Today we will be looking at the topic of compassion, and how the principles of giving that are outlined throughout God’s word provide opportunities for believers to exhibit the love of God in practical and effective ways that can soften even our enemies.
Yeshua said it this way:
Luke 6:34-35 – “And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.”
In a former essay, we have looked at the importance of being kind to our enemies, those who may act in adversarial ways towards us. But in this passage lies another aspect of being compassionate that may get overlooked because of our general unfamiliarity with the culture that this teaching arises out of.
In today’s American culture, we typically view “alms” or giving to the needy as something that is a direct donation to their welfare, just giving whatever you have in your pocket or your wallet to someone who is begging on the street or in a public place. This was certainly one form of giving to those in need. However, this passage is speaking to a more involved and challenging type of giving.
As far as giving to beggars is concerned, this ideas stems primarily from a passage in Acts 3 where the Greek phrase was interpreted as giving alms or giving charity to a beggar at the temple.
Peter and John were confronted with one such individual as they approached the temple complex, a favorite place for those who sought for handouts.
Acts 3:2-3 – “A man who was lame from birth was being carried [to the temple]. He was placed each day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so that he could beg from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple, he asked for money.”
Clearly, the man did not have the ability to earn his own living through labor since he was unable to walk on his own, and his friends or family would carry him to the high-traffic area around the temple as a way of helping him to ask for donations to meet his needs. This was one type of alms-giving or beneficence. Those who would beg for handouts were those who had no other means of income: the lame or blind who could not work, widows and orphans (who had lost their husband/father as the provider). In the Hebraic culture, these were considered legitimate reasons for true charity, and helping and giving donations to these individuals is highly commended.
In regard to the man at the temple, Albert Barnes writes the following:
“The man had been always lame; he was obliged to be carried; and he was well known to the Jews. … his friends laid him there daily. He would therefore be well known to those who were in the habit of entering the temple. Among the ancients there were no hospitals for the sick, and no alms-houses for the poor. The poor were dependent, therefore, on the Charity of those who were in better circumstances. It became an important matter for them to be placed where they would see many people. Hence, it was customary to place them at the gates of rich men as illustrated in Luke 16:19-20 –
“There was a rich man who would dress in purple and fine linen, feasting lavishly every day. “But a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, was lying at his gate.”
Barnes: and they also sat by the highway to beg where many persons would pass, such as Mark 10:46 –
“They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting by the road.”
Also John 9:1, 8-9 –
“As he was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. … [After Yeshua healed him] his neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit begging? Some said, “He’s the one.” Others were saying, “No, but he looks like him.” He kept saying, “I’m the one.”
Barnes continues: “The entrance to the temple would be a favorable place for begging; for: great multitudes were accustomed to enter there; and, when going up for the purposes of religion, they would be more inclined to give alms than at other times; and especially was this true of the Pharisees, who were particularly desirous of publicity in bestowing charity. It is recorded by Martial (i. 112) that the custom prevailed among the Romans of placing the poor by the gates of the temples; and the custom was also observed a long time in the Christian churches.”
All types of giving are highly recommended in the Bible, as we know that “God loves a cheerful giver,” (2 Cor. 9:7). Giving freely is a required dynamic within the economy of the kingdom of God.
However, in the middle Eastern culture of the Bible, giving of alms was actually more than just providing pocket change to beggars; in its wider sense in the New Testament writings it means any act of compassionate giving.
Acts 9:36 There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor.
Acts 10:1-2 There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment. He was a devout man and feared God along with his whole household. He did many charitable deeds for the Jewish people and always prayed to God.
Acts 24:17 “After many years, I came to bring charitable gifts and offerings to my people.
While compassion is encouraged throughout the Bible, we should understand it is based on the eternal instruction of God throughout the Torah. God has always encouraged his people to be generous, and we will look at some of those ways as we dive deeper into the topic of giving.
Since banks as we know them today did not exist in Bible times, there were only a few means for someone who had fallen on hard times to extricate themselves from dire financial circumstances.
Sometimes, individuals would be sold as servants of others in an effort to pay off debt or to help their families. This was a form of indentured servitude, a commitment to the benefactor to recoup their investment. This was widely practiced and is mentioned in several passages of the Bible in Exodus and Deuteronomy. (Unfortunately, it is usually misunderstood as the brutal, savage chattel slavery that we typically associate with that word).
However, these types of bond-servants were provided many rights for fair treatment under the gracious instruction of Torah, and many times had benefitted so much from their service to their masters that they desired to remain with their benefactor’s family even after their term of service had expired. To illustrate this, there was a process provided for in the Torah to identify those who had chosen to become servants for life by piercing their ear.
Deuteronomy 15:16-17 – “But if your slave says to you, ‘I don’t want to leave you,’ because he loves you and your family, and is well off with you, take an awl and pierce through his ear into the door, and he will become your slave for life…”
An additional measure of relief in the Torah for those who had become deep in dept was instituted in the release of all debts every seven years which is also described in Deuteronomy 15:9. In this way, no one would be able to get so far in over their heads financially that they couldn’t receive a fresh start.
But for those who had the ability to work but had simply gotten into financial straits, the Bible conveys that, by far, the most common way of helping others was the idea of loans from family and friends as legitimate assistance until they could get back on their feet.
Deuteronomy 15:7-8 – “If there is a poor man among your brothers within any of the gates in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you, then you are not to harden your heart or shut your hand from your poor brother. Instead, you are to open your hand to him and freely loan him whatever he needs.”
