Bill McFarland

February 20, 2005


The other night in the sports news I heard a NASCAR driver being interviewed.  Apparently he was discussing some fellow driver who had that day in a race bumped another driver.  I gathered pretty easily as I listened to the fellow that he wasn’t very happy about that fellow driver’s habits, and he commented, “What I’ve learned about life is that what goes around comes around.  It may be a long time coming, but what goes around comes around!” 

It is interesting to me that Jesus used a rather similar sounding little proverb in his teaching.  It is a little principle that one writer has described as “an eternal law of God,” and it is something that Jesus used to teach individuals about how life works.  I believe the same idea would help a congregation to see how it needs to conduct itself in order to flourish.  This morning we are going to consider the law and then we will look at the applications the Lord himself made of it.

The Principle

The principle that I am talking about is found, as one example, in Mark 4 at the end of verse 24.  Jesus said, “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.”  Now focus in especially on that little phrase “with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”  It is a picture that apparently comes from the grain marketplace in the ancient Near East, where some type of scoop or container would be used as a measure for buying and selling grain.  The idea Jesus adopts from that says that in your practices and in your dealing with other people in life, you will find that whatever measure you use in dishing it out is the same measure that will be used in the way people respond to you and in the way you are treated. 

This little proverb stresses that one receives in life what he gives.  That tends to be the way life works.  There is a certain reciprocal dealing in the affairs of life where we get back what we put into it.  It is a principle that is true in so many different ways and so many different areas of life.  It has to involve the idea that you and I choose the standard that will be used on us.  We set the standard for how people will respond to us, and we set the standard for God’s blessings in our lives.  That is a thought-provoking principle. 

Think of some illustrations of it.  In II Kings 4 there is a story of the widow who, in Elisha’s day, found herself in difficult circumstances.  Her husband, who was a prophet, had died and left this woman and her children.  All they had in the entire house was one jar of oil, apparently olive oil that would be used for cooking and other things.  She brought her difficult plight to the prophet Elisha, and he instructed her to go to her neighbors and her friends and borrow vessels.  He told her specifically, “Do not borrow a few.”  When she had made the round and borrowed what vessels she chose to borrow, the prophet instructed her, “Take these in your house and take that jar of oil and pour out of it into these vessels.”  As she did so, one vessel was filled up, and she had her son to bring another one and she filled it up, and she had him bring another one and it filled it up.  The oil just kept pouring out of that jar until finally she sent her son and he came back and said, “Mama, that’s all of them.”  At that point the oil stopped flowing from her jar.  She had chosen how many jars of oil she would have by choosing how many vessels she would borrow.  God stopped blessing her at her standard, not his.

Another illustration of this principle occurs at the end of Elisha’s life.  He was sick, and King Joash of Israel came to him and said, “My Father, my Father!  The horsemen and the chariots of Israel!” (in other words the power that was vested in Elisha was what Israel depended upon).  And Elisha, seeing the king’s alarm, told him to go to the east window and shoot his arrow.  He shot it and Elisha said, “It is the Lord’s arrow of victory.”  The prophet then instructed the king to take his arrows and to strike the ground with them.  The king did so.  He took three arrows and shot the ground with them and stopped.  Elisha said to him, “You should have kept shooting because now you will only have three victories over the Syrians” (who were enemies of Israel at the time).  The king had determined the number of victories for his people by choosing to what extent he would go in obeying the prophet’s instruction.  When you and I set our hearts and our minds on doing the minimum things we can get by with in God’s service, what we are doing in effect is setting the standard by which we want his blessings to come. 

There are other statements of this principle that we can find in the New Testament.  God tends to bless us by the measure we use and then God adds some to it.  Let me show you some of the places this principle is found.  Remember the Lord’s parable of the talents.  One fellow was blessed with five talents, one was blessed with two, and one was blessed with one.  Remember the five talent man took the wealth that had been entrusted with him, and he used it and invested it and put himself out, and he gained five more.  The Lord told him, “Well done!”  The fellow who had the two talents went to work, put himself out, used the money and he gained two more talents.  The Lord blessed him.  And then the one talent fellow said, “I knew that you were hard and unreasonable.  I knew you would expect more than what you gave and so I took the talent you gave me and wrapped it up and hid it.  Here is your one talent back.”  Remember that the Lord said that the master of that servant took that one talent from him and gave it to the fellow who had five.  By failing to use the opportunity and the blessing he had, that measure that he had chosen of doing nothing caused him to lose what he had.  On the other hand, those who had used what they had were blessed with even more opportunity. 

