“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 (NASB)
Often times in bible studies and just casual conversation, I hear people bring up the topic of discerning when to give to those who ask. Usually this question refers to those who are seen on the street holding the cardboard sign which is intended to explain their situation. Other times, people will call or arrive at the church office wanting some assistance with something.
I personally believe that this “dilemma” is born out of a torn heart. Many Christians genuinely want to help those in need. I mean, if we are genuine Christians, then it would be in our hearts to show love and compassion for the needy. On the other hand, Christians are people and people don’t like to be taken advantage of. When it does happen, and it seems to happen often, it king of leaves a bad taste in our mouths.
Some respond by cutting off all benevolence to anyone, after all that would only be fair and safe, right? Others take the attitude that they will just give what they can always, leaving the receiver in God’s hands. Many leadership meetings at churches have been spent discussing this matter. Ultimately, churches and Christians alike really want to help those in need and minister to them, yet at the same time do not wish to be taken advantage of and allow some to steal from them.
As I address this issue, let me make it clear that I personally to not have a concrete, “this is what to do” answer. What follows is just my two cents. I pray that it is helpful.
First, we see in John 13:35, among many other places in Scripture that the Christian is one who loves others. In fact, that is how we are to be distinguished from the rest of the world. Jesus even taught that we are to love God and love others. I will submit that loving God and loving others is not something that the Christian strives to get better at and achieve, rather it is what is in us. It is who we are.
The Christian is one whom in the Holy Spirit has taken up residence. Even though the trinity cannot be explained completely, we can know that the three are one. Therefore, since God is love,
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8 (NASB)
and the Spirit of God is God, then we can conclude that love is in the believer. This is why the Christian has this “dilemma” in our hearts when it comes to showing love and compassion to those who present themselves in need. I think that the first point of focus would be with self. We Christians would do good to ask ourselves, who is making the decision as to whether or not a person is genuinely in need or not?
The question that we usually ask ourselves almost immediately is, does this person really need help? Or, is this person being honest, or are they just making up a story to get the help they are asking about? My not so favorite one that some have asked is, how do I know they won’t go buy drugs or alcohol with what I give them?
To 99% of the people in the world, it seems that those questions are legitimate questions. However, for the Christian, we must remember that since the Spirit of God is living in us, our approach may be different. I am not saying that it is wrong to think about those questions, however, I am saying that they should not be out guide to reach the conclusion to the “dilemma”.
Second point. I do not think that the Christian is “obligated” to give to everyone who presents a need. The scripture is clear that we are to help others when we have opportunity and the means. Along with that, I will submit that the Christian has a responsibility to be good stewards of that which God has entrusted in their care.
I do not believe that God desires for the Christian to be taken advantage of. Nor do I believe that God desires the Christian to be taken for a fool. After all, we are ambassadors for the Kingdom of God to this world. We must look at benevolence of any kind as an investment. An investment in the work of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus taught a lesson using a parable about a wealthy man leaving his wealth in the care of three men. Each having the same responsibility. Two were successful, the other failed. The two that succeeded increased the wealth of the Kingdom because they feared their master and thought to do what he would want them to do. The third, on the other hand, was more afraid of failure than the master. He did what he thought was best and did not consider what the master would have him do.
The same is true here for the Christian. The Master, our Lord, has given us His valuables. We have the responsibility to be stewards of that wealth. That wealth, by the way, is His love, the gospel of Christ, Salvation. This should lead us to the question, why does the scripture teach us to give when we can give?
I often try to insert into those conversations about this matter the answer to that question. At least what I believe to be the answer. It is two-fold really. First, but not foremost, the scripture teaches us to give because that is what love is. If love resides in a person, then compassion will rise to the surface. Second, and foremost, the scripture tells us to give because of John 13:35. The world will know the Christian because of the way we love.
As far as knowing when not to give or be taken advantage of. I often think about Acts chapter 3.
“But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” Acts 3:6 (NASB)
Here Peter and John were presented with a man in need. It so happened that this man had a genuine need. However, they did not give the man what he asked for. Instead, they invested in the Kingdom of God by giving him what was most valuable. The result was that the crippled man encountered God and the world around them was impacted greatly by the witness! If you don’t believe me, go read it for yourself.
The point that I am getting at here is this. There are times to give and there are times not to give, that is when it comes to the things of this world. When it comes to giving the love of God, there is never a time not to give. For the Christian, the key is to seek guidance from the Master. “What would Jesus do?” even though that has become a cliché, it still rings true.
The letter to the Galatians instructs us to keep in step with the Spirit. That means that we are not making the decisions. I know, that is hard to accept, but it is the way the Master set in place. The Holy Spirit will guide us away from poor investments with the Master’s wealth, and make us aware of the good investment opportunities for the Kingdom of God.
I hope I have explained this well enough that you all can see that it is a matter of making disciples in everything we do. We help the needy in hopes that they will encounter God and His Kingdom, whether they are Christians or not. We help the Christians who are in need for the purpose of getting them back in the Kingdom work force, and we help those who are not Christians for the purpose of exposing them to the love of God! So, we must seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit when it comes to helping the needy in this world.
Oh, one last thing. God does not expect nor desire anyone to become needy for the sake of helping those in need. Give what you can, when you can. If you have not the means, seek the Lord for other ways to help. Peter and John told the crippled man, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give you.” Acts 3:6. If we genuinely have the Spirit of God living in us, then we always have something to give.
We should offer that whether it is received or not.