Summary: How do we understand charity and Christian giving? As a follower of Jesus Christ, how do I discern and know when and how to give?
“Hiding in Plain Sight” – Part 1
Many think that charitable giving is a natural part of human nature. Actually, it is not. Human nature seeks to meet and satisfy the needs of self first. True charity came into the world through Christianity, and the charities that we see that are so effective in the world today are by-products of Christian ministries. The Red Cross, the United Fund, hospitals, orphanages, half-way houses, homes for unwed mothers, etc., etc., are all the result of Christians responding as Jesus taught us to respond to the poor and the needy.
This is not to say that there was no such thing as charity in the world before Jesus came on the scene. There are accounts all throughout ancient historical writings of one person or another giving coins to a beggar. But these displays were small things and noted because of their rarity. Sacrificial love demonstrated by sacrificial giving came immediately after the Christian church was first established. Both the 2nd and 4th Chapters of Acts speak of the widespread charitable giving of the believers, even to the point of selling their possessions to meet the needs of the fellowship.
Before Christianity, there was no real care for the poor, the needy, the sick, the orphaned, and the destitute. There were no laws protecting children, very few laws protecting women, there were few hospitals, no leper colonies, and no one seemed to have anything against the enslavement of their fellow man.
The charity of the Church, from its earliest days clear into this century, was such a remarkable and notable enterprise, that it was held in awe by the outside world. Let me read an excerpt from Aristides defense of Christianity before Emperor Hadrian in 125 A.D.:
“They do not commit adultery nor fornication, they do not bear false witness, they do not deny deposit, nor covet what is not theirs: they honor father and mother; they do good to those who are their neighbors…They love one another: and from widows they do not turn their countenance; and they rescue the orphan from him who does him violence: and he who gives to him who had not without grudging…When one of their poor passes away from the world, and any of them sees him, then he provides for his burial according to his ability; and if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs, and if it is possible that he may be delivered, they deliver him. If there is among them a man that is poor or needy, and they have not an abundance of necessaries, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with necessary food.”
At first glance, this may seem normal and ordinary. But think of what the personal cost was to those who followed this principle of Christianity. How many of us have sacrificed our own needs and comforts lately to meet the needs of someone else? How many of us have “risked” our own position for the good of someone else?
Can we be real for a moment? Aristides has given an account of remarkable attitudes and behaviors of Christians. Do people see and talk about those things about Christians today? What do they talk about instead?
We’ll leave that for a moment. Let’s look at what Jesus tells us in our text today.
"Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)
The “practice your righteousness” refers to three key practices of the Jews which were to mark a man of righteousness: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Jesus speaks to all three of these in this section of Matthew. He makes no instruction about the requirement for doing these things – He assumes that it is their practice to do these things. The same holds true for us today. These are disciplines of the faith that the New Testament speaks to many times.
In the first category of almsgiving, we need to understand exactly what that means. Alms, literally, means “money, food or other necessities given out of mercy to the poor or needy”. In Proverbs 19:17, the Word of God says, “He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed.” Proverbs 29:7 tells us, “The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, the wicked does not understand such concern.” That tells us also that we can use our concern for the poor as a heart monitor.