In June of 2022, Statista Research Department published the results of a public opinion poll on the most important problems facing the United States. Two concerns rose to the top: Tied at 18 percent, respondents listed the high cost of living and inflation along with dissatisfaction with the government and poor leadership. Christianity and Judaism both teach humanity to be concerned with the well-being of each other.
(Leviticus 19:16)1NIV New International Version Translations – “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life.’ I am the Lord.”
The contents of Leviticus are primarily a book of laws concerned with priests (those who were members of the priestly tribe of Levi) and their duties. One of its laws had to do with both the value we place on others along with their care and keeping. The Hebrew prophets frequently spoke against those who were content and comfortable while others were in great distress.
(Amos 6:1,4,6) – Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!
You lie on beds adorned with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves.
You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.
Life is to be considered sacred, and we are obligated to do what we can to help others. The Prophet Jeremiah stated: “Those killed by the sword are better off than those who die of famine; racked with hunger, they waste away for lack of food from the field.” (Lamentations 4:9). Yes, it was considered better to be killed than to die of hunger! The pursuit of fairness and justice in society is one of the most fundamental concepts of serving humanity. We are not to wait for the right opportunity, the right time, or place, but are to pursue or run after opportunities and to practice generosity, fairness, and justice. “Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20) The Hebrew word for charity (tzedakah) means “justice.” The act of sharing is an act of justice. People in need are entitled to our love and help. They too are human beings created in God’s image. The hungry and the poor have a place and a purpose within God’s creation. King Solomon asserts “To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” (Proverbs 21:3)
The act of charity was considered so important that it took priority even over the building of the Temple. King Solomon was prohibited from using the silver and gold that David, his father, had accumulated for the building of the Temple. That wealth was intended to be used to feed the poor during the three years of famine in King David’s reign (1 Kings 7:51). Poverty is destructive to the human personality and negatively shapes a person’s life experiences. “The wealth of the rich is their fortified city, but poverty is the ruin of the poor.” (Proverbs 10:15). Where there is no sustenance, there is no learning. The sufferings of poverty can cause a person to disregard their sense of right and wrong.
Unfortunately, compassion for the poor and hungry is not enough. A fundamental Biblical principle is that those who have much should share with others who are less fortunate. We are to reach out to all who are in need. We live in a world where millions are hungry. To honor our God and help those who cannot help themselves, we are all called to be compassionate, even viewing God’s word as a Voice of Duty. It may even require a simpler life for us to share more with others.
The Biblical use of the word “charity” (or we might use community service) is primarily found in the King James Version of the Bible, and it always means “love.” In the great “love chapter,” (1 Corinthians 13) the KJV translates the Greek word “agape” as “charity” while the modern Bible translations describe the word agape as meaning “unconditional love.” The only use of the word charity to mean “giving” is found in Acts 9:36, which refers to Dorcas (Tabitha), a woman “full of good works and charity.” The Greek word used in Acts means “compassion, as exercised towards the poor; beneficence.” The KJV translates this word used as “almsgiving.”
Dorcas is introduced in Acts as one known for her care of widows and her provisions of clothing for the poor. As a widow herself, she lived in the town of Joppa, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Dorcas was well-off and was loved by the townspeople. Well-off could easily be interpreted as the standard of living we all share here in our country. When Dorcas became ill and died, the people in Joppa called for the Apostle Peter. On Peter’s arrival, he found many other widows there, weeping. They all showed Peter “the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them” as evidence of Dorcas’ loving service on God’s behalf. No one should ever underestimate the impact simple acts of charity have on the people around them. In Dorcas’ case, they not only helped many of the poor in her community by making clothes, but she had given hope and purpose to many other women who were also widows. Peter “presented her alive” to the mourning community, as a miracle to their faithfulness.
The story of Dorcas is just one example in our Bible of how we are to meet the needs of those around us. God’s children are to “continue to remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10). James, Jesus’ half-brother, is quoted in (James 1:27) “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” This is how the Body of Christ functions. When people see justice, faith, and charity in action, it is one of the greatest personal testimonies that anyone can give to their own families and community.
(1 Timothy 6:17-18) – “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share”
As we end this study, it might be helpful to look to the Apostle Paul who is writing to his protege, Timothy about wealth. Those so blessed to have what the world considers wealth are reminded not to place value on themselves because of their wealth. Such an attitude does nothing for someone’s mind or moral worth. The uncertainty of wealth, things which never last or are ever-changing, seldom continue with the original holder. Worldly riches are never to be trusted. They are not permanent. Only God is permanent. Paul reminds us that our wealth is God’s wealth, and we are but temporary stewards of it. It is with our “free will” that we will determine its use. The true comforts of life can only come from God, as well as the necessities of life. While God gives liberally, humanity divides it up badly. In the end, God is calling each of us individually to willingly share His blessings with those in need and then feel good about it!
(2 Corinthians 9:7) – “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
- What charitable acts are most visible in your community?
- Ideas to Explore: Food banks, sharing centers, churches, businesses, law enforcement, etc.
- Have you ever been hungry, very hungry?
- Ideas to Explore: What was the longest time you went without food? How did you feel? There are tens of thousands of homeless adults and children who go to sleep hungry every day – How do you feel about that?
- In what ways do you share your “wealth” with others?
- Ideas to Explore: Acts of volunteerism, gifts of food, financial support, etc.
- What would you do to end hunger in your community? In the world?
- Ideas to Explore: Support of local sharing centers, support of church programs directed at hunger? For supporting hunger programs in the world, why is this more difficult? Are there programs you support?
- Have you ever volunteered in a local soup kitchen?
- Ideas to Explore: There is nothing more rewarding than gaining an understanding about the people in need. You should never fear seeing them, helping them directly.
- 1NIV New International Version Translations