Early Christian Quotes on Giving
Didache (1st Century) 1:5-6:
"Give to everybody who begs from you, and ask for no return." For the Father wants his own gifts to be universally shared. Happy is the man who gives as the commandment bids him, for he is guiltless! But alas for the man who receives! If he receives because he is in need, he will be guiltless. But if he is not in need he will have to stand trial why he received and for what purpose. He will be thrown into prison and have his action investigated; and "he will not get out until he has paid back the last cent." 6 Indeed, there is a further saying that relates to this: "Let your donation sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give it."
Didache (1st Century) 4:5-8:
Do not be one who holds his hand out to take, but shuts it when it comes to giving. 6If your labor has brought you earnings, pay a ransom for your sins. 7Do not hesitate to give and do not give with a bad grace; for you will discover who He is that pays you back a reward with a good grace. 8Do not turn your back on the needy, but share everything with your brother and call nothing your own. For if you have what is eternal in common, how much more should you have what is transient!
Didache (1st Century) 12:2-5:
If it is a traveler who arrives, help him all you can. But he must not stay with you more than two days, or, if necessary, three. 3If he wants to settle with you and is an artisan, he must work for his living. 4If, however, he has no trade, use your judgment in taking steps for him to live with you as a Christian without being idle. 5If he refuses to do this, he is trading on Christ. You must be on your guard against such people.
Didache (1st Century) 13:3-4:
Hence take all the first fruits of vintage and harvest, and of cattle and sheep, and give these first fruits to the prophets. For they are your high priests. 4If, however, you have no prophet, give them to the poor.
Epistle of Barnabas (1st Century) Chapter 19:
Do not be ready to stretch forth thy hands to take, whilst thou contractest them to give… Thou shalt not hesitate to give, nor murmur when thou givest. “Give to every one that asketh thee,” and thou shalt know who is the good Recompenser of the reward.
The Shepherd of Hermas (1st or 2nd Century), Vision 3, Chapter 6:
[On why certain stones are being shaped to fit into the building of the Tower, which represents the Church] For as a round stone cannot become square unless portions be cut off and cast away, so also those who are rich in this world cannot be useful to the Lord unless their riches be cut down.
The Shepherd of Hermas (1st or 2nd Century), Vision 3, Chapter 9:
Give heed, therefore, ye who glory in your wealth, lest those who are needy should groan, and their groans should ascend to the Lord, and ye be shut out with all your goods beyond the gate of the tower [Church].
The Shepherd of Hermas (1st or 2nd Century), Commandment 2:
from the rewards of your labours, which God gives you, give to all the needy in simplicity, not hesitating as to whom you are to give or not to give. Give to all, for God wishes His gifts to be shared amongst all. They who receive, will render an account to God why and for what they have received. For the afflicted who receive will not be condemned, but they who receive on false pretences will suffer punishment. He, then, who gives is guiltless. For as he received from the Lord, so has he accomplished his service in simplicity, not hesitating as to whom he should give and to whom he should not give. This service, then, if accomplished in simplicity, is glorious with God.
The Shepherd of Hermas (1st or 2nd Century), Commandment 12, Chapter 2:
[The angel said,] “Foremost of all is the desire after another’s wife or husband, and after extravagance, and many useless dainties and drinks, and many other foolish luxuries; for all luxury is foolish and empty in the servants of God. These, then, are the evil desires which slay the servants of God. For this evil desire is the daughter of the devil. You must refrain from evil desires, that by refraining ye may live to God.
