To Live for Christ in Generosity, Kindness, and Charity

2 Corinthians 5:15, [Christ] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.

As believers, when we read this, we think, “Of course I want to live for Him and not for myself!” After all, Christ died for us, as Paul reminds the Corinthians. Did the Corinthians respond similarly? That is, did they respond, “Yes! Of course!” Perhaps. Perhaps not. Or did they need to hear those words as a reminder for whom they now live for? Perhaps. Perhaps not. When I initially read this verse (albeit out of context), I thought, “What would an unbeliever think of this? They would ask, ‘Why?'” But that curiosity is irrelevant because the words were written to believers, not unbelievers.

This saying is in the context of the ministry of reconciliation that Paul describes in this epistle. To understand what this meant for the Corinthians—and what it also means for us as brethren of the faith—we must look at what immediately follows in verses 16-17, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…” That is, Paul does not desire that he and his Corinthian brethren deal with people according to the worldly method but rather according to God’s method—a godly method.

What might this look like? I like Luther’s description, “…one who does not have the desire or love for greed and deception of his neighbour but is satisfied with what God gives him through his work and is generous, kind, and charitable to those who need Him” (from the Church Postil, sermon for Easter Wednesday on Colossians 3:1-7, Luther’s Works 77:110). The referent of “those,” “themselves,” and “their sake” is “all.” Thus, we are to understand this saying as, “Christ died for all, that all who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and was raised for all” (not a translation suggestion, but a meaning clarification).

We who are in Christ are new creations. As such, we do not live according to this world (“in the world but not of the world,” John 17:14-16), but rather we live according to Christ. As recreated creatures in Christ, we no longer deal with peoples in this world as the world would deal with them; rather, we deal with them as Christ would deal with them. And this is, as Luther highlighted, not in covetousness of our neighbour’s things or to deceive our neighbour—as is the way of the world—but rather to be generous, kind, and charitable to all because all need Him, for Christ died and rose for all. (The Calvinist would scream at such a notion!)

Let us consider how our modern world functions. In 21st century America, greed and deceit are ubiquitous. Magazines tell men and women what they should look like. American society tells Americans it’s okay to be you, whilst at the same time it tells Americans what they should look like. (e.g. A man and woman with a flat stomach and a thin waistline, but don’t worry! It’s okay to be chubby or fat. But if you are, it’s better to look like this. Not because it’s healthier, but because it’s more sexy!) Modern society teaches to accept yourself as you are whilst at the same time to covet those who look “sexier” than you. We also “must have” the latest smartphone or gaming console or fashion trend; we cannot live without the latest updates.

Modern society is also deceptive, such as redefining relative pronouns. At the same time, society is attempting to redefine gender—that apparently children are born with blank gender slates and have a variety of gender options to choose from—despite empirical scientific evidence in DNA that directly contradicts this. Thus, society permits the emotional and sexual abuse of children into thinking they can choose from any imagined spectrum of gender under the guise of “social justice.” This is a direct denial of God the Creator and who they are in God’s image, as well as original sin.

Society also teaches that each religion has one glimpse of “the Real,” therefore all religions can lead to salvation fitted to one’s psyche and culture; and they all must “coexist,” even though the religions themselves do not tolerate coexistence (even the most conscientiously objective ones). In a simple, succinct statement, the Son of God Himself denies this notion of religious plurality—of multiple ways to salvation, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). According to the Son of God, there is only one way to salvation, and that is through Him, which just happens to be the religion of Christianity. Any other way, then, leads to damnation.

What would it look like for us to live contrary to these? That is, at least with Luther’s succinct list, what does it look like for us to live in generosity, kindness, and charity? If we’re using his list (the fruits of the Spirit would be more adequate, I think, but would make this much longer), it is to be generous, kind, and charitable in our proclamation of the Gospel—or in Paul’s words, the ministry of reconciliation that has been entrusted to us, the Church. We could certainly beat people over the head with our orthodox theology versus their (pagan) dogma by telling them how wrong they are, but we have done enough of that, which this method has been ineffective because it is erroneous.

The world, being in the flesh, doesn’t care if it’s wrong; the world and its inhabitants believe (not think) they are right, and what “right” looks like to them is living contrary to the One True God and His Son Jesus Christ who reigns in the Holy Spirit. The more orthodoxy—or true rightness—we throw at them, the more interested they are in being wrong—that is, continuing in their subjective “rightness.” Thus, rational persuasion has been ineffective, and we must return to our true Christian duty—the proclamation of the Gospel as we grow relationships with people (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

The right method, then, is a generous, kind, and charitable proclamation of the Gospel. What might this look like? Often when we think of generosity, we think of it in terms of money. True, one can be generous with monetary giving, but that is not its only use. It would be highly generous of us to actually sit with people who live according to the flesh and dialogue with them and suffer with them (this is, after all, what Jesus did). They oppose the Word because they do not understand, and because they do not understand, they have questions.

We cannot address these questions (often expressed angrily) and correct their misunderstandings if we don’t sit, dialogue, and suffer with them. By “suffer” I mean live life with them—grow a relationship with them, for indeed, life is sufferable. (If we don’t know how to answer, this is one reason why we have adequate pastors. This doesn’t mean that pastors—or Christianity—have all the answers, for we cannot know what God has not revealed to us). In other words, let us be generous with our time by actually taking time to know people and their stories in order to best show them how their story fits into God’s story.

This must be done with kindness and charity. Kindness should be obvious to us (just don’t be a rude jerk!), so I won’t expound on that. Instead, I’ll focus on charity. Much like generosity, “charity” is another word we measure in wealth. Like generosity, we often think of “charity” in monetary terms. After all, non-profit charity organisations ask for money all the time in order to accomplish their just cause. To be charitable to someone, we think, is to donate items like money, food, or clothes. Those are certainly charity, but it is much more than that.

The English word comes from the Greek word φιλανθρωπία (philothropia), which is also where we get our word “philanthropy” from. The dictionary defines philanthropy as “altruistic concern for human welfare and advancement, usually manifested by donations of money, property, or work to needy persons.” Again, there’s that emphasis on money and other material things. A philanthropist, then, is a person who does these things for others.

Our understanding of charity, I think, misses the true hallmark of charity/philanthropy, which is a deeper, spiritual concern. The BDAG’s definition of philanthropia is “affectionate concern for and interest in humanity” (1,055). I will add to this definition that philanthropia—charity—for someone is a genuine concern for and interest in a human being’s physical and especially spiritual welfare. Thus, when we preach the Gospel by being generous with our time in kindness, we must do so with the utmost authenticity.

Find a person you care about, and be with them. When we preach the Gospel, we must actually have a genuine care about the person’s soul! (This is easiest when it’s someone/a group of people for whom our hearts bleed.) That sounds obvious, but it’s not obvious to us. For when we are preaching the Gospel, are we more interested in being right or caring for the soul with the Word? Often, I think it is the former, which is why we see so many rude, prideful, angry Christians yelling at everyone.

We call this generation wicked, but we preach the Gospel to them with wicked hearts, more interested in being right (orthodox) than we are in the caring of the souls, for whom Jesus died and rose from the dead. In this way, we are living for ourselves rather than Christ! We are dishonouring Jesus’ death and resurrection when we care more about being right than we do about caring for the soul. To proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not merely to be right (even though He is the way, the truth, and the life). To proclaim the Gospel is to care for the soul through the Spirit in our generosity of time, kindness, and charitable concern for the soul in Jesus Christ our Lord who died and rose for all.

Bibliography

Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

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