The dictionary defines a charity as an institution engaged in relief of the poor. The need of the poor and care for the poor are age-old concerns. The law given to Moses gives divine sanction for providing for those needs. Farmers were instructed to leave the corners of their fields for the poor to reap, as well as to leave grapes on the vine (Lev 19:9-10). Ruth, the Moabitess, was able to benefit from that provision when coming to Bethlehem-Judah (Ruth 2). References in the NT also provide evidence of giving to the poor (e.g. John 13:29; Gal 2:10; 6:10). Thus, there is ample Scriptural support for believers to provide for the poor. Many avenues are available to do so, including use of recognized charities. It is important, however, to put that in perspective. The record of John 12 relates the commendation of Mary of Bethany for her wholehearted devotion to the Lord Jesus, Who then rebukes those who claimed to have a greater interest in the needs of the poor. There is no greater occupation than worship; everything else, though valuable, must take a secondary place.
There are two related questions that arise. What charities should a believer support, and, to what extent should support be given? In 1940 in the US, there were 12,500 secular charities; there are now over 700,000. In addition, there are numerous foundations that support research for specific disease and health-related conditions. How does one choose an entity worthy of support? What Biblical principles will help in these decisions?
Galatians 6:10 encourages us to “do good to all men,” but also establishes the priority “especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” The same verse instructs, “as we have therefore opportunity.” Christians are to be characterized by love (charity), kindness, goodness, and willingness to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 5:22; 6:2). Thus, we are admonished to share, as we have opportunity, what God has given to us. However, we should avoid supporting an organization that fosters or promotes a lifestyle that is contrary to Biblical instruction or principles (1Thes 5:22). We would also likely avoid those organizations that use professional fundraisers and thus diminish the percentage of gift that is actually used for the stated purpose. (A review of the organization’s website may give helpful information.)
We should never be seen as rigid, narrow-minded people who are unwilling to provide help to the community or to those in particular need. The apostle was willing to be made all things to all people that by all means he might see some saved (2Cor 9:22). We, too, should make use of every opportunity to make contacts that can be used by the Spirit of God for eternal blessing. We do well, however, to recognize that although our contributions may be helpful, they will never totally resolve the ills of society. The Lord Jesus stated that “the poor you have with you always” (John 12:8). The problems and concerns for the poor and needy indeed remain to our day.
A word of caution: charities operate under the principle that a person who has already donated is more likely to give again than one who has not. Thus, if you give, be prepared to be inundated with further requests.