Sermon for Sunday, June 12th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Deu 15:7-11 ESV] 7 “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, 8 but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. 9 Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and you be guilty of sin. 10 You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’
New Testament reading:
[1Co 16:5-14 ESV] 5 I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, 6 and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. 10 When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. 11 So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers. 12 Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity. 13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.
[Luk 10:25-37 ESV] 25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
The text for the sermon today is from 1 Corinthians 16:14 – “Let all that you do be done in love.”
REPEAT: “Let ALL that you do be done in love.”
We continue today in our series on Christian virtues, having addressed Humility last week, we are now on to Charity; the Christian Virtue of Charity.
And immediate we run into a problem, because there are a number of ways in which the word Charity is used. One dictionary I looked at had four definitions of Charity and they ranged in meaning from very specific to quite broad.
It is then on this outline of 4 definitions that I’ll be framing this sermon, as we look at (1) Charitable organizations, (2) Charity to the poor, (3) Charitableness towards others, and (4) The Virtue of Charity.
In the dictionary Charity is …
And this is what we often first think about … (1) an organization set up to provide help and raise money for those in need.
Then, it is also (2) a voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money for those in need.
(3) It is kindness and tolerance in judging others. And, finally, very closely related to that is the fourth definition…charity is
(4) An “archaic” word meaning love.
And you know that dictionaries put the various definitions in order of common use. The first is more common than the second, third, and fourth.
Now each of these four definitions of “charity” are relevant to the Christian, but the dictionary has placed them in the wrong order from our stand point. From the Biblical perspective it is love and kindness that is preeminent with voluntary giving and charitable organizations as merely some ways in which the virtue of charity is expressed.
So we’ll be looking at each of the four meanings, but will give special attention to the Biblical view of charity in general as it relates to kindness and love of others.
First then we have charitable organizations.
I. Charitable Organizations
Many people are in a place in life where they find seldom opportunity to themselves directly help the poor or needy. Thus charitable organizations have developed.
But you must be careful with your donations, for many charities are bloated and others, if they happen to run smoothly, may be working well but only to the wrong ends! It is good to know where you money is GOING and what your money is DOING.
In general, donating locally has more effect that donating nationally or globally. The Scriptural way is to donate to the church (the local church), and if there is some issue further away, then multiple local churches (and/or their people) can contribute to that cause.
Also on this local-first idea, the Christian is to give first to his local church, as a tithe. Only then may support be sent also to charities.
Giving to charities is a good thing, no doubt, but it is not the only way to be charitable. You CAN pay for other people to do charitable work, or you CAN do charitable work yourself.
So we have the second meaning: Charity to the poor.
II. Charity to the Poor
Whether you give charitable to organizations or do charitable deeds yourself, it is important to realize that your paying of taxes is insufficient.
When Ebenezer Scrooge was asked to give some donation to the poor, what did he say? He said, “My taxes help to support the public institutions.”
The problem here — well, there are many — is that if charity was limited to government there would be no charity at all; no voluntary giving, merely coerced taxation.
Other problems with “charity” through taxes include government mismanagement, inefficiently, grift, and graft. In short, the government does a very poor job of using funds to alleviate poverty. In fact, their programs tend to expand poverty, giving incentives for people to remain poor and have more children out of wedlock.
And, finally, we might add, the government doesn’t have Christian objectives. Ultimately charity (or welfare) is not part of the Biblical role of government. Government can best alleviate poverty by staying out of the way, and sticking to what they are supposed to do – bear the sword, keep law and order.
So there must be Christian charities and there must be Christian giving. And, well this is my opinion, your giving should be primarily if not exclusively to CHRISTIAN organizations.
When you give consider that what you have is not your own. You have only what God has given you.
We are stewards. And so we don’t just give things away haphazardly, but we should research how our donations are likely to be used.
Naturally, we cannot give if we do not work. A preacher I know (Joe Morecraft) said “God has given a way to alleviate poverty. Work.”
Indeed, we are to work. And he who does not work shall not eat. Charity should be for those in need, not for those who game the system.
So there are two individuals in the book of acts who are praised for their giving – Tabitha and Cornelius:
[Act 9:36 ESV] 36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity.
[Act 10:1-2 ESV] 1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.
You might note that neither of these were rich. You don’t have to be rich to give. In fact, I’ve heard that the actually percentage of giving in poor rural churches is higher than in affluent suburban churches. And, I’ve experienced first hand when I was hiking, those who will pick you up when you are a hitchhiker are often the poor!
So we have Tabitha, a woman, praised for giving alms generously.
And we have Cornelius, a centurion, praised for giving alms generously.
The centurion was the lowest paid in the Roman army. It was yet a decent salary, but he was by no means rich. Yet he gave generously.