Consider the passage we find in Luke 18:18-30.  This is the story of how the disciples felt after they saw Jesus deal with the rich young ruler.  The Lord had commented when he saw this young ruler go away in sadness how difficult it was for those who had wealth to enter the kingdom of heaven.  They wanted to know, “Then who can be saved?”  He explained that with God all things are possible.  Peter said at that point, “See, we have left our homes and have followed you.”  He is wondering, if you notice there, what is going to be the outcome of this.  And the Lord said (29-30), “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive many times more in this life and in the age to come, eternal life.”  There is the principle again, “With what measure you use, it will be measured to you and still more.” 

Another illustration of this truth is found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians in Galatians 6.  This is the more common statement of this principle of God that most of us are familiar with.  This comes from the world of nature, the world of sowing and reaping.  Paul said, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked.  For whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption.  But the one who sows to the spirit will from the spirit reap eternal life.”  Paul is simply using the fact that we know.  The fact is that we choose our harvest by choosing what seed to sow and how much to sow.  When you and I set a course in our lives where our lives are dominated by material, fleshly, sometimes worldly things, then that is what we will receive back in our lives.  Life works by certain principles or laws.  We will find eventually that this is the way God deals with us.

The Applications

Now, what application does that little principle have?  There are all kinds of applications I could make and maybe you could make.  It is interesting to observe how Jesus chose to use this principle in his teaching.  In fact, there are three great areas where Jesus applies this truth.  He uses the same phrase in three different circumstances, in three different contexts.

In the first place, he says that this truth has an application in the way we make use of the word of the Lord which we hear or know.  In Mark 4:24-25, that is what Jesus was talking about.  This is a context when Jesus had started teaching the crowds of people with parables.  These parables were little illustrations where he told the story and then left it up to the hearer to see the point.  The disciples were wondering, “Lord, why are you teaching everybody in parables?”  And he first said in verses 21 and 22 that nobody lights a lamp and puts it under a basket but instead puts it on a stand so it can give light to everybody in the house.  It is a way of the Lord saying, “I am not trying to cover things up from people.  I want the truth to be seen.”  And then he explains further in verses 24 and 25, “Pay attention to what you hear.  With the measure you use, it will be measured to you and still more will be added to you.  Or to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”  Notice that he is applying our principle to hearing and the understanding of his word. 

When a person does not take an interest in, open his heart to, and make use of what he knows of the Lord’s word, what little he has heard or has been able to grasp, Jesus is saying he will lose even that.  On the other hand, when a person sets in and accepts and takes in what he can, and when that person uses that with a diligence and a genuine interest, then that person will grow and he will be able to take in more.  When those of you who are now excellent readers began, you started out with somebody teaching you the ABCs.  And then someone sat down and told you about the vowels and how they sound.  You started out that way.  Suppose that at that point you had sat back in your kindergarten chair and said, “I’m not interested in this.  How could I ever possibly need something like this?  This is no fun.  This is boring.”  If you made that beginning, how do you read now?  But that is how some of us want to treat the Lord’s word.  Why I’m not interested in this!  This is boring!  What am I suppose to do with this? 

An old friend of mine in Arkansas told me about two ladies who came to church one Sunday.  They were old friends, but one had been a devoted Christian and the other one had always kind of been on the edge.  She had never taken much interest and had never really gotten involved.  The lesson was presented in the assembly that day, and the one who was on the fringe said to her devoted Christian lady friend on the way out, “I didn’t get anything out of that.”  Her friend responded, “Did you bring anything to get it in?”  There is a point to that which fits with what Jesus is saying in this text.  With the measure you use it will be measured to you.  What are you willing to put into it?  That is about what you will get out of it. 

In Amos 8:11, the great Old Testament prophet Amos went up to Bethel to preach to the people of Israel, and they said, “The land cannot stand this fellow’s words.”  Amos responded, “One of these days there is going to be a famine in the land and it won’t be a famine of bread or it won’t be a famine of water to drink, but it will be a famine of the Lord’s word.”  He said they are going to end up going from sea to sea, from the north to the east, they are going to be trying to find out what the Lord says and there won’t be any word from him.  His warning was that with the measure you use it will be measured to you, and if you don’t take an interest in and do something with what you know already, you are going to lose it.  In my college days, I had to take Hebrew.  I knew a little bit then.  I have not kept on using it all of the time, and now I can barely recite the alphabet to you.  Maybe you have had that experience.  If you have had the privilege of being able to take in something of the treasure of the Lord’s word, use it.  Do something with it.  Take greater interest.  Learn more.  Grow.  If you don’t, you will lose what you have.

