In an attempt to transform the world for the better, a global movement was begun in 2007 by international motivational speaker Blake Beattie. He had been inspired by American novelist Catherine Rayan Hyde’s book “Pay it Forward” which was adapted into a movie in 2000. “Pay It Forward” day is now celebrated in 80 countries with a goal of spreading kindness. The idea is that when we are shown kindness by someone, rather than trying to pay it back, you pay it forward by doing something nice for someone else, who is to do the same, causing a “ripple” effect.
The principle was the key plot element in a play in 317 B.C. by Meander called “Dyskolos.” The phrase itself was coined by Lily Hardy Hammond in her book “In the Garden of Delight,” and was further popularized in Robert Heinlein’s novel, “Between the Planets.”
Paying it forward can help spread some civility and kindness but random acts of kindness can only go so far. The Bible teaches a much more profound, deeper level of this concept: doing good from a grateful heart that recognizes the magnitude of blessings we have received. Jesus said to His followers: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples” (Jn. 13:34). When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He modeled humble service toward others and told them, “For I gave you an example, that you also should do as I did to you” (Jn. 13:15). He also taught that doing good for others is not about keeping score or being repaid. He said: “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return…” (Lk. 6:35).
In his letters to the churches, the apostle Paul gave similar commands, urging believers in Ephesus and Colossae to forgive others as Christ forgave them (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13). Husbands were told to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). Directly and indirectly throughout Scripture, God’s people are told to accept God’s blessings with gratitude, and, in a sense, pay them forward by treating others with the same grace and mercy the Lord has shown them. Rather than being a divine plan to build a kinder, gentler world, such godly behavior demonstrates what it means to be a true disciple of Christ: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples” (Jn. 13:35).
Paul demonstrated that attitude when dealing with his friend Philemon and Philemon’s runaway slave, Onesimus. After coming to know Christ under Paul’s ministry while Paul was imprisoned in Rome, Onesimus was sent home to Philemon in Colossae. In an attempt to reconcile slave and master, Paul sent a letter encouraging Philemon to receive Onesimus and treat him, not as a worthless runaway but, rather, as a valuable new brother in Christ. Paul’s petition on Onesimus’ behalf is preserved for us in the book of Philemon. Paul challenged Philemon to receive his runaway slave who had wronged him in the same way he would receive Paul himself, an act that would go much deeper than simply paying it forward.
In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul encouraged them to “accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (Ro. 15:7). He also instructed them to “accept the one who is weak in faith” (Ro. 14:1). Paul lived in gratitude for the way Jesus loved, reached out, and accepted him even though he was an enemy who had persecuted Jesus’ followers. In the same way, Paul reached out and welcomed those who came to know Christ, regardless of their backgrounds. He then encouraged those who were received by Christ to pay it forward to others. To the Corinthians, Paul said, “For I delivered to you what I also received…” (I Cor. 15:3).
Paul encouraged others to forgive as they had been forgiven. To the believers at Ephesus he wrote: “And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). In light of the “indescribable gift” (II Cor. 9:15) we have in Christ, it may seem insignificant to pay it forward with the limited love, acceptance, and forgiveness we are able to offer to others from our sin-scarred hearts, but paying it forward from a heart filled with gratitude for the blessings we have received bears testimony to our faith in Jesus and glorifies our Father in heaven. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:1,2). In other words, “Pay It Forward!”