Pay It Forward
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Most people who know anything at all about the Bible are familiar with the teaching of Jesus:

Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).

These words are often used to stop gossip or harsh criticism of another person’s behavior. It’s easy to apply standards to others that we can’t live up to ourselves, so Jesus’ caution should never be far from our consciousness.

The following verse is less well known, but it adds an important dimension to Jesus’ meaning:

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

I’ve used the old King James Version because it follows the original Greek in repeating the key root words three times: judgment / judge / be judged; measure / mete / be measured (mete and measured come from the same root). Modern versions all streamline the wording a bit to avoid the awkward repetition, but Jesus used the repetition intentionally to emphasize his point. On any street today, you may hear, “What goes around, comes around.” People in the field of information technology may say cryptically “G.I.G.O,” which means “Garbage in, garbage out.” You can’t put out constant negatives and expect back a stream of positives.

The addition of the second combination of words, measure / mete / be measured, should serve to expand our thinking. “Measuring” is not necessarily a negative, limiting concept, and neither is “judging.” We can measure out a big piece of cake just as well as a small piece. And we can judge someone positively just as readily as we can judge them negatively. In a court of law we may be judged “guilty,” but we may also be judged “not guilty.” The only reason we put a negative spin on the word judge is because of our bad habit of being critical toward each other.

So, for a person who has internalized the spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, judging can become an act of forgiveness or grace. We have the ability to look at another person and see their glass as half full, rather than half-empty. And as we appreciate more clearly the favor God has shown on us, we may even begin to see their glass as 60%-full, or 75%-full. That’s judging, but it’s judging up rather than down.

The concept of karma which is important in Eastern religions, has found its way into Western thinking as well. It describes the way the cause-and-effect process, which is basic to the operation of natural laws, can also be observed in human experiences, including relationships between people. When we act in a certain way, there are predictable and inevitable consequences that will follow.

The television comedy series “My Name Is Earl” chronicles the attempts of a low-class petty criminal who decides to list all the wrongs he has done to people and, one-by-one, try to correct them (with uneven success). The show continued for four years, and Earl had not yet exhausted karma issues to deal with. The closing screen of the final episode reads “To Be Continued,” and that’s the way karma is, never completed, new cause-and-effect issues created every day.

The movie “Pay It Forward,” released in the year 2000, sets up a situation in which an eleven-year-old boy, with his teacher’s encouragement, does a social experiment: he does favors for three different people, asking that, instead of paying him back, each one “pay it forward” by doing something good for three other people. This kind of spiritual pyramid scheme has dramatic effects on people far and wide, for many years.

Jesus was instituting a very dynamic “pay it forward” program by his teachings and especially by his sacrificial death and resurrection. When we negatively judge each other in disobedience to him, we’re effectively breaking the chain of forgiveness and grace he began on the Cross.