THE NEED FOR CHARITY: THE SPIRIT OF GIVING
THE NEED FOR CHARITY: THE SPIRIT OF GIVING
DEFINITION OF CHARITY
Definition of charity by Merriam-Webster Dictionary: charity : the act of giving money, food, or other kinds of help to people who are poor, sick, helpless, etc.; also : something (such as money or food) that is given to people who are poor, sick, etc. : an organization that helps people who are poor, sick, etc; alms. Charity in Christianity is the theological virtue defined as love directed first toward God but also toward oneself and one's neighbours as objects of God's love.
“Charity begins at home”: This proverb is often used as an excuse for not helping those outside the family circle. ‘I found myself being asked for subscriptions to so many good causes that it was costing me more than I could really afford, so now I give nothing to any of them. After all, charity begins at home.’
But this is not the real meaning of the proverb. In its literal sense charity is love of one’s fellow men; kindness; natural affection. If children learn to love and help those nearest to them in their early years, they will love and help their fellow men when they grow up. In other words, charity begins at home, but it does not end there.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GIVING
The New Testament talks about the importance and benefits of giving. We are to give as we are able. Sometimes that means giving more than 10 percent (tithe); sometimes that may mean giving less. It all depends on the ability of the Christian and the needs of the church. Every Christian should diligently pray and seek God’s wisdom in the matter of participating in tithing and/or how much to give (James 1:5). Above all, all tithes and offerings should be given with pure motives and an attitude of worship to God and service to the body of Christ. “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Give generously because the reward will be in proportion to how generously you give. Donate with the right disposition-joyfully.
“WHAT ARE OFFERINGS?”
An offering is that which is freely given by Christians to the work of the Lord, the local church, and/or ministries and missions. But offerings are far more than simply the check we write on Sunday. We are to offer much more to God than our monetary resources. Romans 12:1 exhorts us to offer our bodies “as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” as part of our worship. Romans 6:13 gives the reason for offering ourselves: because we are “those who have been brought from death to life,” and, as such, we are to “offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” God is not nearly as interested in our monetary offerings as He is in our submission and obedience. The truth is that He doesn’t need our resources to accomplish His plans and purposes. After all, He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10) and needs nothing from us. What He desires, however, and what He values, is the heart that overflows with gratitude and thanksgiving to the God who saved us and who gives us all things, knowing our needs before we even ask (Matthew 6:8). Such a heart gives generously, willingly, and cheerfully in response to the love and grace that abound in Christ (2 Corinthians 9:6–8).
“WHAT ARE ALMS? WHAT IS ALMSGIVING?”
Alms are money or goods given to those in need as an act of charity. The word alms is used many times in the King James Version of the Bible. It comes from the Old English word ælmesse and ultimately from a Greek word meaning “pity, mercy.” In its original sense, when you give alms, you are dispensing mercy.
Almsgiving is a long-standing practice within the Judeo-Christian tradition. “Whoever is kind to the needy honours God” (Proverbs 14:31; see also Proverbs 19:17; 21:13; 22:9; and 29:7). Jesus and His disciples gave money to the poor (John 12:6), and believers are to “remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10). The godly Tabitha was eulogized as one who was continually “helping the poor” (Acts 9:36).
The word alms is used nine times in five chapters of the King James Version of the New Testament. Matthew 6:1-4 contains four occurrences:
“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”
Here, Jesus taught that almsgiving is for God to see, not to show off before others. Those giving out of their love for God are not to announce their giving or draw attention to it.
In Luke 11:40-42, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for giving alms but “neglect[ing] justice and the love of God.” In other words, these religious leaders gave to charity, yet they did not have true charity in their hearts. Giving to the needy does not necessarily prove a right relationship with God.
In Luke 12:32, Jesus tells a rich young ruler to sell all he had, give alms to the poor, and follow Him. Jesus’ challenge was meant to reveal where the young man’s devotion lay: did he love money more than the Lord? The man turned and walked away from Jesus, unwilling to part with his fortune. Doing so showed that he was not ready to become a disciple.
In Acts 3, a crippled man asks Peter and John for money. The apostles explain that they had no money, and they heal him instead. This miracle was much greater than any alms they could have given!
Biblically, giving financially to those in need is an important expression of the Christian faith. However, we should make sure our giving is done out of a true love for God, without drawing attention to ourselves. When we invest what God has given us to impact the lives of others, we can trust that the results will make a difference both now and for eternity.
“WHY IS GIVING SO EMPHASIZED IN THE CHRISTIAN FAITH?”
Our God is a giving God. He is a God of abundance (John 10:10; James 1:5; Psalm 103:8; Isaiah 55:1-7; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Romans 5:20), and He loves to give. He sacrificed willingly on the cross and then invited us into fullness of life. As His children, we are called to imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1). Our generosity in giving is a demonstration of God’s character and a response to what He has done for us.
Christians are a light to the world (Matthew 5:14-16). As we become more and more who God has called us to be – more like Him – through the process of sanctification, we reflect God more and more. We become more loving, more gracious, and, yes, more giving. Because God is generous, we are also called to be generous. Generosity not only points others to God, it is an appropriate response to what God has done for us.
