Anna is a pastor, writer, and theologian who obtained her BA in religion in '06, Diploma of Ministry in '16, and Diploma of Divinity in '17.
Several times over the past year, a very high profile person has been in the news for pledging to donate millions of dollars to various charities, then failing to actually do so. There is no benefit to naming the sinner, but much benefit in discussing the sin, for it is a good reminder to us all the Biblical teachings on charitable giving. This person has made grand claims about his Christian Faith, yet through actions such as these it seems he not only is missing the point about proper Christian living, but is completely unfamiliar with Biblical teachings. A quick and easy way to appear righteous is through acts of charity. This person is attempting to reap the benefits of charitable giving, without actually giving. The truth inevitably comes to light and the few moments of glory he receives will be his only reward. Meanwhile, the charities to which he promised to give remain without the promised funds.
Whether a person is volunteering at a soup kitchen, donating to a charity, or simply giving pocket change to a homeless person, that person is acting in accordance with Biblical teaching. On a spiritual level, a person should be giving out of love and respect for a fellow human being. If a person is acting charitable and their motivation is not love, then there is little spiritual benefit to that, but the charitable act is still commendable. Begrudgingly buying a homeless person a hamburger is still feeding the homeless; but to be sure, it is much better to do it from a place of love. Saying that you will engage in charitable actions and then failing to do so, benefits no one. A person may be able to fool his fellow man for a time, but nobody can fool God.
Give to Others
Some concepts in the Bible can seem ambiguous or confusing to people who weren’t raised in a religious household. Scripture verses on charity, however, are not among them. It could not be more clear that God wants us to help the needy. Deuteronomy 15:7,8 teaches us that “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard hearted or tight fisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.” While Proverbs 19:17 tells us that “one who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD. And He will repay him for his good deed.” Isaiah 58:10 teaches “And if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in the darkness and your gloom will become like midday.” These are just a smattering of verses in the Old Testament that tell us in no uncertain terms that we should help the needy.
Meanwhile, in the New Testament, Jesus Himself taught us not only that we should give, but how we should give. Jesus abhorred showy acts of piety, He saw them to be hypocritical acts of grandeur. He taught that we should give generously to all people in need. All of us were made in God’s image and in Mathew 25:40, Jesus told the religious leaders “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” And in Luke 18:22 Jesus told a ruler to “…sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” We are to give, but we must be careful that the good we do is for the purpose of lifting other people up and not our own glory.
In Mathew 6:1-4 Jesus told his followers “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
Ananias and Sapphira
Unfortunately, people making false claims of charitable deeds is an act as old as poverty. Even the early church was not immune to such problems. The Book of Acts tells us that the early believers shared all of their possessions. Joseph, also called Barnabas, from Cyprus, even sold his field and donated the money to the apostles. There was no one in their group who was in need. Those who owned land or houses, sold them, gave the money to the apostles and it was divided up to those as needed. Among the group was a man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira. Ananias sold part of their property, and gave some of the money to the apostles.
It was Ananias’ property, he was free to do with it as he wished. He could have kept the land entirely for himself, he could have sold some of the land and donated all of the money, he could have sold all of the land and kept all of the money. He was free to do as he pleased with his own lot. Tragically, he chose to donate some of the money, but he lied about it. He tried to make it look like he donated the full sum. In Acts 5, Peter calls him out on his sin. “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men, but to God.”
No sooner had Peter spoken those words, did Ananias die on the spot. Some of the men of the church had witnessed the event so they wrapped up his body and buried him. A few hours later, Sapphira walked in, full of the knowledge of her husband’s deceit. Peter asked her “Is this the price you got for the land?” She answered in the affirmative and in verse 9, Peter rebukes her “How could you agree to test the spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” At that, she promptly died and was buried next to her husband.
Store your treasure in heaven
Give With a Joyful Heart, But Give
Peter had made it clear that Ananias and Sapphira were not punished for withholding money. It was their money, they had every right to do whatever they wanted with that money. They could donate it or keep it and none of those actions would have been wrong. What was wrong was lying about it. In an attempt to appear more righteous than they were, they lied to Peter and to God Himself. God expects honesty and integrity from those who carry the cross. Lying about donations keeps funds from going where they’re needed and harms those who they were intended to help. Charitable giving is something that all Christians must do, lying about it in an attempt to spiritually misrepresent your own righteousness is morally reprehensible.
Ananias and Sapphira tried to hide their greed behind a mask of righteousness. In the end, it cost them their very lives. God knows our hearts and our deeds. If we give He wants us to do so generously, gladly, and silently. If you give, no matter the reason, God knows our hearts and our motives. So give: give freely, give joyfully, just so long as you actually give.
© 2017 Anna Watson