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What Jonathan Edwards Teaches Us About Giving to the Poor (Part 2)

by Jason on March 29, 2011

A couple weeks ago we started looking at the teaching of Jonathan Edwards on money and giving to the poor.  In part 1 we saw Edwards’ challenge to think more deeply about the poor and how our giving could be done more:

  • Generously
  • Cheerfully, and
  • Dutifully

For a man who lived nearly three centuries ago, he offers some great insight on giving that is very relevant for us in our society.  Here’s what we can learn from him in part 2:

Giving to the Poor Shows God’s Heart for the Underprivileged

Edwards doesn’t pull any punches.  He challenges our American Dream mentality by saying things like:

Tis the most absolute and indispensable duty of a people of God to give bountifully and willingly for the supply of the wants of the needy.

In Edwards’ mind, giving to the poor is a non-negotiable.  And it’s something done with a willing heart, just like the Father’s heart of love for the poor, weak, and marginalized of society.

To help them, and to contribute to their relief is the most natural expression of this love.

Giving to the poor is a great witness to the world of God’s radical love for us.

Love Without Action Doesn’t Demonstrate God’s Love

Edwards wants us to understand something very fundamental when being a minister of mercy.  If you only love others with the Word, and do not meet their physical needs, that is not love at all.   This is not how God loves us.  His love is very action-oriented.

Edwards says,

It is vain to pretend to a spirit of love to our neighbors, when it is grievous to us to part with anything for their help, when under calamity.

They who love only in word, and in tongue, and not in deed, have no love in truth. Any profession without it is a vain pretense.

Let’s Love Others As Much As We Love Ourselves

We love ourselves enough to hardly allow our situation to become unbearable without reaching for help.

We shouldn’t allow the poor’s circumstances to prevent us from giving.  We should rather put ourselves in their shoes.  If roles were reversed, would we not want others to help us sooner rather than later?

To refuse to give to the needy, is unreasonable, because we therein do to others contrary to what we would have others to do to us in like circumstances.

We are very sensible of our own calamities. And when we suffer, [we] are ready enough to think, that our state requires the compassion and help of others; and are ready enough to think it hard, if others will not deny themselves in order to help us when in straits.

In part 3 we’ll look at what Edwards says about our motivation for giving to the poor.

What Are Your Thoughts About Edwards and Giving to the Poor?

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