WFT- eleemosynary

19 September 2009

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day for August 27th was eleemosynary(pronounced el-ih-MAH-suh-nair-ee).  It is an adjective that means:

of, relating to, or supported by charity

As always, M-W provided wonderful insight into the word:

While you may not agree with the grammarian who asserted that "a long and learned word like this should only be used under the stress of great need," you might find that remembering how to spell "eleemosynary" makes you tend to use its synonym "charitable" instead. The good people of early England had mercy on themselves when it came to spelling and shortened the root of "eleemosynary," the Latin "eleemosyna," to "ælmes," which they used as their word for "charity." (You may be more familiar with "alms," an "ælmes" derivative that came to denote food or money given to the poor.) The original Latin root was resurrected in the early 17th century to give us the spelling challenge of the adjective we feature today.

Examples from Scripture

Meeting the needs of the poor and needy is mentioned all throughout Scripture:

Leviticus 23:22

When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God.'"

Deuteronomy 15:7,11

"If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.'

Proverbs 11:24-25 (NIV)

One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.  A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.

Messiah warns us against giving with impure motives:

Matthew 6:1-4

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.  So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.  But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."

He also instructs us to bless those in need:

Luke 14:13-14

"But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

John provides this exhortation:

1 John 3:17-18

But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

Paul relates the words of the Master:

Acts 20:35

"In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

And he provides this instruction on the heart of the giver:

2 Corinthians 9:7

Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written, "HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER."

Charity or Tzedakah?

In many places where "charity" and other eleemosynary acts are mentioned in Scripture the Hebrew word tzedakah is found.  Charity is a less than complete translation of the word tzedakah.  "Charity" suggests that the giver is somehow going beyond "the call of duty" to meet the needs of those who are less fortunate.  Instead the word tzedakah literally means "acts of righteousness".

G-d is righteous.  We know this from Deuteronomy 32:4, Ezra 9:15, and many passages.  Messiah commanded us to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19) and part of that discipleship is showing G-d's character to those being discipled.  G-d provides for those who are less fortunate than Him (i.e. everyone! :) ) and so we are responsible for rightly doing the same.  If we are discipling others then we are living out G-d's righteousness in us.  Meeting the needs of the poor and needy is not an optional activity for believers.

Ten percent is often mentioned in Scripture in terms of giving (Genesis 14:20, Genesis 29:22, Numbers 18:21,24, Deuteronomy 26:12) and can be seen as a minimum.  Please do not confuse the Scriptural tithe with charitable giving.  The tithe was specifically given to provide for the dietary needs of the Levitical priesthood in the Land of Isra'el.  Where there is no Levitical priesthood serving in the Land then the tithe is not applicable.  For more information see this article on What Scripture Says About Tithing.

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. Ecclesiastes 12:13

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