According to tradition, the seven virtues of the Christian life are kindness, humility, diligence, charity, patience, temperance, and chastity. These character qualities embody the new self that Christians are called to put on in Christ (Eph. 4:17-24). In this seven-part series, we will familiarize ourselves with each of the seven virtues, with the goal of developing new habits befitting our new selves in Christ.
This is part four of seven. The previous installments dealt with kindness, humility, and diligence.
The first three virtues outlined in this series—humility, kindness, and diligence—promote and encourage a right relationship with God and with others. Kindness teaches us to see others rightly, humility teaches us to see ourselves rightly, and diligence teaches us to respond rightly to God’s free gift of love. The final four virtues—charity, patience, temperance, and chastity—teach us how to practice a virtuous life in relation to the world and our bodies.
Charity is the voluntary and cheerful giving of one’s money or possessions to someone in need. It is characterized by a lack of stinginess or hoarding. A charitable person lives life openhandedly, receiving and relinquishing the gifts that have been given to them—possessions, means, and blessings—with a content heart.
It is important to note that charity is not practiced out of guilt or obligation. Charitableness is joyful generosity. As the apostle Paul explained, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:17). In addition, charity is not practiced out of a desire to look good in front of other people or draw attention to one’s wealth. Jesus encouraged us to give in secret so our reward for our generosity would be from God, not man (Mat. 6:1-4).
The amount a person gives isn’t what determines how charitable they are. Instead, a person’s charitableness hinges on their attitude when they give and how generous they are in relation to their means (e.g., the widow’s mite: Mark 12:41–44, Luke 21:1–4). Furthermore, charity is more about a desire to share the blessings of God with others rather than check-off the completion of a command. Hebrews 13:16 says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” The virtue of charity requires sacrifice, which encourages Christlikeness. Charity glorifies God because we give what He first gave us, makes us more like Christ, who gave everything, and blesses the world who is in need.
Charity is not just about how we give, however, but also how we receive. We are often ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help when we are in need because we do not want others to feel obligated or pity us. But just as we must learn to give cheerfully, we must also practice the habit of receiving cheerfully with gratitude in our hearts to God. Charity reminds us that we are stewards of blessing and servants to one another and our neighbors, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed” (Prov. 19:17). But we cannot always know who is in need until we confess that we need one another and give fellow believers an opportunity to practice this virtue.
When practicing charity, we must be on guard against the vice of avarice, or what we commonly call greed. Avarice is an obsession with money and the things that it can buy. In her book, Glittering Vices, Rebecca DeYoung says two habits lead to avarice. First, we feel entitled to receive and keep the wages we have worked for because we earned them. Second, we are afraid of having nothing, so we give nothing. In other words, avarice teaches us to view what we have as “mine” instead of blessings from God and puts us in a perpetual state of fear of losing everything. Living our lives feeling entitled and fearful of losing what we have, hinders us from giving to others.
Avarice has harsh and deadly consequences. As Paul warns Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:10). Even the exceedingly wealthy King Solomon warned against this vice, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Ecc. 5:10). Although the Lord blessed Solomon with great wealth, he counted all his gold and riches as vanity in comparison to the glory and gifts of God.
John Chrysostom (347-407), an early church theologian, said, “When you are weary of praying and do not receive, consider how often you have heard a poor man calling, and have not listened to him.” His words of wisdom echo Proverbs 21:13, which says, “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” Unfortunately, in our culture today, avarice is always pulling for our attention and making us feel justified as we hoard the blessings of the Lord. This vice taunts our soul’s desire for satisfaction, but material goods will never satiate our longings.
In his book The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction, Justin Whitmel Earley notes that when we are satisfied in the love of Christ, we will turn to the world with love. Alternatively, if we are blinded by avarice, we will turn to the world for love, believing that acquisition will save us. To keep ourselves from being led astray by avarice, let us encourage one another to, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5).
Charity reminds us that everything we have is from God (James 1:17). One way to start cultivating this gift is by not owning anything that you would not share, give away, or could live without. We must remember that it is by God’s grace that we have everything that we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) and we need not be anxious for anything (Mat. 6:25). Christians have been given the greatest gift of salvation and because of the grace and charity that has been given to us, much is required of us. The cultivation of charity reminds us of how we have been blessed to be a blessing to the world.