The scriptures clearly say that we should not close our hearts to people who are in need. We should have compassion on the poor. Am I violating that principle by shutting off the spigot of dollars flowing from my front porch to professional beggars?
(Proverbs 14:21) He who despises his neighbor sins; But he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he.I believe these verses. I need to make sure that my heart is not hardened and I am not just withholding help that I should give to people in need.
(Proverbs 19:17) He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, And He will pay back what he has given.
(Proverbs 29:7) The righteous considers the cause of the poor,
But do I have an obligation to give money to everyone who asks for it?
Not all poor people are equal. Some people are poor because they choose to live profligate lives in rebellion against God. Poverty is the natural result of ungodly and foolish living.
(Proverbs 6:9-11) How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep?In the story of the prodigal son, the father did not continue to send money to his son to support him in his prodigal lifestyle. He let him starve a while until he "came to his senses," repented of his sin and came back to his father. (Luke 15)
10 A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to sleep—
11 So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, And your need like an armed man.
(Proverbs 13:18) Poverty and shame will come to him who disdains correction,
(Proverbs 13:25) The righteous eats to the satisfying of his soul, But the stomach of the wicked shall be in want.
(Proverbs 14:23) In all labor there is profit, But idle chatter leads only to poverty.
(Proverbs 23:20-21) Do not mix with winebibbers, Or with gluttonous eaters of meat; For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags.
(Proverbs 28:19) He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, But he who follows frivolity will have poverty enough!
Should I be part of the support system for people who are living just like the prodigal son - people who have no intention of repenting and turning to the Father?
What about Jesus? He had compassion on the 5,000 people and miraculously fed them in John chapter six, did He not? Yes He did! But the next day, when they approached him and urged Him to do it again, He refused.
(John 6:26-27) ¶ Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.In fact, Jesus went on to give them a lecture that caused many (fair weather) disciples to turn away from Him. (John 6:66) He could have made more friends by continuing the free food distribution program. Why did He stop? Wasn't it because it would have encouraged them to pursue Christ for the wrong reasons? Should we now encourage people to come to the churches because that is where the free food is to be found?
27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”
Helping the poor is good as a general principle. But some of the poor should not be helped, because you will be helping them to thumb their nose at God. Even worthwhile projects for helping the poor are not necessarily our highest priority.
What about when Jesus was anointed with the valuable perfume in John 12? The perfume was worth almost a years wages. This type of perfume was often purchased as an investment against a future need. But Mary broke the box and poured it all on Jesus. Some people complained that this was a tremendous waste.
(John 12:5) “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”
Jesus' answer is interesting.
(John 12:7-8) But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”
I don't want to turn my back on people in genuine need. I don't want to be hard hearted. But I also don't want to be used by ungodly people to facilitate their ungodly lifestyle.
Do I still give toward the relief of the poor? Well, I do. My wife and I are not rich - never have been and are unlikely to become so. But we give well over ten percent of our gross income to our church - part of which is used for the relief of the poor. In addition, we give extra for special offerings for special needs people have. In addition we will continue to give directly to some people in need, when we think that is right. Beyond that, the more than 25% of our income that goes to taxes provides, in large part, for government relief programs for people in need.
This morning, as I have been writing this, I received two calls from complete strangers. Will the church give them money to help buy Christmas presents for their children? Will the church give them gas money so they can travel for Christmas to visit their family?
No we won't. We reserve that kind of help for people who actually attend the church. We want to help. We are empathetic. We have been in need ourselves. But just giving out money to everyone who asks will keep us from helping the poor people we know when they are in a bind.
May God give us hearts of love and wisdom.