Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg are men who need little introduction. Gates, founder of the Microsoft empire, and Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, are both rich beyond imagination. On Wednesday of this week, they declared their intention to pool some of their resources for a worthy cause.
The focus of their efforts is an attempt to curb smoking in developing nations. Most in the United States now know that smoking cigarettes poses serious threats to one’s health. People in other countries, like China and India, have not been adequately warned, believe Bloomberg and Gates. Together they have pledged half a billion dollars to fight “a global tobacco epidemic.”
We applaud the efforts of these billionaires. Their actions qualify as an example of philanthropy. Perhaps others will be motivated by their examples to be more generous on behalf of others.
The word “philanthropy” comes from the Greek, the language of the New Testament. “Phil” refers to “love” and “anthropos” is the word for “man”. The word is found in the Bible, most notably in Titus 3:4-5: “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared … he saved us …” (NKJV) “Love” in that verse is translated from “philanthropia,” and is a concept upon which our salvation depends. Had God not felt this love toward man, we would have been abandoned in a hopeless struggle with sin.
If God’s love for mankind shows itself in clear and powerful ways, should God’s people not also seek to show their love for others? Can we be described as philanthropic?
Helping people attain healthier lifestyles is a noble aim, but it falls far short of helping them reach salvation. On this point, Paul’s questions continue to demand an answer: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14,15).
Imagine the eternal good that could be accomplished with half a billion dollars! Missionaries could be placed in distant locations; radio broadcasts could preach God’s word where congregations do not yet exist; food, clothing and shelter could prepare the way for the gospel in areas ravaged by natural disaster. People will only be able to call upon the Lord when they know about him. Tragically, millions in our world have still not heard of Jesus.
We can’t wait for a Bill Gates or a Michael Bloomberg to fund the spread of the gospel. But thousands of Christians can step forward with smaller amounts, and this “seed” will go far in reaching the lost (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-11). While individual giving to charitable institutions declines, disciples who trust the promises of God must demonstrate their superior philanthropy.