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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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GIVING.—The duty of giving springs naturally out of the gospel fact. Jesus Christ is God’s gift (John 3:16), and when St. Paul associates the liberality of the Christians of Corinth and this grace of God (2 Corinthians 9:15), he is true to the mind of Christ. Giving and receiving are correlatives: ‘freely ye received, freely give’ (Matthew 10:8; the endowment is of Divine power and authority, and the service is to be as wide as human need; cf. Acts 3:6). Throughout the Gospel narrative the welcome of Christ awakens generous impulses. The new resolve of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:8) is the free expression of his new life. The grace of Christ had come near to him, and he, in that high fellowship, could not but be gracious. So, generally, giving is the necessary expression of Christian faith and love, the spontaneous outcome of Christian life.

Almsgiving is recognized by Jesus as a part of ‘righteousness’ (Matthew 6:1 f. Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885), and the duty of practising it is often enforced (see Almsgiving). But the care of the poor by no means exhausts the activities of the generous spirit. Treasury gifts for the temple service were recognized by Jesus (Mark 12:41 = Luke 21:1), and gifts for the upholding of public worship are an essential part of worship.

So, too, Jesus accepted and honoured gifts directly bestowed upon Himself. ‘Certain women which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities … ministered unto him of their substance’ (Luke 8:2 f.). In the same spirit were Matthew’s feast after his call (Luke 5:29), the anointing by the woman of the city (Luke 7:37 f.), and the supper at Bethany (John 12:2). These were acts of grateful love, and they were welcomed by Jesus. The incident of the outpouring of the spikenard (John 12:3 f. = Matthew 26:6 f., Mark 14:3 f.) is the more significant because of the criticism it provoked, and the reply of Jesus, ‘Ye have the poor always with you, and whensoever ye will ye can do them good’ (Mark 14:7). Is there here a hidden rebuke for neglect of opportunities ever present, on the part of those who here professed disapproval of waste? Certainly the reply suggests the thought ‘that expenditure in one direction does not disqualify for beneficent acts in another. The willing-minded will always have enough for all purposes’ (Expositor’s Gr. Test., in loco). By accepting and honouring this costly act of thankful love Jesus sanctions the utmost that love prompts. It is in such giving that the joy of sacrifice is known and the secret of Jesus realized—‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35).

But all service is included in Christ’s law of giving, not alms to the poor alone, but all the manifold expressions of love, the helpfulness which springs out of the new family bond of brotherhood. How this spirit works practically is illustrated in the ministry of Jesus. Once and again before His gracious acts of healing or of bounty, it is said, ‘he was moved with compassion’ (Matthew 9:36; Matthew 15:32, Mark 6:34); and His fellow-feeling found expression in the sending forth of the Twelve, the feeding of the multitude, and in teaching.

So is it with His disciples. All tender ministries are the expression of a Divine compassion, ‘the exceeding grace of God in you’ (2 Corinthians 9:14).

But the law of Christian service goes beyond this. It is founded in justice, the recognition of the true relations which men hold one to another in Christ. The second commandment of love to our neighbour (Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39) and the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30 ff.) teach the true inwardness of generosity.

True helpfulness is that which is due from one man to another because of the ties of humanity. Hence the personal equation in beneficence. All true giving resolves itself into self-giving, the expression of sympathy, reverence, affection, the charity of personal care and thought (Luke 6:27-38). It is this service of man as man, and because of the ties of a Divine humanity, which is the service of Christ. ‘Ye did it unto me’ (Matthew 25:40) covers the whole ground.

But while it is ever true that ‘money values are not the standard of gifts in the Kingdom of God,’ this must not be pressed so as to minimize gifts of money. These must often measure ‘the moral value of the giver.’ Indeed, this is the lesson of the Treasury (Luke 21:4), they ‘of their superfluity,’ she ‘of her want.’ The frequent references to money in the Gospels show the importance which Jesus attached to this factor in life. The stewardship of all possessions is taught in the parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16 ff.; for ‘rich towards God’ cf. 1 Timothy 6:17 f.). Judgment is pronounced upon the selfish use of wealth in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19 ff.). Hence the warnings against covetousness (Luke 12:15). Giving, thus exercised, becomes a ‘means of grace,’ by which the heart is cleansed (Luke 11:41; a suggestive rendering of this saying is given in Expositor, II. v. [1883], 318, ‘but as to what is within, give alms, and behold all things are clean unto you’).

The test of the young ruler (Luke 18:22) is not so much ‘a counsel of perfection’ for all, as the word in season for the individual. The general lesson on wealth and its uses is in the parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1 f.). Confessedly difficult of interpretation as this parable is in detail, its main lesson can hardly be overlooked—Heaven, which cannot be bought by gold, may yet be prepared for by the best uses of wealth. The giving of money by men who know its value, and whose keenest activities are directed to get it, is a searching test of their self-denial and devotion. True liberality is the Divinely appointed safeguard against covetousness, with this caution, ‘to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required’ (Luke 12:48).

The question of definite ‘proportionate giving’ may be briefly dismissed. It has been sought to press the law of a tenth as binding upon all, and the words of Jesus (Matthew 23:23) are quoted in support. But the ground is insufficient. An incidental reference cannot set aside the whole spirit of the Gospel. Any rule imposed from without is alien to the free spirit of love. Rules which the individual may lay down for his own guidance are for the individual conscience to determine, but ‘the Christian law is the spirit of Christ, that Enthusiasm of Humanity which He declared to be the source from which all right action flows’ (Ecce Homo). ‘Charity has no other limit than charity itself’ (Godet). Cf. Luke 6:30.

Literature.—Ecce Homo, ch. xvii.: Bruce, Parabolic Teaching, p. 371 f.; Westcott, Incarnation and Common Life, p. 195 f.; Gladden, The Christian Pastor, p. 371 f.; Ruskin, Seven Lamps [‘Lamp of Sacrifice’], also Architecture and Painting, §§ 44–45, and Arrows, ii. 191; Butler, Sermons, ii., vi.

W. H. Dyson.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Giving'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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