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We've spoken in general about good works and about being benefactor households. Today, we’ll get a bit more specific and speak of charity. Charity: generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering; also : aid given to those in need. (Merriam-Webster).
My primary text this morning if Galatians 6:7-10:
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
• Charity is the duty of every Christian and, by extension, every Christian Church.
• Charity is extended first to the household of God.
• Charity extends beyond the household of God through relationships.
• Charity bears others burdens without taking responsibility off of the recipient.
Charity is the duty of every Christian
Sadly, this must be taught and defended today, for many churches and Christians are no longer involved in charity work, even though we are referred to as charitable organizations. For many Christians, especially here in Canada, charity is the government’s job – something we outsourced to them long ago., financed through our taxes. Modern Western Christianity has it seems “become weary of doing good”. This is the main thesis of University of Texas professor Marvin Olasky’s book, “The Tragedy of American Compassion.” Olasky demonstrates that 150 years ago churches were skilled in compassion at all levels. But at some point churches outsourced or gave over the burden of compassionate works to the government so now we have a situation in which churches are illiterate in compassion. Many of us don’t talk about it, don’t think about it, and wouldn’t know the first place to start. Yet now these government systems are broke and, as Olasky argues, have created a culture of dependence among the poor so that the last state is worse than the first.
If the church is to “not become weary in doing good” it seems that we would first have to foster a vision for the burden. That’s why were doing this series – to turn our attention to texts and themes in the New Testament that we’ve for the most part been overlooking.
Jesus was serious about good works.
• Peter’s summary of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Acts 10:37 You yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
Interestingly, the word translated “doing good” is literally “benefacting”—the sort of thing a ruler, deity, or some other powerful person would do when bestowing gifts or mercy on those of lower status. It is an apt description of Jesus’ life (not to mention his “benefactoring” death and resurrection).
• Jesus’ first sermonCites Isaiah 61:1-3 in Luke 4:18-21: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
• Answer to John the Baptist Luke 7:20-:23 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
• The gospels are filled with stories of Jesus doing just that. Healing the sick, touching lepers, feeding the hungry, drawing water for the thirsty. What was Jesus’ motive in doing al of this?
o To validate his ministry as Messiah – yes, if we want to be clinical.
o Matt. 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
• This compassion rubbed off on Jesus’ followers. The apostle Paul speaks of a meeting he had early on with Peter and James and John in which they affirmed his call as a minister to the Gentiles with one stipulation Found in Galatians 1:10: Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
• In another place James puts it this way: 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James in his epistle speaks very pointedly about the evils of showing favoritism to the rich at the expense o the poor and about speaking peace to the poor while not rushing to meet their basic needs.
• We’ve already seen elsewhere of how the church at Ephesus, had set up a list of widows that were supported by the church. This we further expression of the charitable spirit that dominated the Jerusalem church, in which people sold their own property to meet the needs of others and the church had set up a daily distribution of rations for the poor.
So when Paul wrties to the Galatians, “let us not become weary in doing good” there is this whole background of charitable work standing behind his words.
Charity is extended first to the household of God. Theological rationale
Duet 15:4 But there will be no poor among you; for the LORD will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess— 5 if only you will strictly obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today. 6 For the LORD your God will bless you, as he promised you, and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow, and you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you.
Deut. 15:7 “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, 8 but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. 9 Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and you be guilty of sin. 10 You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’
The generosity portrayed by the early church in the book of Acts 4:34: Acts 4:32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Historian Rodney Stark points to the generosity among Christians as a key factor in the rapid expansion of the early church. The early church preached, and at its best practiced, love in a world of brutality, sexuality, and death.3 This love spilled over into their communities. These early Christian communities did not consider themselves an “in group” which only cared for its members. They gave freely to the poor and the hungry, visiting the sick and clothing the impoverished. “Christianity’s sense of community and its universal charity were a major reason, if not the most important simple reason, for its growth and subsequent victory over the empire” writes sociologist Rodney Stark.4 An example of this commitment to compassion were the plagues that swept through the Mediterranean area in the third century.
The death tolls were horrific at the height of the plagues. In c.250, 5,000 people died daily in Rome. When these epidemics swept through the cities, the explanatory and comforting ability of paganism and Greek philosophy was unable to provide hope or meaning. Most pagan priests simply fled the cities, leaving the Christians to care for the sick and offer an explanation for trials.
Dionysisus (writing about 260 C.E.) gives a first-hand report of the plague and the church’s response. “Most of our Christian brothers showed unbounded love and loyalty never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick attending to their every need . . . drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains . . . The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner . . . The heathen behaved in the very opposite way. At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease.”
Charity extends beyond the household of God through relationships. Paul writes, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone.” Our compassion is not just to extend to our brothers and sisters but even outside of our walls. Notice that Paul writes, “as we have opportunity” – another translation brings out “whenever we have opportunity” – that is, as we come into contact with people having need that we are able to remedy. This personal contact is stressed in Jesus’ words and example and James epistle – that we don’t just throw money at problems, we invest in people. I can personally attest to the power of dealing with people directly.
Charity bears others burdens without taking responsibility off of the recipient. One of the objections to doing charitable works is that they leads to inactivity or may enable laziness. First, I would say this. Isn’t this same danger prevalent in the grace that we’ve received from God? That he has given us salvation freely, paid for entirely by himself through the sacrifice of his son, so that we who were impoverished and spiritually dead might receive grace to live. Did not the Holy spirit reveal a bit about this danger through the apostle Paul in Romans when he wrote “what shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase?” Aren’t you glad that God acted charitably toward you, even though their was risk that your scheming heart would pervert his grace into license to sin?
The second thing I would say is that the tension is found just a few verses before in Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load.
The New Testament teaches a charity with an accountability. This is seen in Thessalonians, when Paul exhorts this poor church to “work with their hand, being dependent on no one” and that “if a man does not work, he will not eat.” This is evident in the widows list as well. Families were to look after their own widows first so that they were not a burden (the same word as Galatians) on the church. Widows are our burden, the poor are our burden, the suffering are our burden, but we need to take care that we do not enable busybodies.
Churches once knew how to show compassion: 7 laws (St. Loius Provident association in the late 1800’s developed for their city)
• To give relief only after personal investigation of each case
• To give necessary articles and only what is immediately necessary
• To give what is least susceptible to abuse
• To give only in small quantities in proportion to the immediate need and less than might be procured by labor, except in cases of sickness.
• To give assistance at the right moment, not to prolong it beyond duration of the necessity that calls for it.
• To require of each beneficiary abstinence from intoxicating liquors
• To discontinue relieving all who manifest a purpose to depend on alms rather than their own exertions for support.
We must go further – no sense of development of the original seven laws.
• Individual benefactor households and small groups.
o The first line of defense:
• The Love Fund