The Shepherd of Hermas (1st or 2nd Century), Similitude 1:
He says to me, “You know that you who are the servants of God dwell in a strange land; for your city is far away from this one. If, then,” he continues, “you know your city in which you are to dwell, why do ye here provide lands, and make expensive preparations, and accumulate dwellings and useless buildings? He who makes such preparations for this city cannot return again to his own. Oh foolish, and unstable, and miserable man! Dost thou not understand that all these things belong to another, and are under the power of another? For the Lord of this city will say, ‘I do not wish thee to dwell in my city; but depart from this city, because thou obeyest not my laws.’ Thou, therefore, although having fields and houses, and many other things, when cast out by him, what wilt thou do with thy land, and house, and other possessions which thou hast gathered to thyself? For the Lord of this country justly says to thee, ‘Either obey my laws or depart from my dominion.’ What, then, dost thou intend to do, having a law in thine own city, on account of thy lands, and the rest of thy possessions? Thou shalt altogether deny thy law, and walk according to the law of this city. See lest it be to thy hurt to deny thy law; for if thou shalt desire to return to thy city, thou wilt not be received, because thou hast denied the law of thy city, but wilt be excluded from it. Have a care, therefore: as one living in a foreign land, make no further preparations for thyself than such merely as may be sufficient; and be ready, when the master of this city shall come to cast thee out for disobeying his law, to leave his city, and to depart to thine own, and to obey thine own law without being exposed to annoyance, but in great joy. Have a care, then, ye who serve the Lord, and have Him in your heart, that ye work the works of God, remembering His commandments and promises which He promised, and believe that He will bring them to pass if His commandments be observed. Instead of lands, therefore, buy afflicted souls, according as each one is able, and visit widows and orphans, and do not overlook them; and spend your wealth and all your preparations, which ye received from the Lord, upon such lands and houses. For to this end did the Master make you rich, that you might perform these services unto Him; and it is much better to purchase such lands, and possessions, and houses, as you will find in your own city, when you come to reside in it. This is a noble and sacred expenditure, attended neither with sorrow nor fear, but with joy. Do not practice the expenditure of the heathen, for it is injurious to you who are the servants of God; but practice an expenditure of your own, in which ye can rejoice; and do not corrupt nor touch what is another’s nor covet it, for it is an evil thing to covet the goods of other men; but work thine own work, and thou wilt be saved.”
The Shepherd of Hermas (1st or 2nd Century), Similitude 2:
Blessed are they who have riches, and who understand that they are from the Lord. [For they who are of that mind will be able to do some good.
The Shepherd of Hermas (1st or 2nd Century), Similitude 4:
And refrain from much business, and you will never sin: for they who are occupied with much business commit also many sins, being distracted about their affairs, and not at all serving their Lord.
The Shepherd of Hermas (1st or 2nd Century), Similitude 6, Chapter 1-2:
And we came to a certain plain, and he showed me a young man, a shepherd, clothed in a suit of garments of a yellow colour: and he was herding very many sheep, and these sheep were feeding luxuriously, as it were, and riotously, and merrily skipping hither and thither. The shepherd himself was merry, because of his flock; and the appearance of the shepherd was joyous, and he was running about amongst his flock. [And other sheep I saw rioting and luxuriating in one place, but not, however, leaping about.]
And he said to me, “Do you see this shepherd?” “I see him, sir,” I said. “This,” he answered, “is the angel of luxury and deceit: he wears out the souls of the servants of God, and perverts them from the truth, deceiving them with wicked desires, through which they will perish; for they forget the commandments of the living God, and walk in deceits and empty luxuries; and they are ruined by the angel, some being brought to death, others to corruption.” I said to him, “Sir, I do not know the meaning of these words, ‘to death, and to corruption.’” “Listen,” he said. “The sheep which you saw merry and leaping about, are those which have torn themselves away from God for ever, and have delivered themselves over to luxuries and deceits [of this world. Among them there is no return to life through repentance, because they have added to their other sins, and blasphemed the name of the Lord. Such men therefore, are appointed unto death. And the sheep which you saw not leaping, but feeding in one place, are they who have delivered themselves over to luxury and deceit], but have committed no blasphemy against the Lord. These have been perverted from the truth: among them there is the hope of repentance, by which it is possible to live. Corruption, then, has a hope of a kind of renewal, but death has everlasting ruin.”
