Dennis Davidson tells a story about Samuel Bradburn, an associate of John Wesley, who was a highly respected minister of his day.
On one occasion Davidson was in desperate financial need. When Wesley learned of his circumstances, he sent him the following letter: “Dear Sammy: ‘trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.’ Yours affectionately, John Wesley.” Attached to the letter was a 5-pound note (then worth about $10).
Bradburn’s reply was prompt. “Dear Sir: I have often been struck with the beauty of the passage of Scripture quoted in your letter, but I must confess that I never saw such a useful ‘expository note’ on it before.”
Pious platitudes and scriptural quotations cannot take the place of kindness, compassion and actually doing good. Professing faith in Christ should translate into responding to the needs of others.
In today’s scripture reading, John brings home that truth in a very pointed and powerful way.
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:16-18).
To help those in need there are three conditions suggested in this passage.
(1) I must possess the resources necessary to meet the need.
John said, “whoever has this world’s goods.” Our own personal financial condition determines what, if anything, we can do. God expects us to give based on what we have. If we don’t have the means, then we can’t meet the need (2 Cor. 8:12-15). So, we should not feel guilty.
But those who have prospered, enjoyed financial success and have the discretionary income should be willing to share their prosperity with those less fortunate. Paul commanded those who are rich to “do good,” engaged in “good work” and be “ready to give (and) willing to share” (1 Tim. 6:18)
(2) I must be aware of the need.
There are many needs in the world that I’m not aware of. Sometimes even in the local church, a brother or sister may be in need, but not make it known. Or only allow a few people to know. I can only respond to those needs I know about.
Also, there are occasions where there are many calls for help. And I cannot do everything. But I can do something. Deciding who to help and when to give requires, wisdom, discretion and judgment in applying principles of stewardship.
(3) I must have a loving heart touched by other’s needs in order to respond.
We must be careful not to become insensitive to people’s real needs; those who abuse our generosity and who are not truly in need. A hardened heart is not the heart of a genuine follower of Christ.
One reason we work is to be able to “have something to share with those in need” (Eph. 4;28). With so many government programs and social services available in our country is it easy to forget about our personal responsibility. “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10).
A closed heart is not a Christian heart. And it does not properly reflect the love of God. Nor the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Divine love should compel us to love our brethren. And that love ought to translate into action. Good deeds. Giving. And sharing. It even reaches beyond our brotherhood to help our fellow man who is hurting and helpless.
Remember the words of Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Finally, the words of James Russell Lowell are also appropriate to the point: (It’s) Not what we give, But what we share, For the gift without the giver is bare.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman