“Now abideth faith, hope and charity. And the greatest of these is charity.” I Cor. 13:13
Charity begins at home, so the old saw goes. This year, though, it seemed to begin under a cascade of ice water. The fad du jour, the Ice Bucket Challenge, swept the country and caught up normally rational people in gleeful irrationality.
I confess it was somewhat compelling to witness dignified church, academic and hospital executives, yea even a Gleaner author or two, willingly drenched to the bone. After all, it further confirmed our stance on baptism by immersion.
The silly fun was all for a great cause. I have relatives who suffer with ALS — Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I am thrilled that this most recent frenzy benefited research into a difficult affliction via ice buckets everywhere.
I enjoyed these wild exercises in one-upmanship as much as anyone. There is much to be gained (millions of dollars, apparently) by positive peer pressure toward a good cause. But charity is defined in Scripture as love, so there is a deeper level to charitable giving worth exploring.
There’s a term that used to confuse me. “Disinterested benevolence” is an attitude of giving that became prominent in Christian movements, including our own, during the 19th century. Because it has fallen out of vogue lately, to the casual believer it now seems a bit awkward and counterintuitive. When contributing to a good cause, why would we want to be “disinterested”? Yet I think this idea is worthy of a revival, for it is intrinsic in the very principles of the kingdom. It is core to the gift of our Savior.
When we share something of ourselves in disinterested benevolence, we do so without regard for a return benefit. We give for the sake of a cause bigger than our own. We do not loan this money with a caveat that it must reap a worthy investment to our own purpose. We do not give in order to look good, gain status, join the crowd or pile up credit toward some future windfall.
A firm commitment to disinterested benevolence has led many in our church to lives of self-denial, to go without some personal comforts or adornments in order to further an eternal mission. It’s an area in which some of us are seriously out of practice. Instead of entrepreneurs for the kingdom, we’ve become consumers of the world. God gives us a different benchmark. Charity begins with love. The apostle Paul reminds us, “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3).
Unselfish, disinterested benevolence is at the center of the Advent, which reveals a God of incalculable love emptying heaven for a planet and a people that have given Him nothing but grief.
This Christmas season, revel in the message and music of the incarnation. Thrill to the concerts, the lights, the nativity programs. But don’t let the all-time gift of our Father’s love become just a fleeting flurry of sight and sound. Consider His example of true charity and choose to follow in His steps.