Charity Begins at Home

Rev. Chip Hammond

A few weeks ago, I saw the following cartoon:

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Comical as the comic was, it was also sobering, for we are often just exactly like that. It is very easy to have a high regard and affection for someone we don’t really know, for we can fill in the blanks of the areas of his or her life with a fertile imagination. But those in our family, those in our churches, those in our communities – well, we know them too well to actually love or respect them.

So the seminary student loves and admires his professor, a published author and noted scholar, with more affection than he does the elder who was present at his baptism, taught him in Sunday School and VBS, catechized him, helped to bring him to public profession of his faith in Christ, and continues to pray for him.

The church member loves and admires the missionary, who preaches the Word to and prays for other people, with more affection than he does his own pastor, who preaches the Word to and prays for him, seemingly unaware that the only difference between pastors and missionaries is the place they carry out their ministry.

The pastor is greatly impressed with the ministries and the zeal with which the members of another congregation carry out the Lord’s work, and thinks, “Why are our people not that committed and ardent?” scarcely realizing that the pastor of this admired congregation is saying the same thing about his people and the ministries they accomplish!

Sometimes teenagers think the parents of others their age are better parents, not “old sticks-in-the-mud” like Mom and Dad. Sometimes a wife thinks another man would be better than her husband, or a husband thinks another woman would be more exciting or fun than his own wife.

Familiarity breeds contempt, but we seldom reflect on the reason for it. We are often most contemptuous of those who manifest, and therefore magnify and reflect, our own failings and sins. Or we are contemptuous of them simply because they will not bend themselves to our will and will not do what we want them to do, or be what we want them to be. When certain people are little known, though, we can pretend all kinds of things about them, and as long as we remain ignorant, we are in bliss.

In spite of the sinful propensity to have contempt for our neighbors, or perhaps because of it God says “love your neighbor” (Lev. 19:18, Mt. 22:39). It’s very easy to love someone else’s neighbor, but God says to love your neighbor.

The truth is, when you don’t love your neighbor, it’s likely not because of their sin, but because of yours. You want everyone to obey your will. It’s easier to pretend that those at a distance do. If you love only those you don’t really know, the truth is that you do not love God. To love him, you have to know him. And if you know him, you’ll soon discover that he won’t bend to your will, you have to bend to his.

This is precisely why John says, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).

“Charity begins at home.” The old word “charity” means “love.” The preacher who coined the phrase had it exactly right. It’s easy to love, to admire, to support, to think well of, those who are far away, whom we never really see and don’t really know. It’s also easy to show contempt for those who are nearby, those whom we actually know, and who actually pray for us and minister to us.

It’s so easy to love the scholar, the missionary, the other man or woman whom you don’t really know, and exhibit contempt for the elder, the pastor, the husband or wife that you do know. Be aware that if you do this, you should not claim to love God. God’s own word says it’s a bold-faced lie. If you love God, you’ll love those near. Charity begins at home.