Chapter 20 – Empowering Virtue – Charity, Generosity and Hospitality

Charity:  to provide for the needs of others without thought of repayment

Generosity:  the joyful spirit of giving freely of one’s self and one’s means

Hospitality:  honoring others by providing for their needs and serving them; making guests welcome; being courteous and considerate of others

Service:  contributing to the needs of the saints or the ministries of our Lord

The theme of this chapter is giving to others, our means, our time, and of our selves.  The collective expression of the virtues of charity, generosity and hospitality exude the graciousness of our Lord who said the children of God would recognize one another by their fruits (Mt.7:16).  When we affirm the dignity of others by attending to their needs; whether they know our Lord or not, they will know they have been touched by the extraordinary presence of goodness, giving them a chance to see the reality of God.  Though an ungodly soul will most likely need help understanding the living expression of the gospel, merely being a recipient of His grace can soften their hardened hearts and make them more receptive to hearing the gospel message.  Unselfishly attending to another’s need is a gospel seed of great potential.  Concerning our witness to others as ambassadors of Christ, St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times… and if necessary, use words”.  Being charitable towards others is to share a portion of the bounty of God that has been entrusted to us.  Generosity is the endearing spirit that compels us to give amply to others our time, our energy, or our trove of possessions.  Being hospitable honors both the deserving and undeserving without distinction, with kindness and consideration towards guests in our home or those we meet in public.  Service is the fulfillment of our responsibilities towards the ministers and ministries of our Lord.

Charity

A self-serving life is a sign of the flesh while charity is a sign of the Holy Spirit at work within us (1Cor.3:3).  The “jealously and strife” St. Paul speaks of here comes from a lack of thankfulness associated with being in want, want of more, and not being content with the provisions and blessings God has already deemed fit to entrust to us.  Hoarding money and things while neither giving nor sharing our time, our efforts, or our virtues, does nothing to engender a life full of His blessings and rewards.  Selfishness is the root of discontentment that comes from wanting more; it is also the ungodly source of motivation that leads to gathering more at the expense of others.  This is not to suggest that the children of God will never find themselves in need, for in order for one person to learn to give, there must be another who is willing to receive.  We must all learn to do both, for it is sinful pride that causes a soul not to accept charity, and greed that keeps us from giving to others.  May we be blest with all seasons (Eccl.3:1-10) so that we will learn our lessons presently and become fully prepared to meet our Lord (see the Parable of the Marriage Feast, Mt.22:1-14).  Also, being in need teaches us compassion for the needy that helps develop a more charitable heart.

Charity only occurs when answering a call from our Lord (Lk.18:19,2Cor.8:3-5); our response is a measure of our trust in Him and a sign of obedience.  Like the man who turned over his donkey and colt to the disciples merely upon hearing the words “The Lord has need of them” (Mt.21:1-11), we should likewise be willing to return to our Lord what He requests from us.  We give in obedience, and we are rewarded accordingly.  However, we are not to seek rewards or attempt to barter with our Lord by giving things away in hopes of receiving something else.  For the needs and wants in our own lives, we are to present our requests to our Lord in prayer and listen for His answer and instruction; we should also remember to ask Him if there is something we must do before He can answer our prayer.  For example, when praying to marry or have children, it would be prudent to ask the Lord if there is anything to do or learn prior to being entrusted with the intimate care of another soul.  We should likewise be prepared to hear our all-knowing Father in Heaven deny a request that is contrary to His will, not in our best interest, or otherwise harmful to others.

Charity also includes our benevolence, our kind words or an extra measure of patience we extend towards others, whether strangers or family, friend or enemy, younger or older, the thankful or the ingrates.  The greatest gifts we give are those given in service to our Lord.  Our natural talents are best used in service to Him as well.  As we grow spiritually, our willingness to exert ourselves and expend our resources in His service requires energies that need to be drawn from the well of living water.  His well never goes dry and His living water sates all thirsting (Jn.4:7-14).  Our angst over giving beyond what comes natural to us will lessen as our souls conform to the likeness of our Lord who gave His life for us.   Greediness, selfishness, the fear of loss, and the anxieties associated with extending ourselves for the benefit of others, will fade as the worries of the flesh give way to the glories of our Lord.

