There is a long history of Christian generosity as a powerful witness. The Roman emperor Julian had an interesting complaint about early Christians: “The impious Galileans support not only their own poor but ours as well; everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.” The theologian Tertullian said, “It is our care of the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents.”
Aristides, an unbeliever, was sent by Emperor Hadrian to spy out those people called “Christians.” His words to the emperor have reverberated through the centuries: “Behold! How they love one another.”
Helping the needy has always set Christians apart, showing the world that we operate on a radically different value system. What religions besides Christianity have established hospitals, or networks of famine relief and development to help starving people, victims of disasters, and refugees?
In the fall of 2017, hurricanes swept through the Caribbean and Southern United States, devastating millions of lives. Writing about Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged Houston, blogger Trevin Wax wrote:
Houston will get through this tragedy because of God’s people who are already there and God’s people who are on the way—volunteers from all over the country giving and going, not just for days and weeks, but months and years.
I remember how churches mobilized when the Nashville flood hit a few years ago. In the aftermath, we gutted houses and helped people reconstruct their lives. I remember the stench of those washed-out neighborhoods, but I also remember the fragrance of the good deeds of God’s people.
True, Scripture tells us not to give in order to be seen by men (Matt. 6:1). Glorifying God is our primary motive, and we should be careful to avoid pride. But sometimes our generosity will be seen by men and even should be, just as when the early Christians sold their property and gave away the proceeds.
In the same sermon where Christ says we’re not to give in order to be seen by men, He commands us to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (5:16).
Acts 4:36–37 tells us that Barnabas sold a field and brought the money to the Apostles. His act of generosity was commonly known among believers and permanently recorded in Acts. The body of Christ can benefit from seeing open models of generous giving like that of Barnabas.
Every local church also needs examples of other churches that are models of giving generously. When thousands of churches are giving generously to reach the lost, when they’re as excited about helping the poor as they are about building projects, the world will observe God’s grace at work.
When the world sees the beauty of such generosity, they’ll be drawn to the good news of our Savior. They will notice our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven.