What does charity mean in the Bible?

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In the Bible, Charity (Gr. Agape) means love. This word appears in the “love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13). Charity is the higher type of love which is seen between the Father and Jesus (John 15:10; 17:26); it is the redeeming love of the Godhead for fallen humanity (John 15:9; 1 John 3:1; 4:9, 16).

Acts of giving

The Bible teaches that love is based on principle, not on emotion. it is used to signify the believer’s relation to God (1 John 2:5; 4:12; 5:3) and man (John 13:34, 35; 15:12–14). The quality of a man’s love for his brethren will reveal the genuineness of his love for God (1 John 4:19).

In the OT, the Lord instructed the Israelites to practice charity towards men, “When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. This is why I command you to do this” (Deuteronomy 24:19-22).

And in the NT, the apostles gave the same message. John wrote, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17-18). And James wrote, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-17). And Paul taught that charity should be carried out with prudence (1 Timothy 5:3-16).

The Bible gives us a beautiful example of a woman by the name of Dorcas who was “full of good works and charity” (Acts 9:36). Dorcas’ kindness expressed itself in two ways: she expressed her love in “good works”; she gave her resources in “almsdeeds.”

Acts of kindness

Charity is not always expressed in monetary value but in acts of kindness, Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). The spirit of sacrificial service for others is the “pure religion and undefiled” (James 1:27). For with such deeds “God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:16).

Christ regarded compassion to the poor as a personal service to Him: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me . . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40).

God’s promises to the giver

God promised: “The generous will themselves be blessed” (Proverbs 22:9); “One who sows bounty reaps blessing” (2 Corinthians 9:6); “Those who give to the poor will lack nothing” (Proverbs 28:27); “He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and He will pay back what he has given” (Proverbs 19:17); “A generous person will prosper” (Proverbs 11:25) and his “horn will be lifted’ (Psalm 124:9).

The Lord promised that any act no matter how small, even giving a cup of water, will be rewarded (Matthew 10:42). And he added, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6:38).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

This answer is also available in: हिन्दी

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