Charity has many expressions.  We begin by giving money or things, progress to giving our time, and grow into giving the best we have to offer, our virtues (Mt.23:23).  Kindness towards a stranger, patience with children, wisdom in tense moments, hope for the despondent, companionship for the abandoned, courage for the fearful, encouragement for the forlorn, guidance for the lost, and dignity and justice for everyone, these are just a few examples of how we are to be charitable with our gifts from God.  In doing so, we follow the instructions of St. Paul, reorienting the hearts of lost souls back to God by serving them according to their need (1Cor.9:22-23).  Learning to be charitable also means trusting God in His provision for us and valuing our treasures in Heaven more so than our comforts here on Earth (1Cor.10:32-33).  Our giving may involve making sacrifices in order to answer His call.  The flesh will rebel against charity; it’ll stir anxieties within us suggesting that our gifts are better kept to ourselves, that we’ve already given enough, or that giving them to others is wasteful or futile.  We’re not to heed these demons.  We are to have courage and be obedient to the call of our Lord.  However, this is not to suggest we give money to every charlatan whose speeches tug on our heartstrings or give ourselves to every cause while neglecting priorities at home.  The virtue of discretion is not to be abandoned, it needs to be learned and practiced so that it may properly govern all our actions.  We are ever responsible for how we expend our talents and resources (Mt.25:14-30).

Generosity

Generosity is the joy of giving that accompanies charity.  It is born of gratitude and remembrance, for all our blessings are gifts from God.  They are entrusted to us for the moment.  Our talents and our means are His provision for our care; we are likewise to use them in worship, in service, and in caring for others.  It is a graceful spirit that comes upon us when we fully trust in His providential care, donating and sharing our blessings without anxieties or fears.  We recall that blessings multiply when shared and God rewards the sacrifices made in obedience to His call.  The spirit of generosity is purely motivated by the goodness of God.  It is free of any schemes predicated upon anticipated results or returns, therefore it requires discretion and self-examination to ensure that our gifts are not tainted by self-aggrandizement, guilt remediation, or plotting outcomes.  When giving is done with purity, our motives will be above reproach and we will become known for our graciousness and giving.  Conversely, we are not to compromise another’s generosity by unnecessarily questioning their motives.  Such attempts to sate the suspicious tendencies of our own flesh are most likely the result of ungodly jealousy or envy.

Learning generosity may require practicing abstinence from indulgences and treats we customarily afford ourselves.  This is to be done only after we have given ourselves to God in totality (Deut.6:5) and are truly seeking to follow the example of Christ in His journey to the cross (Lk.9:23-24).   As with learning any new behavior, initially it may feel awkward, unnatural or forced.  As long as our expression is in obedience to the call of God, these feelings are the rebellions of the flesh that oppose the yearnings of the Holy Spirit within us Who seeks to be known.  However, if we learn to appreciate the results of our giving rather than focusing on the sacrifices generosity requires, we will learn the joy of giving and then the selfish ways of the flesh will abate.  Again, we are not motivated by seeking results, but rather by obedience, for not all recipients of our gifts will be grateful.  Some minds are so darkened they are just plain oblivious to goodness, they become unable or unwilling to acknowledge their blessings or gifts with any show of appreciation.  Such ungodly souls will withhold expressing thankfulness as a form of rebellion against goodness.  Being an angel to another soul, especially if they are ungrateful, will require that we learn to be compassionate when the body is tired and when our emotional reserves are spent.  Doing so is evidence of progressing beyond the natural abilities of our flesh and into the living realm of the Holy Spirit, drawing upon and being refreshed by the living water of our Lord (Jn.4:10, 7:38).

Learning to appreciate the joy of giving will empower our willingness to express other virtues.  Generosity is itself empowered by maintaining an attitude of prayer and worship, of abiding in the Holy Spirit, and an ever-present willingness to obey all that our Lord commands.  Such a state invites the presence and power of our Lord.  For it is only when we are fully immersed in His love for us, comfortable with our identity as children of God, wholly aware of our security in His hands and able to freely acknowledge His acceptance of us and our actions, that we are able to expend ourselves for another’s benefit as our Lord Christ Jesus did for us.  When we understand that our virtuous deeds create treasure in Heaven, then we can act in faith with the full assurance that what we give to others is the accumulation of wealth and not an expense, and begin to learn of the generosity of Christ.  We will afford goodness to those who only know meanness, patience for those who have no time for us, dignity for those who don’t know the preciousness of their own life, forgiveness for those who think they don’t need it, and love for those whose hearts are barren.  Here we are reminded that the acquisition of virtue is not primarily about learning noble behaviors, it is about learning how to live in the presence of God and fostering an intimate relationship with our living Lord by allowing Him to live His life through us.  Experiencing the life of Christ by watching our own hands and by hearing our own voice as they function in accordance with the will of God, is to know the joy and fulfillment of being a living member of the body of Christ.