The second way Jesus applied this truth has to do with the manner in which we make judgments about other people.  In Matthew 7:1-2, the Lord said, “Judge not that you be not judged, for with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  That principle is a hard one to bear in mind.  Jesus went ahead to teach about it by the humorous picture of a guy with a little speck in his eye being evaluated by some guy with a big plank sticking out of his eye!  I was tickled by something Vance Havner once told.  He said, “I have read of a woman who went to a psychiatrist.  She went with a strip of bacon hanging over each ear and a fried egg on top of her head.  She walked into the psychiatrist’s office and said to him, ‘I’m here to talk with you about my brother’s problems!’”  And Havner said that is often the way we deal with the shortcomings in our own lives.  We are a lot more comfortable talking about our brother’s problems. 

In Matthew 7, Jesus is not suggesting that there are never any distinctions to be made between good and evil and truth and error.  He is talking instead about the attitudes you and I develop in our lives.  The principle he lays down is that we will be held to the same exacting demands that we seek to apply to other people.  If I show no mercy, I will find none for myself.  The same willingness I demonstrate to jump to the worst possible conclusions about others is going to be applied to my worst when I am judged. 

J.D. Roberts, writing about James 4, said, “We are certainly not to condone sin or wink at it.  But neither are we to act from suspicion or from mere appearance or personal dislike….  Too often we suspect that people will do things or are guilty of them, and we say why they have done them, when we actually do not know and probably because we simply don’t like them.”  That is the spirit that Jesus is warning us against.  He said in James 2:13 that judgment will be without mercy to those who show no mercy.  In Romans 2:1, the apostle Paul taught this to the Christians at Rome, especially with regard to the tendency of some from a Jewish background to judge everybody else.  He said, “Therefore you have no excuse, oh man, everyone of you who judges, for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself because you, the judge, practice the very same thing.”  He is warning against hypocrisy in this area, and he is saying that you and I do not want to burn the very bridges that we are going to have to pass over ourselves. 

Remember the Old Testament story of wicked Haman in the days of Esther?  Old Haman was a man who was so jealous and so proud that he just couldn’t stand it when a Jew named Mordecai would not fall down on his face when Haman passed by.  So Haman decided that he would build a gallows.  If I figured the cubits right, it was 75 feet tall.  He was going to build this gallows, and he intended to see that Mordecai was hanged on those gallows.  Hamon’s wickedness was found out, though, and the king of Persia took Haman and had him hanged on the gallows that he had built himself!  With what measure you mete it out, it will be measured to you again.

The third application the Lord made of this principle is found in Luke 6, and it has to do with the extent to which we are willing to give.  I want you to observe very carefully as we read this that he is not just talking about material things.  He is talking about the extent to which we are willing to show a giving heart.  Beginning at verse 37, the Lord said, “Judge not, and you will not be judged.  Condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will it be put into your lap.  For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”  Again, it shows here that to the extent to which we are willing to forgive or to give, God will be able to bless our own lives with the gifts of his mercy. 

Once again, this truth is taught in several ways in scripture.  In Proverbs 11:24-25, there is this statement: “One gives freely yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give and only suffers want.  Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.”  In II Cor. 9:6-7, this principle is used in the New Testament.  Here, the apostle Paul says, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver.”  It is not saying here, like some people want to put it, “Now give so that you can get.”  What it is saying is, “You show the kind of heart that is like your Father’s heart and you will find out that you always receive back more than you have given.” 

Helen Steiner Rice wrote, “The more you give the more you get; the more you laugh, the less you fret.  The more you do unselfishly, the more you live abundantly.  The more of everything you share, the more you will always have to spare.  The more you love, the more you will find that life is good, and friends are kind.  For only what we give away, enriches us from day to day.” 

I found an old epitaph that someone had written, “What I kept, I lost; what I spent, I used; what I gave, I had.”  That’s the way the Lord is teaching it here.  This is not a ground upon which we shall earn forgiveness from God, but it is a means by which our lives will be opened to the receiving of his grace and goodness.  “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you again.” 

Thinking about that makes me stand back and look at how life works and be so grateful for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ by which he offered himself up for us all so that in him the riches of God’s grace may be poured out upon all of us.  The interruption of this principle we have been talking about is in a way what Christ has done for us.  Even that needs to have an effect on our hearts so that any of us who want to claim forgiveness will need to have shown that we are willing and able to forgive.  It makes us aware of our need for Jesus Christ.

It may be that you are here today and you want to lay hold on what has been offered to us all through Christ.  It has been done for us all, but we need by faith to repent and to lay hold of it by being baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.  And having made that beginning, we need to walk in the light so that the Lord can go on blessing us from day to day.  Take a look at this study this morning, and if we can help you in responding to it in some way, would you please indicate so right now as we stand and sing together.