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Note: This series appeared originally on OneTrueGodBlog. This blog consortium is a great resource for people who are looking for scholarly yet readable discussions of a wide variety of theological issues from a wide variety of orthodox Christian perspectives. Other contributors to OneTrueGodBlog include: Hugh Hewitt, Albert Mohler, John Mark Reynolds, Amy Welborn, and David Allen White.
Charitable Giving When the Needs are Many
by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts
Copyright © 2005 by Mark D. Roberts
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Question #4: When many needs are obvious, how to chose where to send assistance? by Hugh Hewitt
With another natural disaster and enormous loss of life in South Asia, Americans will again face an appeal to provide private disaster assistance, even as the victims of Katrina/Rita remain scattered and without homes, employment or prospect of quick relief.
Is there a Biblical guide to charitable giving that obliges a Christian to support first his nearest neighbor, fellow believer and citizen or, conversely, those farthest from his or her home in regions of the world where recovery will be even more difficult than even in the hardest hit areas of the Gulf Coast? Every dollar given is a dollar not given somewhere else, so the question of establishing priorities for limited resources is immediate.
The Biblical Call to Generosity
First of all, I want to acknowledge with thanks the response by Al Mohler called "Priorities and Accountability in Times of Crisis." Because there's so much practical wisdom in Al's post, I feel the freedom to reflect at some length on biblical teaching relevant to the question of charitable giving and our priorities. I do not need to repeat what Al has already put so wisely and succinctly.
The Bible is full of wisdom relevant to this question before us, though it wasn't written in a time when a disaster in South Asia would be known, almost immediately by people throughout the world. Mass media has made the question of where we give even more complicated than it once was. But basic biblical principles still hold true and can guide our generosity.
A Clear Call to Generosity
The Bible repeatedly calls God's people to be generous with the poor and needy. In the Old Testament law, for example, we find passages such as Deuteronomy 15:10-11
Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”
We find similar emphases in the book of Proverbs. Consider these passages:
Those who are generous are blessed,
for they share their bread with the poor. (Prvo 22:9)
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD,
and will be repaid in full. (Prov 19:17)
This message is reiterated in the Old Testament prophets. For example, in Isaiah 58 we read:
[Is this not the fast I choose?] Is is not to share your bread with the hungery, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? . . . If you offer food to the hunger and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. (58:7, 10)
Turning to the New Testament, Jesus says,
Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:42)
[G]ive, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back. (Luke 6:38)
The Apostle Paul agrees:
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)
The Letter of James shows that generosity is essential to true religion:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:270
The verses I've collected here are only a small sample of literally hundreds of passages from the Bible that call us to care for the poor, a vocation that includes charitable giving but is not limited to it. (We're also called to seek justice for the poor so that they might no longer be caught in the web of poverty, but this I'll save for another time.)
These passages give us a solid foundation for building an understanding of Christian charity. In a nutshell, they tell us to give, and to give, and then to give some more. Generosity, even sacrificial generosity, should be part and parcel of Christian disciplesship. But, alas, this isn't so easy in today's world, as I'll explain in my next post on OneTrueGodBlog.com.