes back to the very first description of worship in the Bible - that of Cain and Abel. It says that Abel's offering was better by faith. We read in Genesis 4:3-5:

"So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. And Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard."

Students of the Bible differ widely on the reason for God accepting the one offering and rejecting the other. It has been suggested that the issue was that of a blood offering vs. a vegetable offering. While I cannot deny that may have been the case, that isn't what is mentioned. The "firstlings of the flock" would be the first born - the very first animals of the herd's increase. Whenever the Bible speaks of the first of the vegetable harvest, it refers to the "first fruits," the very first harvest brought to the barn. No "first fruit" is mentioned here in regard to Cain's offering. It may just be that Abel's offering was accepted because he gave God the first of His increase, not knowing if there would be any more animals born. Cain, on the other hand, may have waited until he had his harvest in the barn, then he cut out some of the increase for God. It takes very little faith to give out of your abundance. It takes great faith to give all that you have to date! (David Redick, The Greatest Risk of You Life, Preacher’s Study, http://www.Preacherstudy.com)

The issue of giving the first fruits or the "firstlings of the flock" is that you don't know if anything else is going to come in! You can see the risk in that. That's where the faith is! (David Redick, The Greatest Risk of You Life, Preacher’s Study, http://www.Preacherstudy.com)

Florence Nightengale said, "If I could give you information of my life it would be to show how a woman of very ordinary ability has been led by God in strange and unaccustomed paths to do in His service what He has done in her. And if I could tell you all, you would see how God has done all, and I nothing. I have worked hard, very hard, that is all; and I have never refused God anything." (Florence Nightengale, quoted in My Heart Sings. Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 5.)

Receiving mercy depends upon us showing mercy.

Matthew 5:7
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. NIV

James 2:12-13
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! NIV

A man told of his experience on an airplane flight. As the plane loaded up, a woman with two small children came down the aisle to take the seat right in front of us. And behind her, another woman. The two women took the A and C seats, and one of the children sat in the middle seat, and the second child was on the lap of one of the women. I figured these were two mothers traveling together with their kids, and I hoped the kids wouldn’t be noisy.

The flight started, and my prayer wasn’t answered. The two children had a tough time. The air was turbulent, the children cried a lot—their ears hurt—and it was a miserable flight. I watched as these two women kept trying to help and comfort these children. The woman at the window played with the child in the middle seat, trying to make her feel good and paying lots of attention.

I thought, these women get a medal for what they are doing. But things went downhill from there. As we got towards the last part of the flight, the child in the middle seat got sick. The next thing I knew she was losing everything from every part of her body. The diaper wasn’t on tight, and before long a stench began to rise through the cabin. It was unbearable!

I could see over the top of the seat that indescribable stuff was all over everything. It was on this woman’s clothes. It was all over the seat. It was on the floor. It was one of the most repugnant things I had seen in a long time.

I watched as the woman next to the window patiently comforted the child and tried her best to clean up the mess and make something out of a bad situation. The plane landed, and when we pulled up to the gate all of us were ready to exit that plane as fast as we could. The flight attendant came up with paper towels and handed them to the woman in the window seat and said, "Here, Ma’am, these are for your little girl."

The woman said, "This isn’t my little girl."

"Aren’t you traveling together?"

"No, I’ve never met this woman and these children before in my life."

Suddenly I realized this woman had just been merciful. A lot of us would have just died in this circumstance. She had found the opportunity to give mercy. She was, in the words of Christ, "the person who was the neighbor."

This would be a great turn around for the vast majority today. It's a new year. Has the human condition changed? On New Year's Day 2002, passers-by robbed the body of a Las Vegas woman killed after she was hit by three vehicles. Las Vegas police said the first two vehicles that struck 42-year-old Lynette Spiller drove away. While Spiller's body was pinned under the third car, passers-by combed through her purse, wallet, and backpack. Detective Doug Nutton said one person later gave police Spiller's identification card, saying it had been found elsewhere. Police said Spiller was jaywalking, but the drivers of the first two cars could be charged with felony hit-and-run. The driver of the third car stopped.

People in our culture take notice when we care for the needs of others. (Don Argue, Leadership, Vol. 14, no. 2.)

We can prove our faith by our commitment to it and in no other way. Any belief that does not command the one who holds it is not a real belief--it is only a pseudo-belief. It might shock some of us profoundly if we were suddenly brought face-to-face with our beliefs and forced to test them in the fires of practical living. (A.W. Tozer in This World: Playground or Battlefield? Christianity Today, Vol. 35, no. 4.)

Ecclesiastes says, "Cast your bread upon the surface of the water and you shall find it after many days." Faith is hardest of all on all those days that come between our throwing our bread and the end of God's definition of "many days!"


The best preparation you can make for the future is to start paving a smooth road into the future by paying for it in advance.

I sat down beside a young man that was holding a book titled, "The Living Buddha; The Living Christ." I ask him about the book. He said the book compared the teaching of Christ and the teaching of Buddha. We talked briefly about the comparisons of Christ’s and Buddha’s teaching. I said, "You know, Christ and Buddha taught that the deeds you do will come back to you." He said, Buddha described it as creating good or bad karma." Karma is described as the total effect of a person's actions and conduct during the successive phases of the person's existence, regarded as determining the person's destiny.

I said, "Christ presented it as reaping what we sow." He agreed. I mentioned that the only problem with Buddha’s teaching was that he did not offer much in the hereafter, but Christ resurrected from the dead. He mentioned that Buddha believed in reincarnation, but he thought that was pretty far fetched. He said that he was studying this book to develop a faith in himself by using this principle of creating good for himself by doing good. He was ultimately trying to develop a faith in himself, but a faith in ourselves can take us no further than ourselves, for it is motivated by selfishness.

I believe the principle of sowing and reaping works for everyone, but it is only through becoming a Christian that we reap the eternal consequences of paying it forward. Christ asks us to make a selfless sacrifice, i.e., a sacrifice that excludes self, but ultimately benefits self.

John 12:23-26
23 Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. NIV

Baptism is about sowing and reaping. In baptism we allow the kernel of life to be buried in God through Christ. It is where we make a pledge to live life forward, to pay in advance for the kind of future we desire realizing that we are going to reap what we sow.