Charity

My dearest brothers and sisters, let us consider a portion of God’s word found in Paul’s first epistle to the church at Corinth:

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. — I Corinthians 13:3

Before sharing my thoughts on this verse, I’d like to briefly look at a fundamental concept regarding the Greek word agape, a word found throughout the verses of scripture which follow Verse 3. They are some of the most quoted scriptures of our day:

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. — I Corinthians 13:4-13

We notice the translators of the King James bible translated the Greek word agape as charity. It has reference to:
  • love
  • generous actions
  • benevolence
  • a disposition to do good
I’ve noticed occasionally that some of God’s people use the words “biblical love” or “agape love” because the world around us has so corrupted the meaning of the English word love. As followers of Christ, let us remember that Satan is subtle; we must beware of falling into the snare of conforming to what those around us are doing and saying. (God warned the children of Israel of this very thing in the Old Testament.) In part, this will prevent our view of God’s word from being adversely affected.

What, then, is love? The world uses the word love to refer to “fuzzy feelings” people can have for each other…a state one can fall into…a state one can fall out of. God’s word says nothing about “falling into love” or “falling out of love”.

When we listen to worldly music, watch movies, or watch TV, we notice that a sin—fornication—is sometimes called “making love”. Can a man and a woman create love by participating in sin? What is love?

Let us look at what God’s word says about love:

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also. — I John 4:7-21

The Greek word agape was translated as love in these verses. It carries the same meaning as the passage above from the Corinthian epistle. Most notably for our purposes today: God is love, and love comes from God.


The love/charity in these passages is about both action and attitude; feelings have much less—if anything—to do with it. When Jesus told us to love our enemies, He was not commanding us to start out by having warm, fuzzy feelings about them. He was commanding us first to show unto them kindness, patience, benevolence, forgiveness, and other forms of goodness—to overcome evil with good. This is not to be done because our enemies deserve it, but in spite of whether they deserve it or not. God loved us when we were yet enemies. Our sins are forgiven in Jesus Christ because He showed forth His love to us—not because we were so lovable and deserving of His goodness! When we were yet enemies, Christ died for us. As His disciples, we are commanded to show forth love (charity) in the same fashion, and to do it with the right spirit—not begrudgingly.

Now, let’s revisit I Corinthians 13:3. I notice from this verse that it’s possible to give all your goods to feed the poor but still not have charity. Let’s examine this concept more closely.

Charity is another of those words that the world has twisted. One dictionary’s definition of charity reads “something given to a person or persons in need; alms”. I observe that the world’s definition usually retains the action, but it sometimes loses site of the purpose of the action or the attitude with which it’s to be done. Paul tells us that if we give all our goods to feed the poor, it’s still possible to not have charity. Charity is something deeper and of a much higher calling than having 5% of our paycheck donated to a worthwhile cause.

After church services today, my thoughts were turned to charity after a conversation at the dinner table. Two of my dear sisters were discussing President-elect Obama, his policies, and our obligation to help those in need. My intent in this writing is not to discuss politics. I have never claimed to be a Republican or a Democrat. I do, however, believe in the following verses from God’s word:

And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. — Acts 2:44-45

Some in the political world feel the government should ensure the ideas found in these verses of scripture are carried out, though they claim “deservedness” and “fairness” rather than God’s word as their motivation. Others feel it is not the role of government to take things from some citizens and redistribute them to others. Regardless of whether our nation’s leaders share either of these views or another view entirely, we as God’s people have an obligation to follow the teachings found in God’s word.

But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. — Luke 6:27-36

This is indeed a high calling, but it is our calling. It can be done daily, with or without the help of government, if we look for the opportunities.

As my brother Travis and I were stopped at a traffic light yesterday, we observed a man on the street corner holding a sign indicating he was an out-of-work veteran. I’m ashamed to share my thoughts, but they raced from, “He looks healthy enough to be working. Why doesn’t he hustle and find a job?” to, “I’d like to help him. How much should I give?” to, “We’re in a hurry and I don’t want to make us late.” While I was doing nothing, the car next to us motioned for the man. The driver handed him a sack of food and a drink, freshly purchased from McDonald’s and no doubt intended for the car’s driver and his passenger. The driver of that car was living what God’s word teaches us. He was showing forth his faith by his works. What was I doing?

I don’t know to what extent the driver was familiar with the teachings of scripture, but I feel strongly that God’s word was written in his heart through the sovereign operation of the Holy Spirit. He would not otherwise have shown forth the charity that can only come from God.

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. — Ezekiel 36:26-28

Brothers and sisters, God has replaced our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, and He has given us a new spirit. What will we do with them?
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