Charity According to the Bible

December is quite a popular time to talk about charity, isn’t it? Whether it’s at church, work, or school, we’ll usually hear someone asking us to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and donate to the Salvation Army. But unless you plan to read other blog posts talking about it (or you already have), that’s not what you’re reading about today. Such actions—while beneficial—only scratch the surface of charity itself. But what is charity, anyway? What actions do we need to take in order to make a difference? To answer that, we should consider what the core of kindness and generosity looks like. And since the Bible teaches those two principles (among many others), it makes sense to turn to it for answers.

There are three stories in the Bible that in some way demonstrate the heart of charity. The first is found in Luke 21, commonly referred to as “The Widow’s Offering.” Jesus is observing people putting gifts into the temple treasury. Then a widow comes in and puts in two copper coins—the story insinuates that this was pretty much her life savings—and he commends her by saying “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

The second story is at the end of Luke 10, titled “At the Home of Martha and Mary.” Jesus was visiting the home of two sisters. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to him talk, while Martha stayed busy working on preparations. Martha wanted to scold her sister for leaving her to do all the work. But Jesus responded with “Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Finally, the third story is a parable Jesus shared with his disciples, known as the Sheep and the Goats. In the story, nations of people (referred to as sheep and goats) are gathered before the king. After separating the two, the king invites the sheep into his home to enjoy all his blessings, thanking them for feeding him, clothing him, looking after him, visiting him in prison, and quenching his thirst. The sheep asked when they ever did these things, and the king responded with “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

From these stories, we can draw a few conclusions about what the heart of charity looks like.

First, the parable of the sheep and the goats takes charity and puts it into a whole other ballpark. Shakespeare says that “all the world is a stage, and all the people merely players.” From the eyes of human instinct, that might be true. But it’s not a healthy way of thinking about other people. Our lives would be so different if for a sliver of a moment we could take someone—even someone we don’t agree with—and think of them as a creation. God’s creation. There’s a reason that people find insight in the Les Miserables line “to love another person is to see the face of God.” Though we may have different appearances, backgrounds, memories, opinions, and capabilities, a person is still a person.

But even that mindset isn’t charity in its entirety. Enter the story of Mary and Martha. While doing work for people is beneficial and necessary at times, so is listening to them. When we listen to someone talk and take everything they say into consideration, we get invested in them. Most missionaries will tell you that the first step in reaching out to different people is by meeting them where they’re at. And sometimes, the world needs people who are willing and able to listen.

With those two points in mind, you still need one more to get to the heart of good will. If you want to genuinely make a positive change in someone’s life, you need to put your all into it. The rich put in portions of what they had, but the widow offered as much as she could, and Jesus himself honored her for it. While it’s wonderful to donate old items we don’t need anymore, it speaks volumes when we give up something we hold dear for the sake of something greater.

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