The Real Meaning of Charity
The most common association with the word charity today is giving. Although giving is an act of charity, what charity actually means is love.
The Fall From Grace
Since the King James Bible became an obsolete object of ridicule, the true meaning and understanding of the word charity has quietly changed from something magnificent and holy to a simple act unconnected to God's mercy and salvation. We have all fallen for this subdued version, and it doesn't help when you open any modern dictionary and see this:
Charity: "generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill, or helpless: to devote one's life to charity." - dictionary.com.
And at oxforddictionaries.com: "the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need."
To their credit, they still list the true meaning at the bottom of their list: "archaic love of humankind, typically in a Christian context: faith, hope, and charity." To their discredit, they call that form of charity, "archaic."
According to the same online dictionary, archaic means, "very old or old fashioned." Since the common cultural context of the word charity means simply to give, defining charity as archaic shouldn't be considered offensive. However, that particular definition states, "archaic love," not "archaic meaning." Apparently, Christian love is archaic. The pocket Oxford American Thesaurus published in 2008 uses these synonyms to describe the word archaic: "outmoded, out of date, bygone, extinct, defunct, prehistoric, and OBSOLETE."
It is interesting that lexicographers are so involved in their work that they don't realize that the world is still filled with millions of Christians to this day who follow that, "archaic," form of love.
What is also interesting is that the 1979 version of the Oxford American Dictionary (Heald Colleges Edition) defines charity as: "loving kindness toward others." Admittedly, it is a simplified version of the meaning of charity, but it also hits the nail on the head. Strange that as one looks backward in time, the definition of charity becomes not just a simple humanistic act of only giving, but an expression of ultimate love not fettered by the definition of a single act.
Why is this Persnickety So Important?
It's just a simple misunderstanding right? No, it isn't. Since the beginning, Satan has twisted the word of God just a little - enough to mislead humanity into the temptation of knowledge over love - the knowledge of God so we wouldn't need him (Genesis 3:4-5). Satan changed the meaning of God's word and Adam and Eve were willing to listen and accept it.
According to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, copyright 1890, the word charity in the Greek Dictionary of the New Testament is defined as love, ie. affection or benevolence, specifically: "a love feast." A love feast! When is the last time you have heard charity described as a love feast? In fact, the word charity is an escalation of the word love which is defined in the context of, "in a social or moral sense." Charity makes love look almost bare in comparison. Not to worry, the Greek meaning of love in the New Testament often refers to the same meaning as charity. But the word charity draws our attention to a deeper love.
The Difference Between Charity and Knowledge
1 Corinthians 8:1
Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. (Edify means to "build up.")
Knowledge makes you FEEL bigger but charity MAKES you bigger. Seeking knowledge fills your head with facts and truths, but charity (love) makes you more Godly. Just to clarify, there is nothing wrong with learning, but the point the Bible makes, is that the emphasis of the pursuit of knowledge over love, is wrong.
The Greatest Commandment
1 Timothy 1:9-10
Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;
Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Loving God and loving your neighbor (everyone), trumps knowledge and even the law in that if the two great commandments were followed, the law would not be necessary.
Small Changes in the Word of God leads to Missing Meanings
The Defining Twist
This brings us back to loving God. If we choose to believe words that have been twisted, we could end up being greatly tempted. The Bible instructs us to forgive others as God has forgiven us. Thus it follows that because God loves us, we should love God and love others. Therefore, if the meaning of charity was to give THINGS to others, then wouldn't it follow that we should also expect God to give US things? And this is indeed what the modern Christian thinks, they pray for fancy cars, miraculous healings and wealth. But this is not right, charity means to love as God loves. Notice we cannot ask for more of God's love because we already have it, therefore there is only one thing left to do: love others!
This is why it is so crucial that charity is defined clearly - so that we do not misunderstand God's will for our lives because of a deliberate twisting of the meaning of a simple word.
Then What Finally, is the True meaning of Charity?
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification.
There is that word edification again. And although the word love or charity is not mentioned, it is implied in the actions we are instructed to take. Helping others at the expense of our own comfort is an act of love. Notice also that the result of this love, this charity, is edification just like in 1 Corinthians 8:1 mentioned earlier. Love builds up others (and ourselves).
1 Corinthians 13:1-8,13
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
The Whole Point
God is a giving God. He gave us charity so that we could give love to others. Giving to the needy is a wonderful calling, but charity is not just about giving away unwanted items to unwanted people for a tax break or a even just a temporary good feeling. Charity is sacrificing yourself for the benefit of others. Charity is loving the unlovable. Charity is peaceful and hopeful and humble. It was out of love that Jesus suffered on a cross to bear the weight of our sins, sacrificing his innocence so we could gain ours if we choose to follow him. That is what true love is: lowering yourself to lift up another, thinking only of their benefit.
If this seems like a tough act to follow, don't worry - true charity starts with a kind word given by you on a bad day to a checker at the store, holding a door open for an older person when you're in a hurry or even asking God to bless an enemy at work. But it all starts with love. Learn to love God because he loved you first, then learn to pass it on to everyone else.