What does it mean to give alms? What does the Bible say about almsgiving?
In the Bible and in historic Christianity, almsgiving was the act of filling a material need for someone less fortunate, usually by giving money. God incorporated the concept of alms into the Mosaic Law when He ordered land-owners to leave to the poor the corners of the fields (Leviticus 19:9-10), and every seventh year, leave the entire field (Exodus 23:10-11). In churches today, "alms" often go by the name love offering or benevolence fund.
Giving money directly to the poor is an old and respected tradition. In Acts 10, the Gentile Cornelius's faithful almsgiving brought him to the attention of God who sent Peter to share the gospel with him. In Matthew 6, Jesus warns against giving alms ("giving to the needy") for the purpose of getting attention, as it is an act of worship to God. In Acts 9:36, Tabitha's almsgivings are highlighted among her many good works. And the offerings that the Greek churches sent to the church in Jerusalem were a type of alms (Acts 24:17).
But the Bible expands on the theme of just giving money. In Luke 11:41, Jesus tells the Pharisees that though they act in all the right ways, they don't "give alms" out of themselves. They may give money to the poor, but they don't give love, respect, and kindness. In Acts 3:1-10, when confronted with a lame beggar, Peter wasn't stymied by his lack of money. He said, "I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!" (verse 6).
People today are often reluctant to give money directly to the poor. It's possible the money could be used for drugs, alcohol, or other indulgences. The Bible does allow that alms can be food, healing, and even justice and kindness. Yet, in some areas, charities are finding that the poor know what they need better than a foreign worker. We might give a cow, but they really need money for a sturdy roof or a motorcycle. Either way is great. As long as charity includes respect and love, and comes from a heartfelt desire to worship and obey God, we can give alms as money or goods.
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