Giving That Pleases God
JESUS and his disciples were enjoying a good meal in Bethany with a number of close friends, including Mary, Martha, and the recently resurrected Lazarus. When Mary took a pound of expensive oil and greased the feet of Jesus, Judas Iscariot became indignant and spoke up. “Why was it this perfumed oil was not sold for three hundred denarii [equivalent to about a year’s wage] and given to the poor?” he protested. Others quickly brought up similar complaints.—John 12:1-6; Mark 14:3-5.
However, Jesus answered: “Let her alone. . . . For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want to you can always do them good, but me you do not have always.” (Mark 14:6-9) The Jewish religious leaders taught that almsgiving not only was virtuous but could even atone for sins. Jesus, on the other hand, made it clear that giving that pleases God is not limited to making charitable gifts to the poor.
A brief look at the way giving was done in the early Christian congregation will highlight some practical ways in which we can show our concern and thus please God with our giving. It will also identify a unique kind of giving that does the most good.
“Give Gifts of Mercy”
On several occasions Jesus encouraged his disciples to “give gifts of mercy,” or as other translations render the phrase, to “give in charity” or “give to charity.” (Luke 12:33; New English Bible; A Translation in the Language of the People, by Charles B. Williams) Jesus cautioned, however, against showy displays that were intended merely to glorify the giver rather than God. “When you go making gifts of mercy,” he said, “do not blow a trumpet ahead of you, just as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be glorified by men.” (Matthew 6:1-4) Applying this admonition, early Christians avoided the showy spectacles of the pious religious elite in their day and chose to help those in need by rendering personal services or making private gifts.
At Luke 8:1-3, for example, we are told that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and others used “their belongings” in quietly ministering to Jesus and his apostles. Although these men were not destitute, they had abandoned their means of livelihood to focus their efforts exclusively on the ministry. (Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 5:27, 28) By helping them to complete their God-given assignment, these women, in effect, glorified God. And God showed his appreciation by preserving a record of their merciful generosity in the Bible for all future generations to read.—Proverbs 19:17; Hebrews 6:10.
Dorcas was another kind woman who “abounded in good deeds and gifts of mercy.” She made clothes for needy widows in her seaside town of Joppa. Whether she paid for all the materials herself or simply donated her labor, we do not know. Nonetheless, her good work endeared her to those she could help, as well as to God, who mercifully blessed her goodwill.—Acts 9:36-41.
The Right Motive Is Vital
What motivated these individuals to give? It was more than a compassionate impulse triggered by an emotional appeal for help. They felt a personal moral responsibility to do what they could each day to help those experiencing poverty, adversity, illness, or other difficulties. (Proverbs 3:27, 28; James 2:15, 16) This is the kind of giving that pleases God. It is primarily motivated by a deep love for God and a desire to imitate his merciful and generous personality.—Matthew 5:44, 45; James 1:17.
The apostle John highlighted this vital aspect of giving when he asked: “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?” (1 John 3:17) The answer is obvious. The love of God moves people to be charitable. God appreciates and rewards those who, like him, show a generous spirit. (Proverbs 22:9; 2 Corinthians 9:6-11) Do we see this kind of generosity today? Consider what recently happened in a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
An elderly Christian woman’s home was in serious need of repair. She was living alone and had no family to help her. Through the years, her home had always been open to hold Christian meetings, and often she would share a meal with anyone who would accept her invitation. (Acts 16:14, 15, 40) Seeing her plight, members of the congregation rallied to help. Some contributed funds, others their labor. Over a few weekends, volunteers put on a new roof, installed a new bathroom, plastered and painted the whole first floor, and installed new cabinets in the kitchen. Their giving not only met the woman’s need but also drew the congregation closer together and impressed the neighbors as an example of true Christian giving.
There are so many ways we can personally assist others. Can we spend time with a fatherless boy or girl? Can we do some shopping or sewing for an elderly widow we know? Can we cook a meal or help cover an expense for someone of limited means? We do not have to be wealthy to help out. The apostle Paul wrote: “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.” (2 Corinthians 8:12) Is such personal, direct giving, though, the only kind of giving that God will bless? No.
What About Organized Relief?
Sometimes personal efforts are not enough. In fact, Jesus and his apostles kept a common fund for the poor, and they accepted contributions from caring people they met in their work. (John 12:6; 13:29) Likewise, first-century congregations took up collections when the need arose and organized relief on a larger scale.—Acts 2:44, 45; 6:1-3; 1 Timothy 5:9, 10.
One such occasion arose about 55 C.E. The congregations in Judea had fallen into poverty, perhaps as a result of the great famine that had recently taken place. (Acts 11:27-30) The apostle Paul, always concerned about the poor, enlisted the help of congregations as far away as Macedonia. He personally organized a collection and used approved men to deliver it. (1 Corinthians 16:1-4; Galatians 2:10) Neither he nor any of the others involved took payment for their service.—2 Corinthians 8:20, 21.
Jehovah’s Witnesses today are also quick to help when disaster strikes. During the summer of 2001, for instance, torrential storms caused major flooding in Houston, Texas, U.S.A. In all, 723 homes of Witnesses were damaged to some extent, many of them quite badly. A disaster relief committee made up of qualified Christian elders was immediately formed to assess individual needs and to allocate relief funds to help the local Witnesses to cope with the situation and repair their homes. Willing volunteers from neighboring congregations performed all the work. One Witness was so appreciative of the help that when she received payment from her insurance company to cover the repairs to her house, she immediately donated the money to the relief fund so that it could help others in need.
When it comes to organized charity, though, we need to be cautious as we evaluate the many appeals we receive. Some charities have high administrative or fund-raising costs, leaving only a small portion of the collected money for the intended purpose. Proverbs 14:15 says: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.” So it is the course of wisdom to examine the facts carefully.
Giving That Does the Most Good
There is a kind of giving that is even more important than charity. Jesus alluded to this when a rich young ruler asked what he had to do to get everlasting life. Jesus told him: “Go sell your belongings and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come be my follower.” (Matthew 19:16-22) Notice that Jesus did not just say, ‘Give to the poor and you will get life.’ Instead, he added, “Come be my follower.” In other words, as commendable and beneficial as charitable acts are, Christian discipleship involves more.
Jesus’ chief interest was in helping others spiritually. Shortly before his death, he told Pilate: “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.” (John 18:37) While he took the lead in helping the poor, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry, Jesus primarily trained his disciples to preach. (Matthew 10:7, 8) In fact, among his final instructions to them was the command: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations.”—Matthew 28:19, 20.
Of course, preaching will not solve all the world’s problems. Yet, sharing the good news of God’s Kingdom with all sorts of people glorifies God because preaching accomplishes God’s will and opens the way to everlasting benefits for those who accept the divine message. (John 17:3; 1 Timothy 2:3, 4) Why not listen to what Jehovah’s Witnesses have to say the next time they call? They come with a spiritual gift. And they know that this is the best way that they can give to you.
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There are many ways to show that we care
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Our preaching the good news pleases God and opens the way to everlasting benefits