If you saw the film, “Pay It Forward,” starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment, you may recall how a social studies assignment at school led a young boy to doing three good deeds for someone while asking them to “pay it forward.” The idea caught on and became a nationwide movement.
Actually, the concept was used much earlier as a key plot element in an ancient play called “Dyskolos” (“The Grouch”) in Athens, Greece in 316 B.C.
The concept was later described by Benjamin Franklin, in his letter to Benjamin Webb, dated April 22, 1784. In part, Franklin wrote, “I do not pretend to give such a sum; I only lend it to you. When you ... meet with another honest man in similar distress, you must pay me by lending this sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the debt by a like operation ... This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.”
In his 1841 essay “Compensation,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.”
The concept actually seems to have originated centuries earlier in the mind of the greatest Giver of all. Deuteronomy 15:7 says, “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.” — The New International Version.
At Leviticus 25:35, the same translation reads: “If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you.”
Such generosity moving forward would create a positive cycle, according to the New Living Translation of Proverbs 11:25: “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.”
If you feel you are never the recipient of this cycle of support, Proverbs 19:17 assures us, “If you help the poor, you are lending to the LORD — and he will repay you!” — New Living Translation.
This may remind you of Jesus’ words at Luke 6:35, 38 when he said, “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.
“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full — pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” — New Living Translation.
If everyone had this “pay it forward” attitude, I wonder if we would be living in a world where poverty is more prevalent than prosperity? Would people be happier because they are giving rather than always receiving as Acts 20:35 recommends? What do you think?
At 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, the Apostle Paul said, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” — New International Version.
If God loves a cheerful giver, wouldn’t a “pay it forward” attitude be best served out of love from the heart instead of being viewed as paying a debt “under compulsion?” Wouldn’t that be in the spirit of Romans 13:8 which says, “Owe no one anything except to love one another.” — New King James Version.
Perhaps some people need that obligation upon them as if they owed a debt and was lending something to a third person? Others may feel, it’s more important simply to pay it forward and keep the movement going. But imagine how much more powerful it would be if we as individuals were motivated to act purely out of love?
As 1 Corinthians 16:14 said, “Let all that you do be done with love.” — New King James Version. On the matter of love, author Lily Hardy Hammond wrote in 1916, “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward.”
We can go back and forward on the phrase itself, but the concept of someone asking that a good deed be repaid by having it done to others is a very good idea. It has already spawned its own international Pay it Forward Day — April 28.
But when that glorious day arrives when people are motivated out of love for God and love of neighbor to do what needs to be done — pay it forward will be paid in full.
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