Christian Almsgiving-The Habit Of Helping People
by Glen Williams
We're taught a lot about giving, but it's usually only about the tithes and offerings that support the church and the ministers doing the teaching. This leaves the most important aspects of giving untaught and grossly misunderstood. In this article, we'll discuss the rewarding and often controversial issue of Almsgiving. Almsgiving is the Christian habit of giving things to fill the needs of perfect strangers. Hold on to your hats, because some of what we'll cover can make people hopping mad.
Selfish, Greedy Christians: It's always shocking to me when I discover how stingy we Christians are. So many of us go around trying to figure out how to pay someone the least and get the most from them. We're notorious in restaurants for making a show of our prayer over the meal and then stiffing the poor waitress who served it. In this context, then, it makes sense that we would be more responsive to teachings about offerings in the church than to giving things to total strangers. After all, the money we give in church benefits us with better speakers, music, children's programs, chairs, etc. When we give to strangers who can do nothing for us, it's difficult to believe there are benefits, but those benefits are promised in the Bible.
Give Alms Unselfishly: Jesus said we would receive blessings from God if we give alms. The Bible says God will give to us because we give to others. This is not why we should give, but it is a promise from God. The reason we should give is to help others and to cause them to praise God. If we give to fulfill a religious compulsion or duty, there is no blessing. If we give to make a show for others, that's all the blessing we receive. But, if we give unselfishly, just to bless others by showering God's blessing on them, we're giving alms with the proper attitude and we receive God's blessing for doing so.
Don't Give If It Hurts: The right attitude about giving is one that desires to be a help to the person receiving the gift. It's amazing how much confusion there is about this. Some teach you should give anyone whatever they ask for. Even Jesus didn't do this! We have a "Loaves and Fishes" ministry near us that feeds the homeless (used to be called bums). Jesus fed the people who came to hear His teaching and were so interested in His teaching they didn't leave to go eat. He refused to feed people who came to him only for food, though He had fed them the day before. The point is, He had no compassion on people who were begging just to get a free meal. Paul wrote, "If they don't work, let them not eat." Proverbs says hunger serves the laborer by spurring him on to work. When we give people food who could earn it for themselves, we may be satisfying our need to give but we're hurting the ones we're giving to.
In the New Testament days, there were no social welfare, disability, security or retirement programs provided by the Government for people who couldn't or wouldn't provide for themselves. Now, in the modern countries, there is absolutely no reason to go hungry or homeless on more than a very temporary basis. Just giving money to these people may make a Christian feel good, but it only supports a very harmful lifestyle. This is especially true of drug addicts and alcoholics. Giving anything to them...money, food, clothing, housing...only frees up all the money they receive for their drug of choice. We're literally helping them destroy themselves. Do you really think this is what God wants us to do for them? Is our motive in giving to satisfy some arbitrary religious ritual or to satisfy someone's needs?
Almsgiving That Helps: In the modern world, poor people don't need money, they need more work. Addicts don't need to be supported, they need to recover sobriety. If we're really interested in helping someone, we must seek to satisfy their needs, not their wants.
Is this to say we shouldn't give? No way! Instead, we should use the time and care to give in a way that really helps. If a homeless person asks for money, offer to help them find a job. If an addict asks for housing, help them find a treatment center. Use your generosity to hire a gardener for the old lady down the street or to tip the waitress 50%. Buy lemonade at every stand and pay a dollar a glass. Buy stuff from every kid that comes to the door. Giving alms can be fun...like casting bread on the water to feed ducks. When we give wisely, we avoid feeding someone's destructive lifestyle and, instead, reinforce the right values.
For example, as head of almsgiving at a local church, I discovered welfare recipients had begun networking our phone number because no one was even making sure they had a need. We were sending thousands of dollars every month to total strangers we had never met. I decided they would have to show up and do whatever work around our grounds that they could (sweeping, stacking chairs, etc.), or to help us help others in some way. Within a few months, we were getting no calls. One church member got out of control financially and asked for money. While giving her the money she needed, I reviewed her budget, recommended she get a full-time job and make some spending changes. Several months later, after doing what I suggested, she came back for over a thousand dollars to catch up with her bills. She used the "extra" money from her new job to buy a new luxury truck she didn't need. The payments and insurance put a strain on her budget. Again, while helping her get through the pinch. I recommended she sell the truck and use the equity to catch up on her bills and buy a used sedan for cash. She did what I suggested, never needed to beg the church for money again, lost weight, wore nice clothes and hated me for "making" her do it. Let me ask you, would I have helped her by just giving her the money she asked for? It took about 10 hours of my time to review her finances and actually help her.
Instead just throwing money at people or performing a religious ritual of almsgiving, we can use the blessing God has given us to bless others. It takes time and a real heart for people to find out what they need and help them. When we take the time to share the love of God through actually meeting the needs of people, they will see our good deeds and praise our Father in Heaven.
About the Author
Glen Williams is Webmaster at http://www.web-church.com
and CEO of E-Home Fellowship (EHF), Inc. He is an ordained minister who has been active in Christian ministry since 1989, counseling and helping people live in Christ. You can comment on his articles at
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