Why do Christians give alms?

Word of God: speak! by Fr. Dana Jackson

Luke 12:33-34

Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not

grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches

nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

St. Stephen’s ICCEC in London, England, supports a local Christian food-bank as part

of our ministry to the poor of our city. The food-bank operates, well, like a bank …

but it stores food rather than money: people with food make deposits, and other

people in need of food come and make withdrawals.

In addition to raising funds to buy food for the food-bank, St. Stephen’s allows me

to work there a few hours each month as a volunteer. My role is usually to meet

with the people who come, listen to their situation, and while their bags of food

are being packed I point them to sources of help for their other needs as well.

Many times I get to pray for them, because the poor often hunger for God as

much as they hunger for food. It is an honor and a privilege to pray in Jesus’

Name for Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, and others – even for those with no

faith at all (yet!).

In November and December I also get requests from schools, businesses, and

even medical facilities to make a presentation about the food-bank and how it

works. I am always clear from the start that we are a Christian organization

operating on the principles of Jesus Christ, and we minister to people regardless

of their faith. We also have non-Christians who volunteer alongside us, and they

get to see the Christian faith in action.

This week I have a further privilege in that I will be speaking to a school as part of

their Religious Education program, and they have specifically asked about the

reasons for giving to charity from a Christian point of view. That got me thinking

… and here is my overview of why disciples of Jesus give to the poor, based on

passages of Scripture:

The Old Testament

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the

corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And

you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your

vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord

your God.” (the book of the law Leviticus 19:9-10)

“If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates

in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden

your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother…. For the poor will

never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall

open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your

land.’” (Deuteronomy 15:7,11)

“He who has a generous eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the

poor.” (the book of King Solomon’s wise sayings Proverbs 22:9)

“Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to

undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break

every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you

bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked,

that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?” (the

prophet Isaiah 58:6-7)

The New Testament

“For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you

belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his

reward.” (the Gospel of Mark 9:41) “…one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’ … Then Jesus, looking at

him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell

whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in

heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’ But he was sad at this

word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (the Gospel

of Mark 10:17-22)

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I

have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the

gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and

though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love,

I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and

though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me

nothing.” (Paul’s first letter to Christians in Corinth, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich,

yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might

become rich.” (Paul’s second letter to Christians in Corinth, 2 Corinthians

8:9) Jesus didn’t just teach selfless giving, He embodied it

“Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did

not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage;

rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,

He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a

cross!” (Paul’s letter to Christians in Philippi, Philippians 2:5-8)

So why do we do what we do? Why do we give alms?

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,

teaching us that … we should live … looking for the blessed hope and

glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave

Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify

for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” (Paul’s letter

to Titus 2:11-14)

Christians don’t do good works for personal glory or to gain entrance into

heaven; we do it because we love Jesus – “We love Him because He first

loved us.” (John’s first letter 1 John 4:19)

Jesus said it is the right thing – the loving thing – to do.

Non nobis Domine+

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