How do we respond to the sins and miseries we see all around us in our communities and society at large? There may be lots to say by way of lamenting the situation and bemoaning how things are going. Yet from another point of view the needs of others are opportunities for Christians to show mercy and do good to those around us. But often we hesitate to get involved and we let opportunities slide past. Recently “the world’s largest study of kindness” created by a University of Sussex team summarised their findings. One of the things that most stopped people from showing kindness was fear of their actions being misinterpreted. Others spoke of not having enough time. There may be many other excuses we would add. Perhaps there are local causes dear to our hearts yet we feel these works are better left to other people. Maybe we admire the spirit of self-sacrificial giving while trying to keep our own bank balances in good health. We know we should be showing love to our neighbour and we have good intentions to help others, but why do we not follow through? Here is some help towards that.
The beginning of Ecclesiastes 11 urges us to be charitable towards others and do as much as we can for their good. But we often come up with objections to excuse delaying or completely neglecting this duty. In this updated extract, Alexander Nisbet draws lessons from this passage to help us to put our good intentions into action by helping others in practical ways.
1. Objections that hinder good intentions
(a) “Our resources are limited”
One kind of objection comes from what we imagine is the likelihood that we will bring ourselves into need if we give to the poor as the Word of God presses us. But Solomon quotes a proverb about a foolish farmer, which amounts to this. If the farmer holds off from sowing or reaping every time it looks like rain or wind, he will never actually get round to either sowing or reaping. Likewise, if you look at all future contingencies which may discourage or hinder you in your duty, you will probably never set about it at all. Particularly if we neglect charity to others, when God calls us to it, because of every suggestion that our own resources will soon be exhausted, then we will never “cast our bread upon the waters” (verse 1). Then too we will never reap the reward promised to those who perform this duty.
(b) “Nothing much will come of it”
Another kind of objection is that there is no point because the likelihood of success seems very small. For this, Solomon uses an argument taken from the unsearchable depth of God’s wisdom manifested in his ordinary workings. He is aiming to show that our ignorance is no reason for us to despair of God doing what he has promised! Solomon’s examples come from two things very familiar to everyone, and yet clearly understood by none. For one thing, we “know not the way of the spirit” (verse 5). We are ignorant of how our own souls are formed and united to our bodies, how they exist and act while they are in the body, and when they are separated from it. And for another thing, “none knows how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child” (verse 5). No one understands that wonderful work, the forming of our own bodies in the womb.
If we do not understand these things, how can we distinctly conceive the way that God works to make good his promises to those who venture to do their duties, even when there is no probability of reward for so doing?
And to help us the more confidently expect the promised reward of duty, even though there appears no likelihood of it, Solomon reminds us that the Lord is the Creator, who gives a being to things that have no existence. He is “God who maketh all” (verse 5). Therefore we may cheerfully follow our duty to him, and, in particular, give for relief of his poor people, even supposing we see no probability of recompense for so doing.
2. Helps to follow through
(a) Act in obedience rather than on probabilities
In fact, we may expect that, on the balance of probability, it will look like very poor chances of success in the way of duty, and very small chances that promises made to doing duty can ever be fulfilled. But this only gives an opportunity to manifest the sincerity of our respect to the command, and the liveliness of our faith in believing the promise of reward. For just as the farmer will see many unseasonable days to hinder him from sowing and weaken his hopes of a good harvest, so many things will appear to hinder us from the duty of charity (and the same holds true of all other duties) and to weaken our hopes that promises about them will be fulfilled.
(b) Keep difficulties in perspective
Our problem is that we have so much natural aversion to our duty, and so much unbelief about the promised reward, that we are ready to make every appearance of a difficulty a sufficient reason to quit. For the weather will often be lowering, and the air tempestuous, when a little while afterwards, the season will be favourable enough! Yet we are very apt to be hindered from doing our duty by such small appearances of difficulty.
(c) Tackle duties when opportunities arise
If we earnestly set ourselves to give obedience to commanded duties, or want to see the fulfilment of the promise made to such obedience, we must not pounce on every possible difficulty from afar off, or search out reasons to discourage us in our duty. Nor must we pay overmuch attention to difficulties when they are suggested to our minds. Instead, when the season and opportunity of duty comes, we must set to, whatever appearance of bad success there be, otherwise we will never be able to advance God’s honour in carrying out our duty.
(d) Be aware of your priorities
If we applied the same logic in matters relating to our duty to God, and our eternal welfare, as we ordinarily do in the matters of this life, we would not be so often hindered from our duty or discouraged in it. But sometimes, the reasoning which carries no weight with us in things of earthly and small concern, can seem very powerful when it comes to the greatest matters, to do with our souls and the life to come. We do not not ordinarily see the appearance of rain or wind as a reason to neglect to sow or reap, or other things, otherwise we would seldom or never do what we normally never neglect.
It is only right that our love for the Lord and for our neighbours will spill out in practical kindness, works of mercy, and acts of generosity and liberality. If God has given us more than we need, then we are well placed to help someone else who has less than we have. We shouldn’t be so discouraged by the fact that we can’t do everything that we don’t try to do anything. Neither should we worry that we or our families will lose out if we are too generous in sharing what we have. Those who “cast their bread on the waters” and who “give a portion to seven, and also to eight” (verse 1), will not fail to be recompensed by the Lord, in either temporal or spiritual rewards or both.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.