“To whom much has been given, much more will be expected.” This has become a common phrase in Western society. Its biblical roots are in Luke 12:48. Because we have been so freely loved, we now love others (John 13:34). Because we have been forgiven, we forgive others (Matthew 18:21-35). Our response to God’s abundance with us is to share that abundance with others. When we appropriately receive God’s generosity, it humbles us. We recognize that we are not worthy of His gift. Out of gratefulness, we become more gracious with others. We begin to learn the heart of God and want to be more like Him.
Generosity has positive effects in human relationships. When one person gives freely to another, the recipient often “passes forward” the gift. In the Christian life, the impetus is much greater. Jesus taught us that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Not only does our giving demonstrate God’s character to the world, it results in increased faith for us. When we are willing to give, we declare that our faith does not depend on material possessions. Instead, we show that our faith is in God, who is always faithful to provide (1 Kings 17:7-16).
Christians are giving people, and, in giving, they lose nothing. As Bunyan wrote, “A man there was, tho’ some did count him mad, / The more he cast away the more he had.” When we give, we empty ourselves in order to be filled again by God. “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).
“HOW CAN I BECOME A MORE CHEERFUL GIVER?”
The greatest giver this world has ever known was Jesus Christ. Leaving behind the riches and glory of His heavenly kingdom, He came to Earth and willingly gave His life so that we could keep ours. As God predestined His children to be conformed to the likeness of His Son (Romans 8:29), there can be no better way to emulate Jesus Christ than by giving selflessly the way He did. As we said earlier on, our Saviour Himself told us, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Quite simply, then, our greatest motivation for cheerful and generous giving should be that it pleases the Lord and reflects His gift of salvation to us.
The second letter to the Corinthians reveals a number of inspiring truths that should help us become more cheerful givers. As Paul wisely admonished the Corinthians, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6). This indelible truth was also stated by Solomon a thousand years earlier: “Honour the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing” (Proverbs 3:9-10). The payment of prescribed offerings was a prerequisite for a good yield. And Christ Himself told us, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6:38). Indeed, “Good will come to one who is generous” (Psalm 112:5).
This principle is unfailingly clear—we cannot out-give our gracious Creator. The more we give in service to the Lord, the more we will get in return. In fact, the only place in the Bible where God invites us to test Him is Malachi 3:10 where He is talking about our offerings made unto Him: “Test me in this, says the LORD Almighty and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and poor out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” Once more, the words of Solomon echo this: “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:24-25).
Again, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Cheerful giving, therefore, should be a way of life for the Christian who understands the grace of God. When we give generously and with a willing heart, God assures us He will watch over us and provide for us (Isaiah 58:9; Psalm 41:1-3; Proverbs 22:9; 2 Corinthians 9:8, 11). And we need to remember that it’s not just our treasure that we are to cheerfully give back to God. As King David pointed out, everything we have is from God (1 Chronicles 29:14), and this includes our talents and our time as well. As ours days are numbered (Psalm 139:16), our time indeed belongs to God. And any gifts we have are also from Him; therefore, “each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). Each one of us is a unique son or daughter of God, endowed with unique gifts and talents. It is through the gradual unfolding of our personal aptitudes that each of us will grow fully and that the people of God will be served adequately. God’s charisms are intended for the life of the Church (cf. 1 Cor 12: 4-11; Rom 12: 6-8). No particular Christian community, not even the poorest, can be dispensed from the obligation of sharing its spiritual and temporal resources with other communities and with the universal Church. All Christians share responsibility for the mission of the Church through baptism and confirmation. Each person’s mission in the Church is indicated by the gifts one received. These gifts, whether natural or acquired by study, training or experience, are given by God, not for ourselves, but for the service of the Church. A gift brings with it the invitation, even the obligation, to use it for the community. If a gift is used selfishly, it can divide the community. Gifts given freely by God, are a call to service in the Church.
For God so loved the world that He gave. We would do well to remember that we are saved because our God so generously gave (John 3:16). As His children, we are called to be “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). When we trust God and honor Him by generously giving our time, treasure, and talent, we are truly letting our light shine before men, and our goodness will reflect radiantly on our Father in heaven.
HELP THE NEEDY, NOT THE GREEDY
Give to the fatherless, the orphans, the strangers, the widows, the poor, and the needy, the homeless, and the beggar on the street, as God gives to you, the wherewithal. Give to reputable charities if you have extra. Give to your family members and relatives in need—don’t humiliate them by making them ask you first. Give to a neighbor in financial distress. Even when tipping someone, let it be a reflection of the One that you are representing in your Christian walk. Our God is a generous God—may you become generous also. Develop a “love for giving.” Paul tells us in Acts 20:35b to:
Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, “IT IS MORE BLESSED TO GIVE THAN TO RECEIVE.” Therefore, let us inculcate in our members the spirit of giving. I understand later next month you intend to give generously during your visit to the aged and the sick in your group and the Church community as a whole. That is certainly in the right direction. The large Catholic audience contains those of special concern: the sick and the disturbed. We (priests) visit them every Tuesday. We greet them on your behalf and give them Holy Communion. For many of them we do not meet many family members around. A common feature during our visits is the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary or other holy pictures. While these statues and pictures are source of protection and consolation, your visits and charity will add other dimensions to their lives.
“Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me”
Thank you for your attention!
Fr. Vincent Kwame Owusu, SVD
Ss Peter and Paul Catholic Church
New Aplaku, Accra-GHANA