And there were not charitable organizations (that I’m aware of) in those days. Charity was giving directly to the person in need. We should strongly consider that option; rather than giving to a national organization, give to someone in need in your community.
III. Charitableness Towards Others
Let’s move on though to the third of the definitions of charity. Charitableness towards others.
This is getting closer to the general idea of charity in the Bible.
Here, our charitableness extends beyond financial giving to the poor, and moves to a broader kindness towards all people.
Particularly, for some time, have I been thinking about “being charitable” as in “giving the benefit of the doubt” to others.
People certainly make bad decisions, but sometimes we judge their decisions to be bad without sufficient knowledge of the reasons why they made the decision they made. And upon further investigation it may prove to have been a wise decision after all. So let us be charitable with others.
We might say “Be charitable to others as you wish they would be charitable to you.” Or, give the best possible interpretation of their words and intentions. This would end a lot of strife between peoples. Don’t twist words into evil things, but even nudge them towards truth and righteousness.
Also, we are to “give people charity” because we don’t know what they are going through. Their bad attitude or false step in the world may be related to the condition they are in, rather than the immediate circumstances.
So give others charity in listening and in viewing their life and actions. Judge kindly, be charitable.
This is closer to the Biblical idea of charity, but we’re not quite all the way there yet.
To get “all the way there” I want to look at 1 Corinthians 13 and the text for our sermon, 1 Corinthians 16 as we look at “The Virtue of Charity.”
IV. The Virtue of Charity
First, from chapter 13.
When Paul ends his discourse on love, he says “So now faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”
Well, remember how I said the dictionary spoke of an “archaic” definition of charity?
Well, it is here in 1 Corinthians 13 that the KJV translates the final verse of the chapter as follows:
[1Co 13:13 KJV] 13 And now abideth faith, hope, and CHARITY, these three; but the greatest of these [is] CHARITY.
That is, the translators of the King James Bible translated the Greek word “Agape” here not as love, but as charity.
Biblical charity as far more akin to Agape love than to merely financial giving. It extends to all realms of life, even to the extend Paul can say in 1 Corinthians 16:14 – “Let ALL that you do be done in love.” [REPEAT: “Let all that you do be done in love.”]
Here Paul also uses the word “agape.” Let all that you do be done in agape.
Elsewhere in the NT, translated as “charity,” is ἐλεημοσύνη el-eh-ay-mos-oo’-nay which is about compassion to the poor, or almsgiving. But charity as agape means much more than giving to the poor. It means “love towards fellow man.” That is the overriding idea of Biblical charity, and from that love of man, that virtue of charity, that giving to the poor flows forth (either directly or through charities).
CONCLUSION / SUMMARY
So I want to conclude — and this is a long conclusion — by summarizing the Biblical virtue of charity in the following way:
Charity is …
– a duty
– a joy
– and a gift
1. A Duty
First, charity is for us a duty.
We read the story of the Good Samaritan. The man who, of his own accord, had compassion on the man in need, bound up his wounds, and poured upon him oil and wine. And he paid for him to be taken care of at an Inn.
And we applaud the Good Samaritan. But we dare not overlook the very beginning nor the very end of the story.
See, in the beginning, the man asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
The parable then, using a Samaritan rather than a Jew, tells us that ALL people are your neighbors. The duty of charity to others extends to ALL people.
Then, in the end of the parable, Jesus says “You go, and do likewise.”
Charity is a duty. “You go, and do likewise.”
It is not optional, but it is something we are called to do.
Charity is for us a duty.
2. A Joy
Then, even though charity is a duty, it is to be a great joy.
Maybe you’re sad when your wallet gets slimmer or upset when you are distracted from some other task when helping someone in need.
But that is not the way it should be. You should look at charity as great opportunities, joyful opportunities to help a fellow human being made in the image of God. And what a great joy that is to see someone else happy because of your charity.
Our OT reading from Deuteronomy said: “You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.”
We are asked to “remember the poor”, that which Paul says in Galatians 2:10, is “the very thing I was eager to do.”
And he says in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “For God loves a cheerful giver.”
Are you eager to give? Are you a cheerful giver? I pray that you are.
3. A Gift
Then, lastly, charity is a gift.
Ultimately charity is a gift we have received from Christ. He had charity on us, poor wretched sinners. For his love for us, he died on the cross.
And so we live by God’s kindness, by His grace, and by His love.
How unsuitable then for us who live by kindness to be unkind.
How unsuitable for us who live by His grace to be ungracious.
How unsuitable for us who live by God’s love to not be charitable.
So we are called to charity, and pray that we grow in that virtue.
There is faith, there is hope, and there is charity. And the greatest of these is Charity. Let us then be charitable to our fellow man as Christ was charitable to us. For this do we pray. Let us pray.