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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Liberality

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LIBERALITY.1. This may be considered to begin when the requirements of the Law have been fulfilled. Thus the payment of tithe, which in our Lord’s time was evidently regarded as an ideal (cf. Luke 18:12), cannot be described as liberality, though it seems certain that many of the wealthier among the ‘dispersed’ regarded it as a duty to send, by way of Temple tribute, generous and even munificent contributions, far in excess of the legal requirement. These were collected at different centres abroad, and then sent by certain specially appointed ‘ambassadors’ to Jerusalem, where they were placed in three large chests within the Temple, which were opened with great solemnity at certain seasons of the year. Apart from the Temple tribute, the treasury was enriched by voluntary offerings of different kinds; and out of this grew the abuse which our Lord denounces in Matthew 15:5-6. It seems probable that the faithful rarely visited the Temple, at least on Sabbaths and feasts, without making some contribution to its revenues. Though votive offerings cannot be regarded, strictly speaking, as instances of liberality, and led to abuses against which the more devout Rabbis protested, the motives which prompted them may not infrequently have been generous and sincere.

In the Court of the Women, within the Temple, were the shopharoth, or ‘trumpets,’ vessels whose shape is indicated by their name, in which contributions for religious purposes and for charitable objects might be placed. The contents of these were at fixed times placed in the treasury; and in addition to these there was a chamber where donations to be applied to the maintenance and education of poor children might be given. There is reason to believe that, whatever the motives in individual cases might be, there was a constant flow of liberality through these channels (cf. Mark 12:41, Luke 21:1). On the wealth of the Temple treasury and the pious purposes for which it was partly intended, cf. 2 Maccabees 3:6; 2 Maccabees 3:10. Whatever may have been the greedy and grasping spirit of the Pharisees, whose extortions our Lord denounces (Matthew 23:14), it is probable that the Deuteronomic precept (Deuteronomy 15:7-11) received a generous fulfilment among all classes.

2. Christ’s teaching as to liberality.—(a) Of mind. The whole life and teaching of Christ may be regarded as a protest against prejudice and narrow-mindedness, and therefore as an appeal for liberality. His injunctions to love enemies (Matthew 5:44-46, Luke 6:27-28), to refrain from passing judgment on others (Matthew 7:1-5, Luke 6:37), and indirectly, the parable of the Good Samaritan, afford instances in which He condemns the spirit of prejudice and inculcates an open mind and generous bearing towards others.

(b) In the use of wealth, etc. The claim to which no follower of Christ is to turn a deaf ear is that of need. Need, as evidenced by asking, is a sufficient ground for giving (Matthew 5:42). The measure of our giving is to be in proportion to the extent of our own blessing (Luke 11:41; Luke 12:33), and although the command ‘Freely ye have received, freely give’ (Matthew 10:8) was spoken with reference to the use of the miraculous powers given to the disciples, we cannot doubt that it extends also to all endowments of wealth or talents wherewith God has blessed us. Liberality in the form of almsgiving is to be without ostentation (Matthew 6:1-2; Matthew 6:4); its reward is the heavenly treasure ‘that faileth not’ (Luke 12:33), and a generous return, here or hereafter, for the right use of wealth (Luke 6:38; Luke 16:9). The complete bestowal of earthly possessions on the poor, accompanied by ‘taking up the cross’ and following Christ, which is required of the rich young ruler in addition to the observance of the commandments (Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, Luke 18:22), is not necessarily a rule of universal obligation, but evidently intended to meet this special case; underlying it is the idea, never absent from our Lord’s teaching as to the use of wealth, that wealth is a trust from God, and to be renounced when it becomes a hindrance to spiritual life. While liberality is assured of a reward, the reward, or even return, is not to be the object of the giver (Luke 6:35, where μηδὲν ἀπελπίζοντες may be ‘hoping for nothing again,’ as in Authorized Version ; or ‘never despairing,’ as in Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ; or, if read μηδένα, ‘driving no one to despair,’ or ‘despairing of no man,’ as in (Revised Version margin) ).* [Note: One of the few sayings of our Lord quoted outside the Gospels commends liberality (Acts 20:35).]

There are three utterances of our Lord with reference to liberality to the Temple and the purposes connected therewith. The gift is to be brought to the altar only after reconciliation to an offended brother (Matthew 5:23-24); outward liberality being thus shown to be unacceptable to God unless the heart be filled with the spirit of love. Natural duties are not to be set aside by a liberality which becomes sinful (Matthew 15:5) in devoting to the Temple what ought to be given to the support of parents. The teaching of the incident of the widow’s two mites is best summed up in the words of Ambrose: ‘It is not considered how much is given, but how much remains behind.’ The answer of John the Baptist (Luke 3:11) may be quoted as in accordance with the teaching of our Lord: liberality is here shown to be an evidence of repentance, and a practical testimony to a change of heart. See also artt. Almsgiving, Giving.

Literature.—J. O. Dykes, Manifesto of the King, 351; J. LI. Davies, Spiritual Apprehension, 244; S. Cox, Biblical Expositions, 195; W. M. Sinclair, Christ and our Times, 279; W. Dickie, Culture of the Spiritual Life, 183; Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services; works on Jewish Antiqq.; the Comm. in loc.

S. J. Ramsay Sibbald.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Liberality'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/l/liberality.html. 1906-1918.

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