7 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 hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. 8 Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: "The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near," so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.
I want to speak today a little about compassion, giving, and empathy. There are going to be times when we feel the movement of the Christ to give, yet our earthly fears and judgments are going to try to stop us. We hear people say, “I’m not going to give that person a dollar because they will only use it for beer or drugs.” So we justify keeping our dollar, or ten dollars, or what have you.
Yes, there will be times when the money that we give is appropriated through a scam, deceit or false pretenses. So, do we make a decision to never give based upon the possible deceptive motives of someone?
Perhaps. That is certainly one way of living. Another way to live is to trust God, trust the Christ within. Even though we may not be able to trust the recipient of our gift, we can trust in God and know that God’s love, mercy, and grace is being bestowed upon this person or organization, as well as upon us.
Of course, if we uncover that the person or organization is misapplying our donations, then we can use our wisdom and stop giving to that entity and find one more sincere.
There is research to back up the Biblical assertions that God will bless us when we give. A 2008 study shows that giving makes us feel happy, and creates the positive feeling known as ‘helper’s high’. Another study showed that by giving we can improve our health and was linked to living longer. Giving also promotes good relationships and social connection. Giving evokes gratitude and is also contagious. Studies showed that when one person behaved generously, it inspired others to behave in kind.
As I read through the Bible, I don’t really find statements like “Judge your neighbor before loving them and giving to them.” “Only give to people who you feel are worthy of your gift.” I don’t see that. The commandment is “Love your neighbor”, not “Judge your neighbor”.
I have found that in most instances of giving that I face, I do not have sufficient background to discern a person’s true nature. So, I have a choice to make. I can either follow my human side and judge the person as suspicious, untrustworthy, and unworthy of my abundance; or I can follow the command of God and be openhanded toward the poor and needy. I can choose to love my neighbor or judge my neighbor.
At some point in our lives, many of us have been burned in giving, in love, in life, on jobs, by trusted friends. Hopefully, we have learned from these occurrences. But I pray that the lesson we have learned is not to stop trusting, not to stop loving, giving, and reaching out. That is not the lesson of Christ; that is the lesson of ego, the lesson of bottled-up pain.
The Bible is very clear: we are to give to those in need. Matthew 5:42 -- Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who help the poor honor him.
Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.
But sometimes I hear that doubting voice inside my head. You know the one. It says, “You’ve got to be careful Patrick, there are maniacs out there.” When I hear this voice, I have to stop and ask myself: What are my fears based upon? Things I’ve read and news stories? Certainly, there are people who have been swindled and even mugged and robbed. But never in my personal experience have I tried to give someone less fortunate than myself a dollar and in response they have grabbed me and took everything I owned.
Could that happen; is it possible? Possible, yes, but unlikely and improbable. If we live a life fearful of everything that could possibly happen, regardless of how unlikely and implausible it is, we live a life devoid of love, joy, and peace. Christ is not present in our awareness if we are filled with fear and dread.
We cannot hold two opposing thoughts in our minds at the same time: love and fear; dread and joy. It cannot be done. Now, some of us have learned to alternate between the two extremes very quickly, so that as soon as we feel joy, we release it and cling to despair. It may appear that we never experience joy, but in truth we do; we just let it go quickly to be replaced again by fear.
No, we are not told to fear each other and withhold kind acts and charity from each other. Rather we are told, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13:16)
No one can tell us how much to give or when. We have our own minds, our own souls, our own personalities, attitudes, and natures. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Our giving is between us and Christ, whether it is monetary giving, sharing your talents, time, smiles, love … whatever we are choosing to give is between our hearts and God. It is none of my business what others choose to give, and it is inappropriate for me to judge someone’s giving.
We can only give from what we have and from who we are, and it is good to remember what we have and who we are. We live in a country where there is so much good, so many freedoms and benefits that we don’t always appreciate what we have. Most of us in this room have a shelter over our heads. There are an estimated 100 million people in the world that cannot make that claim with around 2 million homeless in this country. There are approximately 870 million people in the world who are chronically hungry, with 18 million being in the United States. Nearly a billion people began the 21st century unable to read or sign their name, with 32 million being in our country. There are 2.2 billion children in the world and one billion of them live in poverty, with over 50 million who inhabit our country.
We live in a wealthy nation; by world standards a very wealthy nation, ranked 6th by some analysts. Yet 16%, or 1 out of 6 of us live in poverty. For some of us, this nation is a paradise, for others of us it is a nightmare.
The wealth of a nation is not the only aspect to consider in a nation. Qatar is ranked the wealthiest nation. They have a 98.3% literacy rate. Unemployment is .4%. There is no one living below the poverty level.
But they are a monarchy. The Freedom in the World Report lists Qatar as “Not Free”. They score poorly for political rights and civil liberties and are considered an “authoritarian regime.” For some, living in that country is a paradise; for some it is a nightmare.
When all is said, it is not our poverty, or illiteracy, or hunger that makes where we live a heaven or hell: it is our personal choices of attitude.
There are impoverished families who gather together and face each day with hope and love for each other and the future. There are wealthy families who treat each other with disdain and disrespect and look upon everyone in that same manner. There are illiterate people who live a life of joy, while some with degrees are miserable self-pitying whiners.
It is what we do with what we have that makes the difference in our lives. If we can read, but never read a book we are no better off than someone who cannot read. There are no new ideas entering our minds, no accessibility to growth.
If we have material resources but never share, then we are worse off spiritually than the impoverished person who shares their last bite of sandwich.
If we do not give, we do not receive. We are a stagnant briny sea, like the Dead Sea: we may receive, but release nothing. We are devoid of life and stink.
In Acts 20:35 Paul tells us: “…I have been a constant example of how you can help the poor by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
There is more happiness and joy derived from giving than receiving. If that is not your experience, then you haven’t given in a way that allows Christ to express through you as generosity and love.
Luke 12:33 summarizes it: Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
If we give a little – of our joy, of our money, of our love, of our talents, or our self – we receive back a little. Give greatly and we are greatly filled. It is not always about how much we give, but how we give – with willingness, trust, openness, joy, and without expectation of return from the individual or organization, but with the expectation of God’s involvement.
When we are giving it is good to remember Proverbs 19:17 -- “When we give to the poor it is like lending to God, and God will pay us back.”
We may give a monetary gift to someone in need, and God will repay in joy. We may give of our talents and get repaid with money. We may give of our time and God repays us with peace. We may give of our empathy and compassion and receive love, loyalty, trust, and respect. We may not get paid back by the same category that we gave, but we will receive in the measure of what we give.
So, my prayer is that whenever we give, whatever we give, we give with joy and love in the fullest measure that we are able. We trust that our gifts go forward and are manipulated, energized, and empowered by God to do good and add abundance to all Life. In return for our willing and loving generosity, in Divine time we will be blessed in ways that we cannot even imagine. We may even see each new dawn as just another day in paradise.