Much to the dismay of his parents the son of an affluent Italian family distributed all his gifts to the poor. He became known as St. Francis of Assissi. He was the founder of the Franciscan order.
In the early days of the order the Franciscans did not have any monasteries. Poverty was a supreme rule and they were wandering about, preaching to people and seeing where they would be given some food for their own needs.
Similarly the early Dominicans were referred to as mendicant friars. They too were going about, preaching and depended on what people gave to them.
In many cultures there have been poor people for religious reasons. In Hindu India there were wandering sages called ‘sadhus’. They too would go anywhere, preach or teach and receive gifts towards their needs. They would not carry any property with them.
In New Testament Israel there seems to have been a similar culture. You may recall the reports in the gospels when Jesus sent out his disciples into the villages to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God.
Jesus told them: “Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave.” (Matthew 10:9-11/NIV). At that time Jesus sent his disciples to depend on what they would be given. Obviously this was possible in the religious culture of that time.
In modern day Christian missions there has been a practice of missionaries going out depending on others to fund them. They often forsake opportunities of well paid jobs in order to serve God in foreign countries. Givers respect them as individuals seeking to fulfil the Lord’s great commission to preach the gospel to all the nations.
People wanting to serve God often have forsaken more affluent prospects. They have accepted support for their own needs from similarly minded people.
St. Francis of Assissi and his earliest friends literally distributed their possessions to the poor. Apparently this was practiced also by religious Jews in St. Paul’s days. For what other reason should he have referred to extreme giving in 1Corinthians 13:3?
Paul exhorts his readers not to make a religious show of the possessions they had given to the poor. In God’s eyes boastfulness decreases the value of personal sacrifice.
A sacrificial lifestyle can wear you out. You get tired and begin to feel your own needs keenly. St. Paul exhorts us to cling to principles of love throughout our lives and to keep on trusting the God of love.
“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3/NIV).
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” (1 Corinthians 13:4/NIV).