Philanthropy: Active Love
by Chris Andreas
The following sermon has been provided by the Department of Stewardship Ministries of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life," (John 3:16).
Philanthropy. . .the word almost sounds like "love," one that could be said almost with soft intonations. It derives from the Greek, "philos anthropos," and its English rendering is "lover of mankind." It is expressed in different ways of giving. Even in the purely secular world, it is understood as the giving of resources for human needs: gifts of time; gifts of wisdom, experience or talents; and gifts of personal resources. One of the most important characteristics of philanthropy is that it is always active, never inactive. It expresses love, care, concern and blessings for the humanitarian needs of individuals to entire communities and even nations. Philanthropy is a demonstration of love for our fellow human beings in a very dynamic, energetic sense. Love always acts, and in philanthropy we are always actively seeking what we can do for others, similarly to the way God came to us, for us.
If philanthropy is all of this in the purely secular world, how much more important is it in the world of faith and the Church? How much of this epitomizes the teachings of Jesus Christ and the acceptance by many of His contemporaries of the two great commandments: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind," and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself"? Jesus explains that, "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets," (Matt 22:37, 39-40). Jesus not only lived this love, but He also died because of it. His death and resurrection were the vehicles through which He brought salvation into the world. Our salvation was the very purpose of His entering human history. His love is exemplified in His death for us, the Creator dying for His creation. In this respect, it can be asserted that Jesus Christ is the greatest philanthropist the world has ever seen. He had very little money and was supported by others in His ministry. But in His physical poverty, He still gave all He had, even His own life for the sake of mankind.
We might recall in Mark 12:42 and Luke 21:1-4 the Biblical Widow who cast two mites into the Temple's treasury. As small as her gift was, she still gave all she had and was memorialized by the Lord Himself for her deed. It was her loving piety that prompted her to perform this sacrificial giving. Because she gave in the spirit of sacrifice all that she had, these two small coins are, in the sight of God, more valuable than the expensive offerings conferred by the others. So as we can see, one need not be wealthy in order to be a philanthropist.
However, this in no way says that those of us who give gifts out of our abundance give them in a spirit of hypocrisy. For Holy Scripture also says, "...to whom much is given, of him much will be required," (Luke 12:48). Let us understand that philanthropy in the Church is stewardship in Christ. Each and every member of the Body of Christ who gives of himself or herself in any ministry of the Church is a philanthropist to the degree of his abilities and resources. He or she is also a steward seeking to fulfill a mission to all people.
How many of us know that the vast majority of the teachings of Jesus Christ concern the spirit of giving? In short, He was so concerned about sacrificial giving in love as opposed to greed and hoarding that He spent most of His earthly time articulating Himself on this very subject. This resulted from man's failure to interpret Old Testament teachings through the ideal of love. Until the Son of God entered into human history, the Old Testament was interpreted legalistically, and this was the reason it failed to bind man to our Heavenly Father. It is only through love that man can be bound to Him. And philanthropy is love in action. Philanthropy in every sense parallels the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ in the spirit of giving in love.
The proof of all this lies in the world in all its present reality. Truly, we see a world that is fallen: one that is without love, but rather filled with greed, anger and mistrust; one in which wars and human suffering constantly abound. Now think for a moment of a world transformed in God's image of love. Think of an entire world where giving and not taking is the way of life. Because of the change in our hearts, there are no more wars, greed, mistrust, nor anger. It is a world where Jesus Christ truly governs and, indeed, governs in love.