The Shepherd of Hermas (1st or 2nd Century), Similitude 9, Chapter 20:
There are some of them rich, and others immersed in much business. The thistles are the rich, and the thorns are they who are immersed in much business. Those, [accordingly, who are entangled in many various kinds of business, do not] cleave to the servants of God, but wander away, being choked by their business transactions; and the rich cleave with difficulty to the servants of God, fearing lest these should ask something of them. Such persons, accordingly, shall have difficulty in entering the kingdom of God. For as it is disagreeable to walk among thistles with naked feet, so also it is hard for such to enter the kingdom of God. But to all these repentance, and that speedy, is open, in order that what they did not do in former times they may make up for in these days, and do some good, and they shall live unto God.
The Shepherd of Hermas (1st or 2nd Century), Similitude 9, Chapter 30:
When the Lord, therefore, saw the mind of these persons, that they were born good, and could be good, He ordered their riches to be cut down, not to be taken away for ever, that they might be able to do some good with what was left them
2 Clement (Early to Mid-2nd Century) 16:
Good, then, is alms as repentance from sin; better is fasting than prayer, and alms than both; "charity covereth a multitude of sins," and prayer out of a good conscience delivereth from death. Blessed is every one that shall be found complete in these; for alms lightens the burden of sin.
The Epistle of the Apostles (Mid-2nd Century) Chapter 46:
If any man who is not rich and possesseth a small livelihood giveth unto the poor and needy, men will call him a benefactor.
Tertullian’s Apology (Late 2nd Century) Chapter 39, Paragraph 1:
Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price. On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are, as it were, piety's deposit fund. For they are not taken thence and spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God's Church, they become the nurslings of their confession…One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives….Our feast explains itself by its name The Greeks call it agape, i.e., affection. Whatever it costs, our outlay in the name of piety is gain, since with the good things of the feast we benefit the needy; not as it is with you, do parasites aspire to the glory of satisfying their licentious propensities, selling themselves for a belly-feast to all disgraceful treatment,--but as it is with God himself, a peculiar respect is shown to the lowly.
Sentences of Sextus (Early 3rd Century), Selections:
(328) Let not an ungrateful man cause you to cease to do good.(330) You will use great property, if you give to the needy willingly.(331) Persuade a senseless brother not to be senseless; if he is mad, protect him.(338) Not only do not hold an opinion which does not benefit the needy, but also do not listen to it.(339) He who gives something without respect commits an outrage. [...].(340) If you take on the guardianship of orphans, you will be the father of many children (and) you will be beloved of God.(371) The love of man is the beginning of godliness.(372) He who takes care of men while praying for all of them - this is the truth of God.(373/374) It is God`s business to save whom he wants; on the other hand, it is the business of the pious man to beseech God to save everyone.(377/378) It is better for man to be without anything than to have many things while not giving to the needy; so also you, if you pray to God, he will not give to you.(379) If you, from your whole heart, give your bread to the hungry, the gift is small, but the willingness is great with God.(382) God does not need anything, but he rejoices over those who give to the needy.
Commodianus’ Instructions (Mid-3rd Century) Chapter 71:
If thy brother should be weak—I speak of the poor man—do not empty-handed visit such an one as he lies ill. Do good under God; pay your obedience by your money. Thence he shall be restored; or if he should perish, let a poor man be refreshed, who has nothing wherewith to pay you, but the Founder and Author of the world on his behalf. Or if it should displease thee to go to the poor man, always hateful, send money, and something whence he may recover himself. And, similarly, if thy poor sister lies upon a sick-bed, let your matrons begin to bear her victuals. God Himself cries out, Break thy bread to the needy. There is no need to visit with words, but with benefits. It is wicked that thy brother should be sick through want of food. Satisfy him not with words. He needs meat and drink. Look upon such assuredly weakened, who are not able to act for themselves. Give to them at once. I pledge my word that fourfold shall be given you by God.
Cyprian’s On the Unity of the Church (Mid-3rd Century) Paragraph 26:
Then they used to give for sale houses and estates; and that they might lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, presented to the apostles the price of them, to be distributed for the use of the poor. But now we do not even give the tenths from our patrimony; and while our Lord bids us sell, we rather buy and increase our store. Thus has the vigour of faith dwindled away among us; thus has the strength of believers grown weak.
Cyprian’s On the Lapsed (Mid-3rd Century) Paragraphs 6, 11-12:
[As to why God allowed a recent period of persecution:] Each one was desirous of increasing his estate; and forgetful of what believers had either done before in the times of the apostles, or always ought to do, they, with the insatiable ardour of covetousness, devoted themselves to the increase of their property….Not a few bishops who ought to furnish both exhortation and example to others, despising their divine charge, became agents in secular business, forsook their throne, deserted their people, wandered about over foreign provinces, hunted the markets for gainful merchandise, while brethren were starving in the Church. They sought to possess money in hoards, they seized estates by crafty deceits, they increased their gains by multiplying usuries…The truth, brethren, must not be disguised; nor must the matter and cause of our wound be concealed. A blind love of one’s own property has deceived many; nor could they be prepared for, or at ease in, departing when their wealth fettered them like a chain. Those were the chains to them that remained—those were the bonds by which both virtue was retarded, and faith burdened, and the spirit bound, and the soul hindered; so that they who were involved in earthly things might become a booty and food for the serpent, which, according to God’s sentence, feeds upon earth. And therefore the Lord the teacher of good things, forewarning for the future time, says, “If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” If rich men did this, they would not perish by their riches; if they laid up treasure in heaven, they would not now have a domestic enemy and assailant. Heart and mind and feeling would be in heaven, if the treasure were in heaven; nor could he be overcome by the world who had nothing in the world whereby he could be overcome. He would follow the Lord loosed and free, as did the apostles, and many in the times of the apostles, and many who forsook both their means and their relatives, and clave to Christ with undivided ties.But how can they follow Christ, who are held back by the chain of their wealth? Or how can they seek heaven, and climb to sublime and lofty heights, who are weighed down by earthly desires? They think that they possess, when they are rather possessed; as slaves of their profit, and not lords with respect to their own money, but rather the bond-slaves of their money.
Cyprian’s On Works and Alms (Mid-3rd Century) Paragraphs 2, 10, 13, 19:
The Holy Spirit speaks in the sacred Scriptures, and says, “By almsgiving and faith sins are purged.” Not assuredly those sins which had been previously contracted, for those are purged by the blood and sanctification of Christ. Moreover, He says again, “As water extinguisheth fire, so almsgiving quencheth sin.” Here also it is shown and proved, that as in the laver of saving water the fire of Gehenna is extinguished, so by almsgiving and works of righteousness the flame of sins is subdued. And because in baptism remission of sins is granted once for all, constant and ceaseless labour, following the likeness of baptism, once again bestows the mercy of God…You are afraid lest perchance your estate should fail, if you begin to act liberally from it; and you do not know, miserable man that you are, that while you are fearing lest your family property should fail you, life itself, and salvation, are failing; and whilst you are anxious lest any of your wealth should be diminished, you do not see that you yourself are being diminished, in that you are a lover of mammon more than of your own soul; and while you fear, lest for the sake of yourself, you should lose your patrimony, you yourself are perishing for the sake of your patrimony…Divide your returns with the Lord your God; share your gains with Christ; make Christ a partner with you in your earthly possessions, that He also may make you a fellow-heir with Him in His heavenly kingdom…Assign to Him your wealth which you are saving up for your heirs. Let Him be the guardian for your children; let Him be their trustee; let Him be their protector, by His divine majesty, against all worldly injuries.
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Find more of what the early Christians thought on my Christian History page!