The Bible’s Viewpoint
Charitable Contributions—A Christian Obligation?
LESS than ten years ago, the PTL (Praise the Lord) Club, headquartered in the southeastern United States, solicited donations as a religious charity. Using a satellite-TV network and the mails, they collected hundreds of millions of dollars, which came pouring in to fill their coffers—ostensibly to spread the gospel.
Imagine how the thousands who had sent money to the PTL Club felt when they read news reports such as the Associated Press dispatch that said Jim Bakker, former president of PTL, together with his wife, Tammy, “reportedly were paid $1.6 million in salary and bonuses in 1986.” Worse yet, the report added: “Those payments were made even though the ministry is at least $50 million in debt . . . Some $265,000 in PTL money had been set aside for [Jessica] Hahn to ensure her silence about the [sexual] encounter with Bakker.”
Before handing down a prison sentence to Bakker for defrauding his followers, the judge at his trial said: “Those of us who do have a religion are sick of being saps for money-grubbing preachers and priests.”
Religion is not alone in zealously pushing the emotional buttons of contributors and then pocketing most of the money. It is not unusual for some fund-raisers to keep more than 90 percent of the donations they solicit.
Is it any wonder, then, that people are getting fed up with such charities? However, what are Christians to do? Are they obligated to give to organized charities? What guidelines does the Bible give to ensure the wise use of funds when helping others? What is the best and most practical way to help others?
Giving—Yes and No
To be sure, the Bible’s counsel is to be kind and generous toward those in need. From ancient times God’s people have been encouraged to “be liberal, ready to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18; Deuteronomy 15:7, 10, 11) In fact, Christians are told at 1 John 3:17: “Whoever has this world’s means for supporting life and beholds his brother having need and yet shuts the door of his tender compassions upon him, in what way does the love of God remain in him?”
Give, yes; but beware! We are regularly bombarded by charities, religions, and annual community-service campaigns; most make compelling appeals. However, in evaluating them it is good to remember the Bible proverb: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.” (Proverbs 14:15) In other words, beware of accepting the claims or promises of charities at face value. How is the collected money really used? Are the organizations funded those that a Christian should support? Are their activities political, nationalistic, or connected with false religion? Is the avowed purpose practical and not in conflict with Scriptural principles?
Some charities are able to do much good for people in need. When affected by natural disasters or catastrophic illness, many times Christians themselves have received benefits from such charities. Other charities, though, have high administrative costs or high fund-raising costs, with the result that only a small portion of the money collected is actually used for the advertised purpose. For example, a recent survey of 117 of the United States’ largest nonprofit organizations, including charities, found that more than a quarter of them pay their top executives a yearly salary of $200,000 or more. Audits often reveal expenditures for luxury items and the financing of an opulent life-style. Regardless of the name of the charity, it would take a long stretch of the imagination to believe that contributing to such schemes would fulfill the Bible’s command to help those in need.
A Balanced View
Though no one wants to waste his money—or worse, see it used to line the pockets of self-serving men—there is also the need to guard against becoming cynical in the matter of giving. Do not use the inefficiency or even the dishonesty of some “charities” as an excuse to look down on needy ones or to squelch feelings of compassion. Proverbs 3:27, 28 counsels: “Do not hold back good from those to whom it is owing, when it happens to be in the power of your hand to do it. Do not say to your fellowman: ‘Go, and come back and tomorrow I shall give,’ when there is something with you.” (Compare 1 John 3:18.) Do not assume that all organized charities are either wasteful or fraudulent. Examine the facts, then make a personal decision whether to give or not.
Many prefer to help by personal, direct gifts to needy individuals and families. Thus, the givers are sure of the practical, immediate use to which their contributions can be put. This also provides opportunity to upbuild and express kindness in words as well as deeds. Even if you do not have much to give materially, you can still have the joy of giving. Next time you hear of a genuine need for such help, give what you can in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 8:12: “If the readiness is there first, it is especially acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what a person does not have.”
Have in mind, too, that sometimes what may do the most good is something other than money. Jesus told his followers to “go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’ . . . You received free, give free.” (Matthew 10:7, 8) Similarly today, Christians realize that the time, energy, and money spent in supporting Kingdom witnessing—which improves lives and gives hope—is charitable giving of the best kind.
The Bible’s view, then, is to be kind, generous, and practical. It reminds us that material help is often needed, and the need should not be ignored. At the same time do not feel obligated to give to any and all who may solicit your money. Consider how best to use the money you have so as to please God and to give the greatest practical help to your own family and to your fellowman. (1 Timothy 5:8; James 2:15, 16) Imitate Jesus in being observant of and responsive to the needs of others—spiritually and materially. In the words of Hebrews 13:16: “Do not forget the doing of good and the sharing of things with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”