Sermon: How to Invest in God’s Program
Scripture: Matthew 6:1-4
In this week’s lessons, we learn about the principle of giving, and the blessings that come from the Lord upon both the giver and the recipient.
Theme: The Source of Charity
In today’s world, charity is practiced on a very wide scale and is thought to be the natural product of the innate benevolence of the human spirit. Actually, this is not so. For true charity came into the world solely through Christianity. Thus, the charity we see today—in the United Fund, in the Red Cross, in hospitals, in benevolent foundations, and in government—is purely a byproduct of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I do not mean to suggest by this that there was never such a thing as a gift to the poor in pagan lands in the pre-Christian era. We read in ancient sources of those who would toss a few coins to a beggar and thereby gain a reputation for magnanimity from their contemporaries. But such a display was infrequent at best, and it was motivated by a desire for men’s praise rather than a genuine concern for the recipient. Before Christ, there were no homes for the sick or poor, and no orphanages. There was a world of toil and poverty, of the exposure of unwanted children, of slavery, of great hunger side by side with great affluence, and appalling indifference. After Christ came there was an instant and sacrificial love of the believers for each other. And this was followed by the care of the poor, hospitals, reform in the status of women, eventually a change in labor laws, the abolition of slavery, and other things.
The proof that this is true is to be seen in the awe by which the life of the early Church was first viewed by the ancient world. For instance, as early as A.D. 125 the Athenian philosopher Aristides delivered a defense of the faith to the Emperor Hadrian, in which he said of normal Christians:
They do not commit adultery or fornication, they do not bear false witness, they do not deny a deposit, nor covet what is not theirs: they honor father and mother; they do good to those who are their neighbors…. They love one another: and from the widows they do not turn away their countenance: and they rescue the orphan from him who does him violence: and he who has gives to him who had not, without grudging…. When one of their poor passes away from the world, and any of them sees him, then he provides for his burial according to his ability; and if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs, and if it is possible that he may be delivered, they deliver him. If there is among them a man that is poor or needy, and they have not an abundance of necessaries, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.1
It is evident from this spirited apology that the charity of the early Church was a new and amazing thing to its contemporaries. And their awe of it is the best evidence that true charity entered the world with Christianity.
1The Apology of Aristides, Edited with an Introduction and Translation by J. Rendel Harris, vol. 1 of “Texts and Studies,” ed. J. Armitage Robinson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1891), 48-49.
What is the source of true charity in the world? Why is this the case? What evidences do we have of this?
List the items describing Christians’ activities in Aristides’ letter. How well do we as Christians today show compassionate care toward other Christians? What kind of things do we do for those in need? What could we do better?
Prayer: Ask the Lord for a greater awareness and sensitivity of the practical needs of others around you. How will you seek to minister to them in the name of Christ?