Charity Means Love

I was at a convent with Catholic nuns the first time I heard the term charity used in a context outside of rich person giving money or clothes to poor person. The context of our discussion was Sisters discussing the difficulties of living together & how they manage many personalities, nationalities, cultures, preferences, and moods in one household. They said they must have charity for one another.


What is charity?


The Student Bible Dictionary defines charity as “God-inspired self-giving love for others. In the Bible, charity does not specifically refer to giving to the poor but to any expression of love.” In fact, sometimes the Greek word agape is translated as charity rather than love, especially in the King James translation.


Jesus warns in Matthew 6 against publicly announcing or making a scene when giving charity- “Take care! Don’t do good deeds publicly, to be admired, because then you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give a gift to someone [words, physical touch, act of service, gift, quality time, etc.] in need, don’t shout about it as the hypocrites do- blowing trumpets in the synagogues & streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I assure you, they have received all the reward they will ever get.” [v.1-2]


This is hard to understand as I go to a university where every building & bench has someone’s name on it who donated money & I often hear about celebrities’ visits to hospitals & acts of kindness. True charity is characterized by humility & does not call attention to itself. This does not mean sneaking around the house in the middle of the night to do the dishes so it is a secret, or always being anonymous with the ways we give money or love people in other ways. The charitable Christian’s motivation must be to love, to do the best & give the best possible, not to be seen or for immediate reward.


Christians are called to give whether or not we will be given to. 1 John 4:19 says we love because God first loved us. Christians are called to love whether or not the love is reciprocated. [love your enemies; Luke 6:35] Charity is an attitude of loving and giving to whoever is in our midst- friend, stranger, spouse, immigrant, citizen, etc. True charity upholds the dignity of all parties.


This necessarily leads to the questions- How to respond when givers of charity are in need of reciprocity such as in a close friendship or with a spouse & how to give in a balanced way?


The standard for what should be given is not necessarily dependent on the need. For example, I am not able to give enough to feed all of the hungry children in the world, though they all need food, but I can sponsor 1 child. What is given in charitable love is dependent on the people [what do they really need?] & what I can realistically give. This child really needs his basic needs met such as food & clothing, so that he can develop toward higher goals such education & spiritual formation. [think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs] I can realistically give $X to a reputable organization to help. My partner really needs emotional support, so that she can emotionally & mentally process in a healthy way. I can realistically give undivided attention for 1 hour. If I try to give more than I am able to, financially, with time, etc., then my charity will not be sustainable & not long-term helpful. Part of the humility of charity is recognizing that I cannot fill every need.


There will be times when giving loving charity is taken for granted or even advantage of. That may be a time for gentle correction. [Ephesians 4:15] Emphasis on gentle, which means not passive aggressive or hostile aggression. If all parties truly believe that they are all on the same team & working for the same cause, [maintaining the home, building trust, working on a project] then there will be a higher sense of mutuality & partnership.


If the previously mentioned Sisters at the convent have learned anything about having a diverse group of women coming together to make one home, it is they are on the same team. They all desire to love each other & love God. They all desire to work efficiently & effectively raking the leaves, cooking meals, teaching each other in Bible study, etc. They are in life together & make the most of it. Let those of us that are in life together, anyone who is our ‘neighbor’ [Luke 10: 29-37], mutually give charitable love in order to make the most of our life together.


Receiving charity is an act of charity in that receiving is also an act of humility & should be full of love. Recognizing true charity for what it is- motivated by love, genuine & thoughtful love, then the charity will be received with love. This is a positive cycle. It is offensive to reject genuine charitable love because doing so is disregarding the giver. I wonder how God feels when people fail to recognize the billions of ways He is charitable to us. If giving to people is to be like giving to God [Matt 25:35-40], then perhaps receiving from people can be like receiving from God- thoughtfully, thankfully.