Beyond Reciprocity


Romans 5:7

God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners (v.8).

If there’s one law that pervades the world, it’s the law of reciprocity. Simply put, reciprocity is the notion of mutual exchange or fair return. It’s the basis of many social interactions:

• Business: where a fair exchange of goods and services is made between parties.

• Politics: where one country helps another to maintain positive relations, alliances, or other benefits.

• Justice: where people get what they deserve, either in punishment or restitution. Reciprocity is taught in the Bible (Matthew 7:12). Society couldn’t function without it. It is, however, limited.For instance, what happens when there’s no mutual benefit? What happens when a friend can’t reciprocate our care or a poor country has nothing to offer a superpower? What do we do with those who can give little back to society—the poor, the intellectually disabled, the mentally ill? Sometimes we can’t repay debts or contribute our fair share, and so the Bible says reciprocity must be tempered by mercy (Matthew 5:7; James 2:13). But the Christian faith goes a step further. Beyond reciprocity or mercy, it teaches agape. This is the Greek word used to describe undeserved, sacrificial, no-strings-attached, self-giving love. God’s very nature is agape love (1 John 4:8). He gives good things to the deserving and the undeserving (Matthew 5:44-45). We’re to give without expecting a return (Luke 6:32-36). Jesus described real love as laying down one’s life for others (John 15:12-13), and what can we gain after doing that? Jesus lived out His teaching. He died a cruel death at humanity’s hands, loving even His persecutors to the end (Luke 23:34). His love went beyond any reciprocity (Romans 5:7-8).Reciprocity has its place. But I need agape. With God’s strength, I want to give it too. Beyond business deals and mutual friendship, I want to give without requiring anything in return.

—Sheridan Voysey



Read Matthew 5:38 to see how Jesus redefined the law of reciprocity.



How else can you see the law of reciprocity at work in the world and in your life? How does Jesus’ example motivate us to love others selflessly?


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