Hospitality

Hospitality is compassion born of empathy with eyes that see as God sees, impartial, loving and merciful.   At the core of its expression is the affirmation of the economy of God, that all souls are worthy of His blessings and due our just consideration.  Its outward expressions include the social conventions of cordiality, politeness, manners, and etiquette.  In its simplest form, hospitality can be understood as being nice to people in public and as a host who is warm and friendly when welcoming guests into their home.  However, for those whose natural inclinations lean toward being anti-social, learning hospitality requires learning to draw upon many virtues; goodness, humility, selflessness, dignity, mercy, patience, gentleness, kindness, and the impartiality of justice; all these must be practiced while learning hospitality.  The demonstrable ability to share a wealth of virtues in varied circumstances may explain why St. Paul stresses hospitality as a necessary quality to consider when choosing church leaders (1Tim.3:1-7,Titus 1:5-9).

As we learn to express the virtue of hospitality, we are growing spiritually and learning to live as God intended.  We are being restored to the sanity of humanity’s pre-fallen state, developing the mental and emotional health of righteousness.  We will likewise come to know the peace of our Lord and live with an unsullied conscience, free of semi-conscious guilt and the subconscious self-loathing that leads to a variety of psychosomatic illnesses such as sleeplessness, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorders and self-destructive behaviors.  Also, by living according to Truth and acknowledging ultimate realities in our daily affairs, we become an example for others, teaching His way in all that we do (Titus 2).  We need to be patient with ourselves as we learn to serve those around us, yet be willing to combat the ungodly habits of the flesh that suggest it’s beneath our dignity to wait upon others.  Like all virtues, it takes practice.  Experience will teach us that the ways of God are more beneficial and rewarding than any inhospitable fleshly tendencies we possess or any rancor we may desire to express towards unruly strangers or unwanted guests.  Expressing or venting ill will may afford us a perverse sense of pleasure in the moment, but it stymies our growth, and hinders or hurts others.  It also leaves an ungodly odor and all who are exposed to this malodorous stench have to deal with it until the air is rightly cleared with our redress.  God knows what each of us needs in order to be healed of our reeking sins.  He also knows how to heal each of us individually.  In His time, He will prioritize and bring to our attention the issues we need to address, healing our unique flesh patterns that compromise our virtue.  We need to be willing to heed His direction, following the steps He prescribes while being attentive to the gentle nudging He gives us when our behavior runs askew of His perfect will for us.  He will prioritize; we needn’t expend all our time rehashing our many faults and failings, or obsessing over an ungodly habit.   He will lead us along paths of righteousness for His namesake and His glory, our part is to be willing to say “yes” to our Lord, and follow where He leads (cf. Ps.23).

The spirit of hospitality is summed up in the words of Jesus, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Mt.7:12).  Jesus likewise said, “’Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me’” (Mt.25:40).  Remembrance of these teachings when greeting either strangers or familiar guests is how we learn hospitality.  Likewise, from the parable of Jesus we know as the “Good Samaritan” (Lk.10:30-37), we are taught that our hospitality is not to be limited to those we know and like, and neither should it be tainted by our complaints nor our estimation of another’s worthiness.  We are to welcome strangers, travelers and immigrants, showing them the same courtesies we would appreciate if we were in their predicament (Ex.22:21, Lev.19:33-35).  However, our best efforts should be extended toward the emissaries of God, ensuring that our ministers of the gospel and our missionaries, and all whose vocation is in service to our Lord are kept well.

The virtue of service means contributing towards the needs of the saints and ministries of our Lord.  All souls not engaged in a full time vocation serving our Lord should support those who are (Rom.12:6-13, 2Cor.9:8-15).  When prompted to action by the Holy Spirit, anything we do to help is considered service.  We are to look diligently for the hand of God at work, and then when we discern His handiwork, we are to ask Him in prayer if there is a contribution for us to make and then be willing to follow where He leads us.  We should all be aware of our unique talents and abilities as well as our weaknesses and limitations, and be willing to use our talents in the manner our Lord directs us.  Our talents should be well worn from use and polished with care, not hidden away for safekeeping (Mt.25:14-30), and the gifts we expend not accounted for as losses, but as deposits into the treasury of Heaven.  As important as time spent in labor and money for materials are to any work, they are never a substitute for virtue; we should always monitor the condition of our own souls to ensure we are rightly motivated by the love of God.  Restitution may be required when seeking forgiveness, but it is not meant to be a substitute for either charity or service.

As with all giving, the primary obstacle most souls need to overcome when learning service is selfishness.  Also, remember that the sense of either futility or waste is a demon known to interfere with giving.  Other pitfalls to beware when serving are feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, or fraudulence.  Our Lord equips us for service, and it is not our estimation of ourselves that we are to rely on, but rather have faith in His.  Our Lord is wholly sufficient and capable of all things, and since the Holy Spirit indwells all His children, we are likewise empowered when we act in faith.  Also, it isn’t a question of our credentials, for without Christ, no one deserves to partake of what is sacred for all are condemned (Jn.3:16-21).  However, since Christ is in us and we are in Him, feelings that suggest we are unworthy fakes are not to be entertained; in Christ, we are forgiven and made whole (1Cor.6:9-11).  God empowers us to do what He wants us to do, our part is to be willing to trust and obey.  On the other hand, if there is persistent, lingering, habitual sin in our lives, not just memories of times past, we will need to excuse ourselves from certain tasks if there is a possibility we may tarnish His work or harm His children.  Again, discretion and consultation are required to determine if the desire to serve is an answer to His call or an evil temptation conspired to the detriment of the gospel message and demise of precious souls.

In the Epistle to the Ephesians (please read Eph.4), St. Paul outlines the importance and purpose of service.  Our service is when we employ all we’ve learned about walking with our Lord and cultivating a personal relationship with Him while abiding in the Holy Spirit, and then begin the equally important work of building up the body of Christ here on Earth.  The church is the spiritual body of Christ, the community of the souls who are children of God.  Christ is the head, and we comprise the parts needed to fulfill all its purposes and functions.  Despite the fragmentation that has occurred in the physical church since Christ first graced us with the fullness of His presence, we are united in Christ and must humble ourselves in obedience to His cause when spreading the gospel message and while combating the influence of evil wherever it lurks.  We do so in love and in Truth, forgiving the misgivings of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the same manner Christ has forgiven each of us.  To the glory of God, amen.

Scriptural References:

 

Charity:

Pr.11:24-25, God rewards unselfish souls by entrusting them with greater abundance

Mt.5:38-42, Jesus teaches us to be charitable and not obsessed with possessions or gain

Mt.6:1-4, giving is best when seeking only to please the Lord

Mt.7:9-12, dignify others by giving them good things

Mt.10:40-42, our greatest gifts are those given in service to Him and His servants

Lk.14:13-14, God will repay us for showing honor and being gracious toward the needy

Rom.12:1-8, instruction to expend our gifts and talents liberally and cheerfully in service to God

Rom.12:17-21, being wronged isn’t cause to commit evil in return; share goodness only

1Cor.15:58, service to our eternal Lord need not have limits for it is never in vain

2Cor.9:6-11, the blessings we receive are proportional to those we give in service to God

Gal.6:7-10, only when we abide in the Holy Spirit do we receive spiritual blessings

Generosity:

Deut.15:7-11, God commands us to give generously; do so joyfully, without scheming

Ps.37:21, the righteous are both gracious and generous towards others

Ps.112:5, the truly gracious and generous soul has just motives that withstand scrutiny

Pr.22:9, being generous toward the needy brings blessings from God

Is.58:6-7, forsaking self-indulgence frees us of the selfishness that inhibits generosity

Mt.10:8, we are to share with others the many talents and blessings God gives us

Mt.20:1-16, another’s generosity or blessings should not stir envy or suspicion in us

2Cor.8:1-5, we must first give ourselves to God before we can rightly give to our Lord

1Tim.6:17-19, we are to teach generosity, humility, and trust in God not money

Hospitality:

Ex.22:21, do not to oppress strangers from foreign lands, rather show compassion

Lev.19:9-10, our excess is to be used to provide for the needy and strangers

Lev.19:33-35, the Law says to treat aliens as natives and treat them fairly and justly

Mt.25:31-46, we are to treat all the children of God as we would treat Christ our brother

Rom.12:9-13, St. Paul teaches us to serve the servants of God and to practice hospitality

1Tim.3:1-7, consider the gift of hospitality when selecting church leaders

Titus 1:5-9, again St. Paul instructs us to select hospitable church leaders

1Pet.4:7-11, we are to be in service to others and hospitable without complaining

3Jn.1:5-8, we are to support evangelists and missionaries hospitably

Service:

