Today, as in the days of the early Church, almsgiving remains an imperative for us as God’s people. There has never been a more critical time for us to share ourselves and our possessions with the poor, the needy, the lonely, and the homeless, especially as our society is faced with tragedy and injustice.
Embodying Our Lord
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ reached out to others willingly and freely. He gave to others without discrimination. He shared and offered His very person out of no other consideration than His love, compassion and concern. He possessed no ulterior motives, nor did He seek praise or notoriety for His deeds. This humility, this generosity, this love, forms the very heart of the Good News which Christ proclaimed.
Saint Paul teaches that we, as followers of Christ, must do likewise:
“Glorify God by your obedience in acknowledging the Gospel of Christ, and by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others” (2 Corinthians 9:13-14).
The early Christian community embodied this generosity and mutual concern. In the Acts of the Apostles, several verses relate how early Christians shared all they had with the poor and needy. No fanfare was made; rather, almsgiving took place with a refreshing sense of simplicity, secrecy and sincerity.
More Than “Social Action”
As Orthodox Christians united to serve, we must fight the temptation to reduce almsgiving to something as shallow as “philanthropy” or “social action.” We must reject pride. We must not seek personal gratification and public adulation as recompense for our good deeds. We must act out of humility and love in all our dealings with our brothers and sisters:
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. When you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4).
So important is our generosity toward others that it literally becomes a gauge of our acceptance of and participation in the generosity of Jesus Christ Himself. Saint Paul reminded the Corinthians of the faithful in Macedonia, who, of their own free will, gave beyond their means to those in need. Their actions, Saint Paul wrote, proved that their love for God and one another was genuine.
The Cheerful Giver
Additionally, alms must be given out of cheer, our of genuine happiness and love:
“He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God; for the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints, but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Corinthians 9:6-12).
Almsgiving, then, is not something which may be practiced by some and not by others. Jesus did not say, “If you give alms,” but, rather, “When you give alms,” thereby implying that generosity is a visible expression of our love for God and for others.
We show our generosity and share God’s gifts when we
- offer, in silence and secrecy, money, clothing, food, or other goods to those in need;
- take the time to visit the lonely, support the distraught, house the homeless, or reach out in love to anyone in any way; and
- use our talents for the betterment of others.
In every instance we must strive to accomplish these things without fanfare, expectations, or self-interests in mind, and without calling attention to our actions. For Jesus promises, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward shall be great in heaven.”