Benevolence: An inclination to perform kind, charitable acts
Too often people are charitable and benevolent because they a need and want to help meet that need. They give money to fight homelessness, hunger, poverty, illiteracy, illness, etc. All these gifts are well-intentioned - no one gives because they are mean-spirited.
However, I do wonder at the motivation of the gift. Some gifts are given in order to receive a tax write off. Some gifts are made in order to look good in the eyes of others. Some gifts are more personal because of a family member's situation.
To me, it seems that charity and benevolence is done from a desire to attack the cause of a condtion. Don't get me wrong, I don't like the causes of hunger, poverty, illiteracy, etc. any more than anyone else. I find them despicable and wish they were eliminated. However, I do wish that the reason people were generously-minded was from a philanthropic viewpoint.
Philanthropy: The effort or inclination to increase the well-being of humankind, as by charitable aid or donations (from the Greek: philo = love and anthropos = man)
Before you say this is "just semantics" and that philanthropy is the same as charity or benevolence, think about the motivation for giving. Philanthropy is done because you want to help a person whereas charity is cause-related. If benevolence is to fight homelessness, philanthropy seeks to work with "Mike" or "Susie" to find them a place to live and to address the situation that made Mike or Susie homeless in the first place. Charity is about giving left-over clothes or money so that an organization can do something to meet a need. Philanthropy is about you getting personally involved because you love people as individuals, not as causes or charities.
Jesus didn't come to be charitable or benevolent. Jesus came because He loves humanity and wanted to get personally involved in our situation, to get his hand dirty in our mess, and to face us in the muck and mire in which we had gotten ourselves. This was about human love.
Here is another way to categorize charity versus philanthropy. It comes from the 12th century Jewish philosopher Maimonides who wrote the Eight Levels of Giving:
- A man gives, but is glum when he gives. This is the lowest degree of all.
- A man gives with a cheerful countenance, but gives less than he should.
- A man gives, but only when asked by the poor.
- A man gives without having to be asked, but gives directly to the poor who know therefore to whom they are indebted, and he, too, knows whom he has benefited.
- A man places his donation in a certain place and then turns his back so that he does not know which of the poor he has benefited, but the poor man knows to whom he is indebted.
- A man throws the money into the house of a poor man. The poor man does not know to whom he is indebted, but the donor knows whom he has benefited.
- A man contributes anonymously to the charity fund that is then distributed to the poor. Here the poor man does not know to whom he is indebted, neither does the donor know whom he has benefited.
- Highest of all is when money is given to prevent another from becoming poor, as by providing him with a job or by lending him money to tide him over a difficult period. There is no charity greater than this becasue it prevents poverty in the first instance.