Go and Do Thou Likewise
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. (Prov 19:17 ESV).
Looking at the subject of charity and the giving of our funds or other resources, such as our time as a volunteer, is considerably different now from what it was some years ago. We are flooded today with requests for funds, some from inside our community and some from outside. Some are even addressed to the ecclesia looking for a communal response. Today, we are blessed with far more disposable income to respond to these requests than ever before. We are also faced with an ever-increasing number of homeless people, where even necessities are hardly met.
To distribute our funds or allocate our time wisely becomes a challenge both to individual brothers and sisters in their personal finances and to those who are involved in administering the funds collected. This article attempts to provide some guidance on these issues.
Old Testament Record
We begin our survey of this subject by first looking at how God wanted those who were about to settle in the land to view the poor, the sojourner, the fatherless and the widow. There are some general statutes in Exodus 22- 23, but it is in Leviticus where we find specific mention of helping the poor and the sojourner by providing food for them from their fields and vineyards. In Leviticus 19:9-10, we read:
A passage in Deuteronomy (24:19-22) seems to add not only to the scope of the activities but adds also the fatherless and the widow to those who were to be the recipients of the activity and tells them why they should be doing this. They were commanded to do this because they were to be reminded they were once slaves in Egypt themselves and this alone should prompt them to show compassion to the sojourner and those without the capacity to provide for their own immediate needs.
“You Shall be Holy”
In addition to caring and providing for the needs of those marginalized by society, God had an even deeper and more encompassing principle he wanted to instill in the minds of his people. In Leviticus 19:2 he declares “You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.”
Holiness is one of the three defining characteristics of God. It is seen in his righteousness and justice, and that righteousness and justice is reflected in his statutes, laws and commandments. The second of the three defining characteristics of God is his love. This is manifested in his mercy, grace and lovingkindness. As human beings who were created in the image of God, created in his mental and moral image, we were given the ability to not only recognize his holiness in the principles we are asked to follow but to see and imitate his love.
By seeing and appreciating the grace and mercy he shows for us, broken humans that we are, we can begin to feel and understand that love. As image bearers we are asked to look at the poor, the sojourner, the fatherless and the widow, so many of whom are homeless and without shelter, and consider how we might demonstrate God’s love to them. How might we show them God’s grace and mercy through an act of kindness that helps meet their immediate needs?
Waywardness During the Time of the Prophets
As we get into the time of the prophets, we find the people trampling on His statutes and ignoring the hungry and homeless and ill-clothed. After exposing the blatant and inexcusable hypocrisy of the whiney pack of self centered, pious-pretending, quarreling sinners, the Prophet Isaiah speaks the charge of the LORD.
You might wish to read the whole of Isaiah 58 in the New Living Translation (NLT). It helps make the sad situation come alive and one can see how displeased God is with the whole lot of them. I have chosen only those passages that deal with the subject at hand. These passages strongly display what the LORD expected of them and gave them no excuse for their neglectful, bad behavior. They also display in the strongest, yet gentlest of terms, God’s love and mercy for the repentant.
Who is My Neighbor?
When we move into the New Testament, we find Jesus putting the commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” into its proper perspective in each of the three synoptic gospels. In Mark (12:28ff) it is a scribe, impressed with the answers Jesus was giving the Sadducees, who asked him the question, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered,
When the scribe confirmed that Jesus had spoken correctly and reiterated this back to him adding that this was much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices, Jesus commended him and said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
In Matthew 22:36, it was one of the Pharisees, a lawyer, that questioned him to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” The answer was the same as in Mark. However, here he added, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Perhaps the NLT renders this passage a little clearer, “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Let us now briefly examine the most descriptive of the three, the parable of the Good Samaritan found beginning in Luke 10:25. We find here, again, a scribe and probably a Pharisee “putting him to the test” as he asks the question “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus, in his usual fashion of wanting the individual to think through the question himself, asked “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” He answered correctly with the same answer reflecting love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus then said to him “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” If this were all, this would be the end of it, and it would differ little from the other two encounters in the Synoptic Gospels. But it wasn’t. The scribe, or expert in religious law wanted to justify his own actions and so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” We all know the story that has become known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It offers varying opportunities of interpretation as to whether we see ourselves as the “good” Samaritan or the traveler who had been robbed, beaten up and left half dead but it leaves nothing open for interpretation when it comes to defining “Who is our neighbor?”.
The Samaritan was considered an enemy of the Jew, their temple considered to be a pagan temple and their nature considered to be a “half-breed.” Yet it was one of these despised Samaritans who came along and felt compassion for the beaten man by the side of the road. It was he who soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. It was he who put the man on his own donkey and took him to the inn and took care of him and it was he who the next day handed the innkeeper two silver coins and assured him that if the charges were more than what he paid this day he would cover them on his next trip.
Jesus cared deeply about the poor and the downtrodden
Jesus then asked a question of the scribe “Which one would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” (NLT) There is probably not a one of us who wouldn’t answer the question the same way the scribe did, “The one who showed him mercy.” If we answered that question well, how then do we respond to what Jesus then said, “Now go and do the same”?