Mt.6:19-21, contributions to the church are deposits in the treasury of Heaven

Lk.11:42, contributions to the church and its work are never a substitute for virtue

Lk.12:35-40, we are to serve our Lord with diligence, ever listening for His call

Rom.12:1-8, we have all been equipped with talents and our Lord has tasks for us all

2Cor.9:12-15, we have His promise of grace to empower us and to provide the means

Eph.4:11-13, our church goals are unity, quality, quantity, and Christ-likeness

Eph.6:5-8, we are to serve our secular bosses obediently while abiding in the will of God

1Pe.5:1-4, those rightly motivated in their service are rewarded with a crown of glory

Commentaries:

Charity:

“The Lord will demand from us an account of our help to the needy according to what we have and not according to what we have not (cf. 2Cor.8:12).”

St. Diadochos of Photiki (5th C.); The Philokalia, Vol. I, pg. 274 #66

“He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men’s bodily needs.  He gives equally to all according to their need…”

St. Maximos Confessor (7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 55

Generosity:

“Generosity is a sign of gratitude.  It speaks of inner freedom.  Everything that we are, that we can do, and that we have is precious; it blesses us and liberates us insofar as we can recognize and honor it all as a gift from the love of God.

Many rich and clever people are wretchedly off because they overlook or downright deny the actual interior dimension of life, the dimension of the gift.  The rich man who makes Lazarus search for a few paltry crumbs (Lk.16:19-31) is a poor wretch, a poor devil.  The rich person who boasts of superfluous possessions slanders God by implying that ‘so far nobody has ever given me anything’.  God is blasphemed as a ‘nobody’.

If we really sense and honor the brilliance of all our wealth and power in the presence of God, the giver of everything good, then we will not cling to it.  We will not misuse these riches and capacities for our own self-aggrandizement and false self-assurance.  We are not practicing some sort of idolatry; we are and we will be evermore generous, free to give and to receive.

For generous persons, all their possessions, capabilities, and possibilities become a treasure stored up in heaven, as they serve the needs of others, honor them, and make them happy.”

Bernard Häring, “The Virtues of an Authentic Life”

© 1997 by Liguori Publications, pg. 106-7

Hospitality:

“You also have the example of how the widow of Zarephath gave hospitality to the prophet (cf.1Kings 17:9-16).  If you have only bread, salt or water, you can still meet the dues of hospitality.  Even if you not have these, but make the stranger welcome and say something helpful, you will not be failing in hospitality; for ‘is not a word better than a gift?’ (Ecclus.18:17).”

Evagrios the Solitary (5th C.); ThePhilokalia Vol. I, pg. 32

 

“When we receive visits from our brethren, we should not consider this an irksome interruption of our stillness, lest we cut ourselves off from the law of love.  Nor should we receive them as if we were doing them a favour, but rather as if it is we ourselves who are receiving a favour; and because we are indebted to them, we should beg them cheerfully to enjoy our hospitality, as the patriarch Abraham has shown us.  This is why St. John, too, says: ‘My children, let us love not in the word or tongue, but in action and truth.  And by this we know that we belong to the truth’ (1Jn.3:18-19).”

St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic 9th C., Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 32 #84

“Accepting the task of hospitality, the patriarch used to sit at the entrance to his tent (cf. Gen.18:1), inviting all who passed by, and his table was laden for all comers including the impious and barbarians, without distinction.  Hence he was found worthy of that wonderful banquet when he received angels and the Master of all as his guests.  We too, then, should actively and eagerly cultivate hospitality, so that we may receive not only angels, but also God Himself.  For ‘inasmuch’, says the Lord, ‘as you have done it to one of the least of these My brethren you have done it to Me’ (Mt.25:40).  It is good to be generous to all, especially to those who cannot repay you.”

ibid. pg. 32-33 #85

Service:

“Those who because of their spiritual immaturity cannot yet commit themselves entirely to the work of prayer undertake to serve the brethren with reverence, faith and devout fear.  They should do this because they regard such service as a divine commandment and a spiritual task; they should not expect reward, honor or thanks from men, and they should shun all complaint, haughtiness, negligence or sluggishness.  In this way they will not soil and corrupt this blessed work, but through their reverence, fear and joy will make it acceptable to God.”

St. Markarios of Egypt (5th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 294-5, #24

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One thought on “Chapter 20 – Empowering Virtue – Charity, Generosity and Hospitality

  1. Pingback: A Primer on Virtue & Spiritual Growth Manual For Christians | A Primer on Virtue

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