Help Who?

I’m genuinely surprised at the number of Christians who do not know that the Bible is pretty restrictive about how to go about helping “widows and orphans”. Recently I’ve been told that as Christians, we’re to give without considering whom we give to or how we give – just give to anyone that asks you, and think nothing of getting paid back. As a pragmatic issue, that’s just plain dumb. Enabling users is hardly Christ-like.

Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.  (Matt 5:42)

As with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, this is a general guideline on how to handle the issue of borrowing. A friend of mine says that Jesus is teaching us to “never ever turn anyone away”. This simply can’t be correct because even Jesus Himself turned away certain people who were asking for food.  Here’s what He said to the 5,000 that were looking for more more bread and fish the very next day:

Jesus answered, “I assure you: You are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.  (John 6:26)

Obviously, if Jesus believed that we should never ever turn anyone away, He would never have turned these people away – especially since He (unlike you and me) can make fish and bread out of nothing. Furthermore, later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says this:

Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them with their feet, turn, and tear you to pieces.  (Matt 7:6)

The only way to obey this verse is to use discernment to figure out if the person in question is worthy of receiving the gifts God has given us to distribute. If the recipients are not taking them in the spirit intended (just as we see in Jn 6), then the Bible prohibits giving them more. ..just as we see Jesus doing in Jn 6. It’s no accident that in Acts 4, the Apostles were the ones who decided how to distribute goods.

How to help widows

Here’s a more nuanced set of instructions on how to help the most defenseless among us – widows, that is. The following is a direct copy/paste from 1 Tim 5:3-16.

Support widows who are genuinely widows. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must learn to practice godliness toward their own family first and to repay their parents, for this pleases God.

The real widow, left all alone, has put her hope in God and continues night and day in her petitions and prayers; however, she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command this also, so they won’t be blamed.

But if anyone does not provide for his own, that is his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

No widow should be placed on the official support list unless she is at least 60 years old, has been the wife of one husband, and is well known for good works — that is, if she has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the saints’ feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to every good work. But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when they are drawn away from Christ by desire, they want to marry and will therefore receive condemnation because they have renounced their original pledge. At the same time, they also learn to be idle, going from house to house; they are not only idle, but are also gossips and busybodies, saying things they shouldn’t say.

Therefore, I want younger women to marry, have children, manage their households, and give the adversary no opportunity to accuse us. For some have already turned away to follow Satan. If any believing woman has widows in her family, she should help them, and the church should not be burdened, so that it can help those who are genuinely widows.

(1 Tim 5:3-16)

In other words…

  • If a widow has family, let their families first take care of them – not the Church.
  • Bums (dads included) are not to be helped by the church. Their problem is spiritual, and they need to be preached to, not given stuff. 2 Thess 3 says that if a person in the church is a shiftless bum, he should be disassociated from and publicly reprimanded so that he will be put to shame (2 Thess 3:6-15. Definitely worth reading)
  • The only widows that can be helped by the church are widows over 60 who have *already* been busy working in the church helping other people and the church leaders. The rest of the widows are not to burden the church with their needs.
  • People in the church with family members in need are to take care of their own families and not burden the church.

I think I can count on 3 fingers the number of churches that I’ve seen that believe this is the right way to obey James 1:27. For the rest, if you ask them how to handle 1 Tim 5, you get blank stares. Hm.

I think it’d be interesting to see a modern church give out one of these.

If someone really wants to do good for the poor among us, rather than send billions in aid to Haiti (and make the country worse than it was prior to the aid flowing in), people would do well to investigate resources like these:

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself  – by Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert, Foreword by David Platt. I’ve known mission agencies require their new recruits to read this book before going out into the field. It’s that good.

Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass – by Theodore Dalrymple. Dennis Prager has this author on his show. In developed countries, poverty is more often a mindset and a worldview, not a string of bad luck waiting for good luck to come along. Giving “stuff” to people with dysfunctional worldviews doesn’t solve the problem: you have to change the worldview. – A coalition of over 250 organizations across the world that work towards helping people and societies change their worldview so they can develop their God-given skills, using their God-given resources to move out of poverty. It’s sad hearing the number of testimonials where a growing enterprise was undercut by a foreign agency coming in to give out stuff for free.

As Christians, we have an obligation to “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith”  (Gal 6:10). It is simply not possible to do good to people by giving them stuff that undercuts their ability to develop their God-given potential.

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