The Bible teaches that charity is a virtue, 1 Corinthians 13. But charity must be genuine, “out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned”, 1 Timothy 1:5. Colossians 3:14 describes charity as “the bond of perfectness”.
“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
– 1 Corinthians 13:13
1 Peter 4:8 even reads charity “shall cover the multitude of sins”. 1 Peter 4:8 might explain why the Vatican once offered indulgences, the expiation of sins through donations to the church. Unfortunately, the clergy misused the money to fund grand buildings and their lavish lifestyles. Hence, Martin Luther’s protest.
In the days of old, the LORD commanded the Israelites not to wholly reap the corners of the fields, or to gather the gleanings of the harvest, for some of the harvest should be left to the poor and the foreigner.
“And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God.”
– Leviticus 19:9-10
Furthermore, once every 7 years, there was to be a release: all debts were to be erased, Deuteronomy 15. And then once every 49 years, there was to be a jubile, a special release. During a jubile, if a brethren had become poor, one was to relieve him, and not exact usury or compel him to serve as a bondservant, Leviticus 25:35-40.
“And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee. Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase.”
– Leviticus 25:35-37
Interestingly, in June 2015, Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked introduced a law in the spirit of the shmittah, to relieve the poor from debts that cannot be repaid.
In May 2015, Josiah Duncan, a 5 year old boy in Alabama USA, asked his mum to buy a homeless man a meal, and she did. As he said grace with the homeless man, 11 diners in the restaurant were moved to tears.
Charity is a virtue when it is genuine, like that of Josiah Duncan’s mum. Charity must come from the individual. Those who have money to spare are the ones whom should give. Likewise, those who have farms are the ones whom should not glean the harvest. Likewise, those who have lent money to others are the ones whom should release a debt at every seventh and especially forty ninth year.
The idea of a public system of welfare that British PM Clement Attlee introduced in the 1940s is not quite the same. If the state taxes an individual and gives the money to the poor, then that individual has not necessarily given in charity.
“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.”
– 1 Corinthians 13:3
Furthermore, Attlee’s taxpayer funded welfare state rests on the work of economists such as William Beveridge and John Maynard Keynes. It stands to reason that a system of public welfare discourages work and enterprise in an economy. Also, the incentive of an employee within a welfare bureaucracy is to perpetuate the need for welfare: the more unemployed there are, the more work there is for the bureaucrat. For these reasons, many say, public welfare is flawed and it weakens the economy.
I think, if a state can afford to provide an income safety net, then it should choose Milton Friedman’s idea of a negative income tax. This way, there is no need for a welfare bureaucracy, the so-called welfare trap is avoided, and citizens can be guaranteed a basic income to spend on accommodation and food.
It may be that some social security such as a basic income should be provided by the state. But by and large, charity should be the purview of private organisations such as Mercy Ships and the Salvation Army, organisations that serve God and encourage philanthropy. I think it is not like that because some people do not want Christians to help the poor and proselytise to the poor.
“The righteous considereth the cause of the poor: but the wicked regardeth not to know it.”
– Proverbs 29:7