Jesus cared deeply about the poor and the downtrodden, demonstrating his compassion in tangible ways; giving sight to the blind, touching the leper, healing the sick and giving hope to those who only felt despair. His love and compassion did not just deal with the physical realm but extended well into the spiritual as he preached the good news of God’s love and salvation as expressed in the present age and as it will be in the Kingdom to come.
God has bottomless love for us
Why was it so important to Jesus to link the two concepts: loving God with all one’s heart, soul, strength and mind and loving one’s neighbor as oneself? The first phrase comes from the Shema (Deut 6:4), probably the most important prayer in all of Judaism, whereas “love thy neighbor as thyself” seems to be plucked from the middle of a chapter, full of statutes in the Book of Leviticus filled with still more statutes. As such, it hardly seems significant enough to be designated as the second commandment and important enough that Jesus said of the two, “There is no other commandment greater than these.”
However, what Jesus is telling us when he presents these two commands as the first and the second is that when we love God fully and completely as we are called to do in the text of the Shema, with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, we can begin to get a glimpse of the astounding and amazing and bottomless love that God has for us. When we see and begin to grasp just a bit of that love, it can’t help but motivate us to want to show that love and compassion to “our neighbor,” whoever that may be, wherever that may be, and whatever the challenge may be in doing so.
“Love Your Enemies”
We see Jesus himself reflecting and teaching on that very love in the passage about loving one’s enemies. Found in Luke 6:27, he starts off with teachings that seem almost impossible to follow, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” He continues talking about the concept of “loving your neighbor as yourself,” changing the wording a bit and presenting it as what has come to the known as the Golden Rule: “As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Or as stated in Matthew 7:12 in the NLT “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” Verse 36 of the Luke passage sums it up well, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Both Paul and James convey their conviction on the importance of the commandment “love your neighbor as yourself” in their writings. Paul points out in Galatians 5:14 that “the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” To put that into action he counsels, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal 6:10 ESV).
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
While Paul counsels to do good to everyone and especially to recognize the needs of fellow believers, one would be hard pressed with the riches we have been blessed with today to think that our giving should be confined only to the believers. What Paul ranks as highly important and of great advantage to the believer is “faith working through love,” a love that is not confining or exclusive, a love that looks for needs and acts with compassion when those needs are found.
James treats the command with such respect that he refers to it as the royal law and states this about it “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.” (Jas 2:8 ESV). He also issues a warning that to think that their faith, their belief in one God was all that was necessary to be right with God was foolish, and James asked them as if they didn’t really know, “Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?”
Though these passages represent only a portion of the New Testament teachings concerning giving and sharing, we would like to close this section with a passage from Hebrews,
The statement is clear. Sharing our resources, whether they be funds or time with those in need, is as pleasing to God as the sacrifices we offer in song or word.
“Go and Do Thou Likewise”
When Jesus answered the questions posed by the scribes or lawyers in each of the three instances in the Synoptic Gospels, he answered by stating the two most important commandments, love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. In Luke the questioner was looking for a boundary, but Jesus instead gave him a principle.
In looking at ourselves as servants, made in God’s image and in realizing that “we love, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19 ESV), we begin to understand the relationship between the two commandments. When we love God with all that we have, with our full being, He is more than willing to help us reflect that love and compassion back to those in need. It’s a matter of principles, not rules and regulations.
Loving God is reflecting the love He shows to us in His mercy and grace, His love and compassion, back to our neighbor. I would like to close this article by presenting a beautiful piece written by Bro. Jason Grant as he describes their ecclesia’s experience in packing and distributing sleeping bags to the homeless in Barrie, Ontario. This story, and many other inspiring stories, are available on the website of The Garden Outreach at thegardenoutreach.org/stories/orangeville-ecclesia/.
Please check it out. There are many beautiful stories there of your brothers and sisters and their associated young people demonstrating the principle of “love your neighbor as yourself”:
The most inspiring part of all of this [packing and distributing the sleeping bags], outside of the opportunity to practically help people in need, was how our kids responded. They saw firsthand the dire situation of the “hidden homeless” men, women and young people, who so often fly under our radar. They also saw the tremendous amount of work that goes into assisting people in need, every single day, and the critical role of volunteers who help clothe, shelter, feed and counsel the poor and needy.
Judah (age 10) was particularly moved and inspired by the experience. Immediately after getting home that evening, he wrote up a speech and went to neighbors on our block and asked for donations for the Center. Through other fortuitous circumstances, which we humbly thank God for, and no small amount of hard work, Judah collected more than 50 articles of new clothing (thanks Mark’s Work Warehouse!!), perishable food items, and personal hygiene products.
It’s amazing to see how a simple act of giving can turn into something much bigger. It can inspire our young people, and very young people, to show acts of love and be comfortable doing so. If ecclesias can be encouraged to include their young people in these initiatives, perhaps in some small way, it will help keep them engaged and focused on a life of faith and charity, following in the footsteps of our Lord who gave to people in need, continually and without second thought, irrespective of their beliefs or social standing.
Moorestown Ecclesia, NJ