Today we will be looking at the topic of compassion, and how God is honored when we respect him in all things, including how we demonstrate that compassion to others through obedient and intentional generosity.
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.
The concept of giving to those in need is evident all through the biblical writings. Traditionally, this has come down to us through the ages as the giving of “alms.” Alms is a word that is not used much in modern English these days, but it is interesting to note a little about the history of the word.
It’s definition is typically along the lines of “charitable relief of the poor,” especially as a religious duty, or “that which is given to relieve the poor or needy.” It comes from the old English word aelmesse, which was based on a Latin version of the Greek term eleemosyne, meaning mercy, pity, or compassion as exhibited in charitable giving. This Greek phrase is used in Bible passages describing the charitable obligation to help others. For example:
Matthew 6:1-4 – “Be careful not to practice your charitable giving in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. “But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, “so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Acts 3:1-3 – One afternoon Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to ask for charitable giving from those entering the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked to receive a charitable gift.
But the term in its wider usage really means any act of compassionate giving across a spectrum of generous actions. For example, it can mean kind actions towards others.
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 charitable helping of 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.
It can also mean charitable offerings for the purposes of God’s people.
Acts 24:17 – After many years, I came to bring charitable gifts and offerings to my people…
However when it comes to giving to those in need as mentioned in our passage in Deuteronomy 15, the idea of helping the poor is depicted as lending to them, not outright giving. Why is it important to understand this distinction?
Well, it has more to do with the receiver than the giver. 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 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. When encountering someone who is need, whether a friend or relative, to provide them assistance with the idea that they can pay back what was lent to them whenever they are able to allows for a sense of dignity in providing that assistance.
In ancient Israel, those who would beg for charitable handouts were typically 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 was commanded by God and highly commended within their social culture.
Deuteronomy 26:12 – “When you have finished paying all the tenth of your produce in the third year, the year of the tenth, you are to give it to the Levites, resident aliens, fatherless children and widows, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.
Zechariah 7:9-10 – “This is what Yahweh of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.
Notice, foreigners or resident aliens were also included in this social order, as they would suffer from having the status of immigrants, and were typically afforded only the most menial of jobs in that ancient society.
However, for those who had the ability to work but had simply gotten into financial straits, the Bible conveys the idea of loans from family and friends as legitimate assistance until they could get back on their feet.
Exodus 22:25 – “If you lend silver to my people, to the poor person among you, you must not be like a creditor to him; you must not charge him interest.
Leviticus 25:35-37 – “If your brother becomes destitute and cannot sustain himself among you, you are to support him as an alien or temporary resident, so that he can continue to live among you. “Do not profit or take interest from him, but fear your God and let your brother live among you. “You are not to lend him your silver with interest or sell him your food for profit.
In our passage above, God, through Moses, is urging that the Israelites would open their hearts to those who were poor, and lend freely. This was a necessary urging from him because many times people would take these loans and never repay them, and it would cause bitterness between family members and friends.
In a moment, we will look at how all of this background was built upon by Yeshua in his teachings of giving and loaning to those in need. As is typical, Yeshua not only reinforces these principles of Torah, but then elevates them to new levels of generosity that is to be expected within the kingdom of God.
As we move into the New Testament writings and the teaching of Yeshua, we find that some of the familiar passages where Yeshua is teaching on generosity have even more meaning when he relates how believers should be viewing acts of giving and loaning to others. For example:
Matthew 5:42 – “Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Notice the emphasis on not turning away from those who would seek to borrow.
Luke 6:35 – “But love [even] your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil.
Now, here is where we begin to see God’s true heart of compassion for those in need. Yeshua teaches that even if our intent is to genuinely help others by providing them a loan of some sort, he says if you are doing so, don’t expect anything in return. This echoes the instruction of Moses in not expecting to receive interest on the loan, and takes it to the next level of not even expecting to be repaid at all.
This is a radical upgrade to the principle of generosity that the Jewish culture of his day would have been familiar with from the previous passages of Torah. Just as Yeshua upgraded the command against adultery to not even looking at a woman with lustful intent, Yeshua here upgrades the command to not charge interest to not being concerned about being repaid at all!
This is an indication of how Yeshua continued to uphold Torah yet demonstrate its true intent when operating from the heart, not just the written command. It’s as if he was saying, “You think you are upholding Torah by not charging interest, but if you really want to uphold Torah, don’t even expect to be repaid.”
To take it even further, this wasn’t just a command for fellow Israelites, but it was to be applied towards enemies, as well! In the economy of the Kingdom of God, there was to be no more social distinctions between foreigners and natives, men and women, slaves and free. Paul illustrates this in the context of describing the equality of those who were demonstrating faith in Messiah.
Galatians 3:26-28 – for through faith you are all sons of God in Messiah Yeshua. For those of you who were baptized into Messiah have been clothed with Messiah. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Messiah Yeshua.
Even though we are off on a bit of a tangent, this sense of equality before God in Messiah is the glue that held the remnant assemblies together through the persecution they endured from their fellow Jews and from the oppression of the Romans. Having a united stance in the face of adversity can overcome all odds.
Back to to the topic at hand of generosity that Yeshua taught, if believers were to loan money with the idea of not expecting anything at all in return, they would be operating in the true spirit of generosity that God desires. This accomplishes two purposes: it maintains the dignity of the receiver and it removes any chance of hard feelings for not being repaid in the future. If anyone was to “loan” to someone in need, that loan should be treated as a donation and any repayment as a bonus. 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.
Additionally, God has proclaimed that those who demonstrate generosity and compassion toward others will receive generosity and blessing in return.
Psalm 41:1-2 – Happy is one who is considerate of the poor; Yahweh will save him in a day of adversity. Yahweh will keep him and preserve him; he will be blessed in the land. You will not give him over to the desire of his enemies.
Proverbs 19:17 – Kindness to the poor is a loan to Yahweh, and he will give a reward to the lender.
Psalm 112:4-5 – Light shines in the darkness for the upright. He is gracious, compassionate, and righteous. Good will come to the one who lends generously and conducts his business fairly.
Having a larger understanding of the context and social dynamic of biblical giving 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 or charitable giving, not expecting anything in return, we free ourselves from any negative ties to those relationships if the money is never repaid in the future.
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 with the same compassionate principles he provides to us.
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