What does the Bible say about giving to charity?

A charity is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "an organization set up to provide help and raise money for those in need." The Bible has much to say about helping the needy and giving to the poor in general. It even includes some specific examples of gifts being collected by a third party for distribution to the poor and for the purpose of supporting ministry. By studying these examples, as well as the Bible's teaching on giving in general, we can determine what the Bible has to say about giving to charity.

In Proverbs, the author declares "he who is generous to the needy honors [his Maker]" (Proverbs 14:31). In Deuteronomy, God commanded, "You shall give to [your poor brother] freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him… For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, 'You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land'" (Deuteronomy 15:10–11). Generosity toward those in need is commanded by God as one way to honor Him as creator of all people—to honor His image even in the poor and needy. In fact, withholding aid is a grievous sin. Ezekiel 16:49 records, "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy." These verses show that helping those in need is an expectation for those who follow God.

Often this help and aid was given directly from the giver to the person in need, which is different than the idea of giving to a charity where a third party will distribute the aid to the individuals in need. However, the Bible does provide a few examples of giving to a third party for later distribution.

In Acts chapter four, the leaders of the church received donations from believers and then distributed those resources "to each as any had need" (Acts 4:35). It was such a common practice for the early church to care for the needy that it was referred to as "the daily distribution" in Acts 6:1. This collection and distribution became such a big task that the disciples needed to appoint seven men whose responsibility it would be to make sure no needy widows were neglected during the daily distributions. So not only did believers entrust their donations to the church, but then the leaders of the church entrusted these seven men before aid was dispersed among those in need.

Not only did this entrusting of donations happen on a local level, but churches in other areas even gave of their own resources to support the poor and needy in faraway locations. In Paul's letter to the Roman church, he wrote, "At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem… to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you" (Romans 15:25–28). In this way, believers in Macedonia and Achaia entrusted their donations to Paul who would then distribute those funds among the needy believers in Jerusalem. This is somewhat like what happens when people give to a charity today.

Another reason people give to charities is to support the ministry and its workers. God established the propriety of this type of practice when He instituted requirements for the priests and sacrifices. In Exodus 29:28 the breast and thigh of sacrificed rams were declared to "be for Aaron and his sons as a perpetual due from the people of Israel, for it is a contribution. It shall be a contribution from the people of Israel from their peace offerings, their contribution to the LORD." In the New Testament, Jesus' own ministry was supported in part by the financial contributions of women who followed him (Luke 8:2–3). Paul talks about the appropriateness of those serving in ministry receiving material support for it (1 Corinthians 9:9–14; Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17–18). John wrote to the churches, "You will do well to send [the missionaries] on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth" (3 John 1:6–8). Thus financially contributing to ministries that serve the Lord is an expected practice for those who have the means to do so.

In these ways the Bible teaches that giving to charity can happen in a direct individual manner or through a third party for benefit of the poor and needy or for the purpose of supporting ministry. When giving to a third party, it is important that the third party act with integrity. When the disciples were appointing men to distribute the church's resources, they required that they be "men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom" (Acts 6:3). Thus resources should not be entrusted to third parties without proper caution and accountability. However, the attitude of our hearts should be "to be generous and ready to share" (1 Timothy 6:18). So giving to charity should be a regular practice for any believer.

Related Truth:

Why is giving such a focus in the Christian faith?

What does it mean to be a cheerful giver?

What does the Bible say about giving to the poor?

What does it mean to exercise good biblical stewardship?

How can I know who to donate to?

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