Giving Beyond Ability

by Cornelius Pronk

The economic downturn we are experiencing these days will likely have a bearing on the amount people will give to charitable organizations.

To be honest, we at Word and Deed (an international Christian poverty-fighting organization) are a bit apprehensive as to whether we will meet our budget projections this year. Will we be able to fund our existing projects, let alone, take on new ones? The needs of those whom we have been helping during our prosperous years remain the same and are becoming even greater because poor nations are less able to absorb higher prices for food and other basic necessities than we are.

We need to realize, however, that God's command to remember the poor remains in force at all times, during good years as well as bad. Maybe the time has come when we will no longer have the luxury of giving from our abundance but must learn to give beyond our ability (2 Cor. 8:3).

But even more is required of us; we are to give cheerfully and with compassion and sympathy. An example of this kind of giving is Job. We know him as a model of patience under extreme suffering. But he also serves as a model of sympathy for the poor. Before calamity struck Job, he was known as someone who truly cared for people in need. That's why it was so cruel of Eliphaz, the Temanite, one of Job's so-called friends, to insinuate that his suffering was partly due to the fact that he had neglected his duty with respect to the needy. "Thou hast not given water to the weary to drink," Eliphaz charged, "and thou hast withholden bread from the hungry" (Job 22:7-9).

This was slander, and Job, deeply offended and grieved, had to defend himself against this false accusation: "If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to failif I have seen any perish for want of clothing, or any poor without coveringthen let my mine arm fall from my shoulder blade and mine arm be broken from the bone" (Job 31:16, 19-22).

Job was not boasting, but merely setting the record straight. We may do that too when falsely accused. If anyone should charge us with neglect in this area, I hope we can say with an appeal to God's omniscience that we have remembered the poor and needy in their affliction.

Yet it is not enough if we can prove to have done our duty here. We also need to examine our consciences as to whether our charitable deeds proceeded from a loving and sympathetic heart. Job could say, "Did I not weep for him that was in trouble? Was not my soul grieved for the poor?" (Job 30:25). Whenever Job saw someone in need, he sympathized with him or her, and in a very real sense made that person's burden his own.

If even worldly people can show sympathy when they encounter misery, should we do less? Should we not excel in caring for the poor and needy wherever they live, in our own neighborhoods and cities or in far away countries?

Such care, born from love to God and our neighbour, brings rich rewards to both benefactors and beneficiaries. Showing sympathy is the best way to secure God's comfort in our own afflictions. "Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble" (Ps. 41:1).

Relieving the poor is also the best investment we can make. No bank pays interest like the bank of Heaven. "The liberal [generous] soul shall be made fat [rich]: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself" (Prov. 11:25). Scripture and experience teach us that we can't take our money with us when we die. But if we support the Lord's cause on earth generously and sacrificially, we will take our money with us into the next world, plus interest, because "he that hath pity upon the poor lendeth to the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him back" (Prov. 19:17).

Of course, self-interest, though allowed, must not be our main motive for sharing with others what God has given us. It is God's plain command to do so. As Paul exhorts us: "Bear ye one another's burden, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Our obedience to this law is the touchstone of our sincerity and the evidence that our faith is of the saving kind because it is a faith working by love (Gal. 5:6) and not a dead faith devoid of works (James 2:17).

From the spring 2009 issue of Word & Deed Magazine

Pastor Cornelis (Neil) Pronk preaches at the Providence Free Reformed Church
in St. George, Ontario, Canada

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