Section 5 Self-Renunciation Leads to Proper Helpfulness toward Our Neighbors
How difficult it is to perform the duty of seeking the good of our neighbor (Mat 12:33; Luk 10:29-36)! Unless you leave off all thought of yourself and in a manner cease to be yourself, you will never accomplish it. How can you exhibit those works of charity that Paul describes unless you renounce yourself and become wholly devoted to others? “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked,” etc. (1Co 13:4-5) Were it the only thing required of us to seek not our own, nature would not have the least power to comply: she so inclines us to love ourselves only, that she will not easily allow us carelessly to pass by ourselves and our own interests that we may watch over the interests of others, nay, spontaneously to yield our own rights and resign them to another. But Scripture, to conduct us to this, reminds us that whatever we obtain from the Lord is granted on the condition of our employing it for the common good of the church. Therefore, the legitimate use of all our gifts is a kind and liberal communication of them with others. There cannot be a surer rule or a stronger exhortation to the observance of it than when we are taught that all the endowments that we possess are divine deposits entrusted to us for the very purpose of being distributed for the good of our neighbor (1Pe 4:10)
But Scripture proceeds still farther when it likens these endowments to the different members of the body (1Co 12:12). No member has its function for itself or applies it for its own private use, but transfers it to its fellow-members. Nor does it derive any other advantage from it than that which it receives in common with the whole body. Thus, whatever the pious man can do, he is bound to do for his brethren, not consulting his own interest in any other way than by striving earnestly for the common edification of the church. Let this, then, be our method of showing good will and kindness: regarding everything that God has bestowed upon us by which we can aid our neighbor, we are His stewards and are bound to give account of our stewardship. Moreover, the only right mode of administration is that which is regulated by love. In this way, we shall not only unite the study of our neighbor’s advantage with a regard to our own, but also make the latter subordinate to the former.
And lest we should have omitted to perceive that this is the law for duly administering every gift that we receive from God, He of old applied that law to the minutest expressions of His own kindness. He commanded the first-fruits to be offered to Him as an attestation by the people that it was impious to reap any advantage from goods not previously consecrated to Him (Exo 22:29; 23:19). But if the gifts of God are not sanctified to us until we have with our own hand dedicated them to the Giver, it must be a gross abuse that does not give signs of such dedication. It is in vain to contend that you cannot enrich the Lord by your offerings. Though, as the Psalmist says, “Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not unto thee,” yet you can extend it “to the saints that are in the earth” (Psa 16:2-3). And therefore a comparison is drawn between sacred oblations24 and alms25 as now corresponding to the offerings under the Law (Heb 13:16)
Institutes of the Christian Religion