This was a commendable deed on behalf of the giver, and a prompt repayment would be an indication of the honor of the one who had received the help. Those receiving charity were more likely to sense that trust is being established, and their self-worth is raised through this trust.
This process has more to do with the receiver than the giver. If someone encountered an individual in need, whether a friend or relative, to provide them assistance with the idea that they can pay the loan back whenever they are able to allows for a sense of dignity in providing that assistance. Many times, people will struggle to accept outright handouts because of their pride. They don’t want to be made to feel they are unable to do meet their needs on their own. This is actually an emotionally good and healthy response for anyone who is otherwise able to provide for themselves but may have just fallen on hard times; it happens. A great measure of trust has been placed in them and they are more likely to be inclined to repay as a way of thanking their benefactor and demonstrating they are worthy of trust; a coveted value, indeed.
Unfortunately, as loans were given to those in need, sometimes those who were less honorable would gladly take these loans and never repay them, and it would cause bitterness between family members and friends. This is presented to us in the biblical texts and from other writings of that era.
There is a book called the Wisdom of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus, a writing from around 150-200 BC that was included in the Septuagint, or the Greek version of the Scriptures. This version of the Bible was widely known and referenced in the time of Yeshua and the disciples. In this book is a passage that explains this concept of private loans in a little more detail, some of the blessings of following the commandment of Moses from Torah, and also some of the downfalls of providing loans to others.
It begins with the blessings of obedience to the command of Torah:
 He that shows mercy will lend to his neighbor, and he that strengthens him with his hand keeps the commandments.
 Lend to your neighbor in the time of his need; and in turn, repay your neighbor promptly.
 Confirm your word and keep faith with him, and on every occasion you will find what you need.
Here we can see how the idea of giving of loans and prompt repayment are both the qualities that are designed to reinforce the community and provide for ongoing needs. However, the text also speaks of the negative side of giving when someone lends with the best of intentions but the receiver is not willing to repay.
 Many persons regard a loan as a windfall, and cause trouble to those who help them.
 A man will kiss another’s hands until he gets a loan, and will lower his voice in speaking of his neighbor’s money; but at the time for repayment he will delay, and will pay in words of unconcern, and will find fault with the time.
 If the lender exert pressure, he will hardly get back half, and will regard that as a windfall. If he does not, the borrower has robbed him of his money, and he has needlessly made him his enemy; he will repay him with curses and reproaches, and instead of glory will repay him with dishonor.
 Because of such wickedness, therefore, many have refused to lend; they have been afraid of being defrauded needlessly.
This same negative perception of being taken advantage of is prevalent today and actually prevents people from being generous with those in need; no one wants to be taken advantage of. However, the text encourages faithfulness to the Torah command regardless of the outcome.
 Nevertheless, be patient with a man in humble circumstances, and do not make him wait for your alms.
 Help a poor man for the commandment’s sake, and because of his need do not send him away empty.
 Lose your silver for the sake of a brother or a friend, and do not let it rust under a stone and be lost.
 Lay up your treasure according to the commandments of the Most High, and it will profit you more than gold.
 Store up almsgiving in your treasury, and it will rescue you from all affliction;
 more than a mighty shield and more than a heavy spear, it will fight on your behalf against your enemy.
This is the same type of instruction that Yeshua provides in the Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 6:19-21 – “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 5:42 – “Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
What Yeshua is encouraging in both of these passages is a type of universal generosity toward those in need. If we are to give out of pocket, give cheerfully. If we are to lend, then we should lend without any hope of repayment; if we are repaid, then that is to be considered a bonus.
Now we may understand and be willing to help friends and relatives who can’t help themselves, and lend to those who have fallen on hard times. But here is where this principle really gets challenging: according to Yeshua, the faithful disciple should also be willing to lend to their enemies, not just friends and acquaintances.
Remember our starting passage from Luke 6?
Luke 6:34-35 – “And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.”
This is a drastic diversion even from the cultural practice of the day, and highlights the extent of compassion believers should be willing to demonstrate at all times. It is one thing to forgive a friend or acquaintance of a debt, but to lend in the same fashion to an adversary? This would be a truly unorthodox and radical admonition to his followers. It is such a revolutionary and profound concept that it still shakes us to the core to this day, two thousand years later. True compassion is like that; it is profound, challenging, and requires real commitment and, many times, heart-wrenching, white-knuckled, gut-twisting sacrifice. This is the type of genuine life transformation believers are called to.
But in reality, if you, out of obedience to Yeshua and the Word, are extending generosity toward an adversary, are they really still an enemy? Don’t enemies need to be adversarial toward each other? If you, as a believer, are not acting in a reflexive way toward someone who is adversarial toward you, are the two of you really enemies? Isn’t it more likely that if only one is acting in an adversarial fashion but the other is extending an olive branch that this is not a description of two enemies, but only one? In this type of challenging obedience, adversarial overtones can be dissipated by the removal of escalation through the extension of friendship and value without obligation.
Are you up to the challenge of what it really means to be a follower of the Messiah and demonstrate true compassion? Hopefully, having a larger understanding of the context and social dynamic of biblical giving as we have looked at today can make us more responsible givers. In outwardly loaning to those who have need, we can allow them dignity. Inwardly considering these helper loans as outright donations, not expecting anything in return, we free ourselves from any negative ties to those relationships if the money is never repaid in the future. If we are giving advantage to those around us, even our enemies, then they cannot take advantage.
God is honored when we honor and respect him in all things, including how we manage our finances and our relationships with others. By being willing to give and loan freely, we demonstrate we are his children by operating by the same principles he provides to us.
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