And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
I Corinthians 13:13
When most of us hear the word charity we think of doing good. However, charity is an English translation of the Greek agape love. In fact, it can be used interchangeably with the word love, particularly when referring to our relationship with others. We celebrate this great charity during the Christmas season: God loved us so much, He sent His Son to us. What an indescribable gift.
Charity is also where we get our modern word philanthropy.
Agape Love = Charity = Philanthropy
The King James Version inserts charity for the Greek agape love in I Corinthians 13. In this passage, you see a powerful definition of charity take shape. Although there are many verses about love in the Bible, the use of charity here points to a very specific type of love that is the foundation of transformative giving.
Quickly, we see that this is the charity Jesus embodies. In Romans 5:8, the Apostle Paul writes, This is how He demonstrates His love (his charity for us): While we were yet sinners, He died for us. It’s powerful. It’s sacrificial. It’s joyful. Loving obedience to God is the driving motivator. This type of charity transforms everyone in its wake!
Have we lost the meaning of charity?
As philanthropic models evolve and new efficiency models are created, I wonder if we are losing the essence of true charity—and thus losing its transformative power.
We are indeed giving more—even generously—but is it without life-changing power? As major givers, have we begun to rely more on efficiency models to determine how and when we will express our charity? As charitable organizations, have we employed mechanics and metrics to grow giving rather than leaning into and practicing true charity ourselves? In this respect, have we mistakenly disavowed the transformative power of charity?
Why it matters
Charity is more than giving a donation. It’s bigger than tax-efficient giving and more powerful than our stripped down version of philanthropy. Indeed, it’s so grand, we read that even if we give everything we have, yet lack in charity, it profits us nothing (I Corinthians 13:3).
Real charity puts others first, even those who we feel don’t deserve to be put first. Charity has no expectation of return and no desire to elevate itself over others. Its unmerited aspect (grace) unleashes transformation. It’s the ‘awe’ in awesome!
It’s so important we are told to let charity permeate all we do: Let all your things be done with charity (I Corinthians 16:14)
The fact that we don’t deserve the charity of Jesus is exactly what qualifies us to be transformed by His charity.
Your next steps
- To further round out the definition of charity or philanthropy, read I Corinthians 13. Make note of where “charity/love” is mentioned.
- What words would you use to describe God’s charity?
- What words would you use to describe your charity?
- What is one thing that, with God’s help, you will change right now to live a transformative life of true charity?
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