“Giving to the poor” has been considered a commendable activity by various religions. Almsgiving for instance is one of the pillars of Islam.
The Greek word translated ‘giving’ in 1 Corinthians 13:3 especially refers to giving bits of food to a mouth. Paul here speaks of providing for the hungry.
Hunger is a universal condition. All mankind needs food. So do the animals. That is why thoughtful people feel sympathetic with those who are desperately hungry.
As you study the bible you can easily discover that the God of Israel was concerned with the poor among his people. From the New Testament you can learn that the early Christians did care for the poor.
A couple of poor harvests in consecutive years could cause a severe famine. This could happen anywhere. Men depended on natural conditions much more than we do in the affluent Western world.
Men were exposed to various kinds of natural calamities. It could happen to anyone. People knew what it means to be hungry and in dire need. They could relate to such experiences and feel with the bereaved.
Another brand of poverty was caused by individual disabilities and sicknesses. For instance, think of the crippled beggar at the porch of the temple in Jerusalem mentioned in Acts chapter 3.
Deaths within a family could lead to serious economic problems. Think of a wife who lost her husband and his support in caring for her needs. Children who had lost both of their parents in the worst case did not have anybody to care for them.
As for giving to widows and orphans a scripture verse has come to my mind: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress …” (James 1:27/NIV).
Giving to the poor was considered a good thing to do. Here James speaks especially of caring for orphans and widows.
St. Paul refers to a concept of giving to the needy as a religious activity: “If I give all I possess to the poor … but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3).
If you give only in order to gain merit from God but do not really consider God’s will for your life, God may not be pleased with your offering. God is looking for our love. Giving without love would not be considered a fully commendable activity by the teachers of the early Christian church.
“Love … is not self-seeking… It… always hopes…” (1 Corinthians 13:5+6/NIV). Giving for self-centred reasons is not satisfactory in God’s eyes. A loving giver will hope that his recipient will really benefit from a gift.