Giving Back

Posted on September 16, 2018


A few weeks ago, the church I attend held a service day in which thousands of church members stepped out their comfort zones to help people in Alabama. The pastor of the church delivered an impassioned sermon on how service changes people. By changing people, he meant not simply the people who were served, but just as important also those who did the serving.

People’s homes were restored, handicapped ramps added, rubbish removed, gardens cleaned, old buildings knocked down and the work went across much of the state since the church has something like thirteen branches or campuses. One 92-year-old veteran living in poverty and without electricity was tended to with love. His service was restored—good for the next six months—but the team also cleaned and restored his home. I suspect his dignity and faith in people might have been restored as well.

Church folks were not simply doing good deeds and good works by moving the church far beyond its traditional borders. This is not a novel concept. It is a good Christian precept that once you accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in your life, you will be reborn, or transformed in more secular speech, and you will want to do the good things that thousands and millions of Christians have been doing for the past two thousand years, everything from staffing food kitchens for the indigent to medical missions to places like Honduras. As the apostle James wrote to us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22

There’s an old saying or adage which I’ve heard often, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” That, of course, doesn’t make sense to a youngster, especially at Christmas time. Sometime past the age of seven or eight, I’m guessing, children discover the pleasure of gift-giving, seeing the pleasure light up a parent or grandparent’s face.

We are giving back from the storehouse of goodies we have either been given or earned. But it is more than that. When a widow put her two very small copper coins into the offering, Jesus used it as a teaching moment. Many rich people had thrown in large amounts.  “Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Matthew 12:41-44. Jesus was pointing out the spirit of her giving back, not necessarily that we all need to give everything we have to the Church, but that we need to recognize the source of our being. This last point is important.

In Luke 12:48 the message is: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” A titan of American wealth, a self-made man who left his name imprinted on many institutions in our country, remarked in a remarkable essay in 1889 pretty much the same thought.

In “The Gospel of Wealth” Andrew Carnegie said the wealthy had a responsibility to deal with their wealth responsibly, carefully administer it for the greatest benefit to society, and not waste it away extravagantly and in self-indulgence. A huge gap was developing in this era of the “robber barons” between the wealthy and the poor and this gap needed to be reduced through the philanthropy of the super wealthy.

In 1887 Carnegie wrote, apropos of his devotion to making his wealth serve society, “I should consider it a disgrace to die a rich man.”

In Matthew 25:23 a master returns from a trip and queries his servants what they did with their talents. To each the master rewarded them according to what they had earned with their talents which meant both coins and gifts of talent. To the one who had earned the most, ““His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”

Carnegie understood that principle. The French invented a term to describe the responsibility of the wealthy, whether born to power, privilege and wealth, or inherited, called noblesse oblige. It hasn’t changed in over two thousand years and it is wonderful to keep that spirit and message alive in Christianity today.

Published as “Giving back is at the heart of Christianity,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday, July 22, 2018