In today’s world charity is practiced on a wide scale and is thought to be the natural product of the innate benevolence of the human spirit. Actually, that is not so. True charity came into the world through Christianity, and the charity we see today – in the United Way, in the Red Cross, in hospitals, in benevolent foundations, in government – is purely a by-product 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’s time there were no homes for the sick or poor, 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. This was followed by care for the poor, hospitals, reform laws in the status of women, the establishing of change in labor laws, the abolition of slavery, and other things.
The proof that this is true is seen in the awe by which the ancient world first viewed the life of the early church. 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 nor 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 pr 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.”
It is evident from this spirited apology that the charity of the early church was a new and amazing thing to its contemporaries. Their awe of it is the best evidence that true charity entered the world with Christianity.
Have you ever been led of the Lord to give sacrificially, perhaps even of that which you do not yet have? Let me tell you how Dr. Oswald J. Smith, pastor of the well-known People’s Church in Toronto, Canada, first learned to give sacrificially. He was sitting on the platform of the People’s Church for the first time since commencing his ministry there. It was at the time of their annual missionary convention. He was unaware of their normal procedure, and he was somewhat surprised to see the ushers going up and down the aisles handing out envelopes. Surprise turned to amazement and amazement to horror, however, when one of the ushers had the “audacity,” as he said, to walk up the aisle and hand him an envelope. He read on it, “In dependence upon God I will endeavor to give toward the missionary work of the church $____________during the coming year.”
He had never seen such a thing before. As he had a wife and child to keep and was at that time earning only twenty-five dollars a week, he had never given more than five dollars to missions at any one time previously, and that only once. He started to pray, “Lord God, I can’t do anything. You know I have nothing. I haven’t a cent in the bank. I haven’t anything in my pocket. Everything is sky-high in price.” It was true. World War I was on.
But the Lord seemed to say, “I know all that. I know you are getting only twenty-five dollars a week. I know you have nothing in your pocket and nothing in the bank.”
“Well, then,” he said, “that settles it.”
“Oh, no, it doesn’t,” the Lord answered. “I am not asking you for what you have. I am asking you for a faith offering. How much can you trust me for?”
“Oh, Lord,” said Dr. Smith, “that’s different. How much can I trust you for?”
“Fifty dollars!” he exclaimed. “Why, that’s two weeks salary. How can I ever get fifty dollars?”
But again the Lord spoke, and with a trembling hand Oswald Smith signed his name and put the amount of fifty dollars on the envelope. Well, he has written since that he still doesn’t know how he paid it. He had to pray each month for four dollars, but each month God sent it. And at the end of the year, not only had he paid the whole amount, he had himself received such a blessing that he raised the amount to one hundred dollars during that year’s missionary conference. He went on to give much more later and to lead People’s Church into an ever-expanding and ever more effective program of home and world missions.
That is real sacrificial giving, and it is born solely of the Christian Gospel. If you are concerned about your giving (as you should be if you are a Christian), then begin by yielding yourself to the Lord, seek out spiritual causes, and ask the Lord to lead you in His own pattern of giving.
Today’s devotional is excerpted from Dr. James Boice’s booklet “The God Who Provides.” If you would like to read the booklet in its entirety, please find it at ReformedResources.org.