[Where I live, lots of people ask me for money. This post is one of several in search of a biblical view of giving to the poor. I believe the process of finding a biblical stance is at least as important as the conclusions to which I’ve come. For this reason, I intend to post portions of several 3-column studies that have helped me arrive where I have on these issues. For the sake of brevity (not one of my gifts), I’m not including all I’ve discovered in these studies, but rather only those realizations which have pointed me toward my current stance on giving. For a better understanding of what a 3-column study is and why it’s important, see these instructions. Also, I’m saving all “I will” statements to print at the end of the series.]
Giving and Generosity
1 John 3:16-24
Rather than post column 1, I will direct you to 1 John 3:16-24. Below is a summary and restatement in my own words:
We only know what love is because Jesus Christ gave his life for us. And we should do as he did, and give our lives for our fellow Christians. If we have material possessions and see an individual in need, but don’t feel compassion for him AND share with him, this is proof we don’t have God’s love in our own lives. Let’s don’t just say we love, but make it real love by doing something about it. Tangible love for others is how we know we are actually Christians; acts of love are also how we find peace with God when we feel in our hearts we’re not worthy. God is more powerful to give us peace than our own hearts are to condemn us; and he knows everything about us.
If our love brings the peace of God into our hearts, then we can be sure of ourselves when we ask God for things — and we can be certain that we’ll receive those things. This is because we do everything he asks of us out of love, which makes him happy. And the highest command he’s given us is to put our very own lives in the hands of his son, Jesus Christ, and then to love one another. If we trust in Jesus and love each other, it confirms that we’re living in him — and that he’s living in us. Actually, we will always have proof that he lives in us, because he gave us the Holy Spirit in our lives.
What I’ve learned:
- We can only properly define love because Jesus died for us.
- Love can only be learned from seeing and experiencing love.
- We are expected to follow the example of Jesus in loving others, even if it means death.
- The love of God is not in people who don’t have compassion and pity on others.
- The love of God is not in people whose compassion for others doesn’t result in action.
- Saying you love someone is not love. True love requires action and service.
- Truly loving others is proof that I am a Christian.
- God rewards my acts of love by giving me peace, even if inside I feel rotten and sinful.
- I make God happy when I obey him and do what he asks.
- God’s central command is to put our trust in Jesus, and to love one another.
- I am living in Jesus, and he is living in me, when I am obedient to the above commands.
- The Holy Spirit living inside me is proof that Jesus lives in me.
We know what love is only by being witness to Christ giving his life for us. God is the creator, source, definition, and example of love. And we can’t truly comprehend love without first understanding Jesus’ sacrifice. I am confident much of Christ’s reason for coming to earth was to show mankind what love looks like and how it acts — to be a living demonstration of true love in human form.
So love can only be learned by experiencing love. If I’ve encountered true love in Jesus Christ, I am now to follow his example in loving others. One of my goals on earth must be to demonstrate to others what love looks like — so they can learn what it is and how to do it themselves. This is why John urges us in this text to make sure our compassion always results in action. If my faith doesn’t manifest itself in a pouring out of self for the sake of others, I am preventing them from knowing what love is, and from being able to perform it themselves.
And I don’t think it’s any mistake that John explains WE know what love is, because Christ died for US. As the church, we’ve experienced God’s love collectively. And it is collectively that we will demonstrate God’s love to the world. This is why we’re encouraged to meet the needs of other Christians. The church taking care of one another is a demonstration of love to the outside world. We tend to think of this as selfish — “those Christians don’t love anyone else.” But we don’t serve one another to the exclusion of those who are not disciples of Christ. Rather, we help one another in hopes that it will bring those outsiders to understand true love and then be included in our family. As Christians, we have a responsibility to meet one another’s needs before we meet the needs of non-Christians. We don’t like this; it’s much sexier to give to people in Africa and Haiti than it is to the neighbor on our church pew. And so, we deliberately are disobedient to God’s intentions.
Other items of note:
- Love always produces action. Saying “I love you” has no value if it is not accompanied by a demonstration of that love. I would even argue that words of love without deeds do more harm than good. Look at the way in which popular culture defines love; much of this is a result of words without corresponding action. The remainder, I’d say, is the result of attempts to love without first understanding love, which is only possible through Christ and his church.
- If a “Christian” or a “church” professes to love others, but has no actions resulting from this love, they are not indeed Christians and have no part in the body of Christ. This is plain and simple. Let’s stop calling things what they are not.
- God gives me peace in my heart when I love others. I hear a lot of Christians saying they need to “work on their relationship with God,” because they don’t “feel as close to him” as they once did. They’re unsettled in their hearts and want to have God’s peace again. Then they proceed to make commitments to Bible study and prayer time, etc. While these are worthy pursuits (and incredibly important in the life of a Christian), my guess is these individuals probably have plenty of knowledge concerning God, and ought to stop worrying so much about “working on” their relationship with God in terms of reading their Bibles — and instead start demonstrating his love to others. In this they will find peace.
- We have an opportunity to make God happy by loving others. What an amazing ability and responsibility! Little old me can bring joy to the creator of the universe, the guy who made the heavens and the earth. And little old me can also cause him sadness by accepting the love he offers, and keeping it to myself, demonstrating that I’ve failed to understand it.
Next post in the “giving and generosity” series: