Charity Begins at Home, But It Does Not End There!

“Charity begins at home.” Sir Thomas Browne, 1642

“You shall be My witnesses BOTH in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Jesus Christ, 30 AD

A phrase that I have heard many times in my life is, “Charity begins at home.” It is uncertain where this quotation came from (although a form of it is attributed to Sir Thomas Browne, an English doctor, from 1642). However this phrase has become popular and when I did a google search for the meaning of this phrase, I found the following:

“You should take care of family and people close to you before you worry about helping others. I don’t think our church should worry so much about a foreign relief fund when there are people in need right here in our city. Charity begins at home. If you really want to make the world a better place, start by being polite to your sister. Charity begins at home.”

I find that this is the meaning of the phrase in common understanding. And I find that many of God’s people glibly say such things, not realizing that they are not quoting the Bible, and in fact are saying something that is unbiblical.

Not that the words, charity begins at home, are entirely wrong. Of course, charity, and all other Christian virtues begin at home. But the common understanding of the phrase actually means to most people, “Charity ENDS at home”.

Take the meaning of the phrase that I copied and pasted from my google dictionary search, 3 paragraphs up. In every case the phrase is understood to mean that the needs of people in my family and community must be completely taken care of before we even “worry about helping others”. We should not “worry” about “foreign relief” as long as “there are people in need right here in our city”.

Let me respond this this kind of thinking. First of all, if we wait till there are no more needs in our communities before we engage in the great commission internationally, then I can say with certainty, we will NEVER do it! There will always be needs in our families, our communities, our nation etc. So if we say we cannot do anything about foreign missions till all those needs are met, then foreign missions is over. This cannot possibly be a right or Godly point of view.

But it is worse than that. It is a directly unbiblical attitude that is disobedient to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the wisdom of the world, but not Biblical truth.

Our Lord Jesus Christ not only gave us the Great Commission, He even gave us some specifics. In Acts 1:8, partially quoted at the beginning, He said that we will be His witnesses,
“Both” in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the furthest parts of the earth. The clear meaning of this is NOT, First Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, and then the uttermost parts! Rather it means that we are to engage in all these regions in our work of the great commission. We are not to ignore home missions or our own families. Of course not. But neither are we to ignore the lost and unreached around the world. We are to do it all, simultaneously!

As a matter of fact, that is exactly what happened, from the day of Pentecost onward. Most people think that the church started in Jerusalem and then spread to Judea and Samaria and only began “foreign missions” after the ministry of the apostle Paul started. While the overall pattern in that understanding is true and shown in a study of the book of Acts, the fact is that even on the day of Pentecost, there were people present from all over the known world, and these people went home after the feast and the gospel and the church spread widely, years before Paul was even saved, much less began his own mission. The book of Romans in our Bible is an example of Paul writing to a church years before he was ever in that city. Years before any apostle visited the city of Rome, a thriving church was there and Paul was able to write to a mature church. Who started this church? Only God knows, but it was probably a result of the people who went forth from the day of Pentecost! Foreign Missions actually began on the very first day of the church!

It is true that we all have to start somewhere, and our own lives, families, and communities are the obvious beginning points for us. But let’s not wait till all the needs are met at home, before we launch out to work with, pray for and give toward reaching others, especially the least reached in our world.


2 Comments On “Charity Begins at Home, But It Does Not End There!”

  1. Lots of pertinent thoughts on Charity can be found in the last third of Browne's 'Religio Medici' a spiritual essay which is structured on meditations upon Faith, Hope and Charity.

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