I’m often surprised by biblical themes that make it into the movies. You never know where they are going to show up and seldom do the credits point out the original source of the idea. In the movie, Pay It Forward, Trevor 10 pay it forwardMcKinney (Haley Joel Osment) takes up his seventh-grade teacher’s challenge to make the world better. Trevor proposes a chain letter of good deeds. He will do good deeds for three people and then instruct each recipient to “pay it forward” by doing good deeds for three other people, who are instructed to pay it forward, and so on.

Based on Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book by the same name, the movie captures our attention as we dream along with Trevor of a utopian society where everyone takes care of each other. This utopian day dream was given to a prophet named Zechariah who recorded it for us in Zechariah 3:10. It says, “In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.” Everyone at that time, the time of Messiah’s rule, will take of the challenge of being their brother’s keepers. In his commentary on this verse, M. J. Boda says, “Zechariah encourages us to a utopian scheme that ultimately will transform the world—one taught by God, enabled by Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and carried out by the community of faith.” As Christ’s body in the world today, we should strive for this goal.

Our conviction of having received from God motivates us, or should motivate us to pass on what we have received from God to others. 1 John 4:11 is a famous verse, but I think the intent of paying it forward is often overlooked. It reads, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” What does love involve? One commentator answered that question this way: “To begin with, it means possessing the characteristics of love described in 1 Corinthians 13. Can we say, “I am patient and kind, I am not jealous or boastful, arrogant or rude; I am not selfish or irritable or resentful; I am not happy about wrong, but I rejoice in the right; I bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things”? Moreover, love will involve having a servant’s heart, a willingness to count others better than yourself and to serve and look out for their interests as well as your own (Gal 5: 13b–14; Phil 2: 3). Certainly Jesus himself is our supreme model here: think of how he stooped to wash his disciples’ dirty feet!”