Care For the Poor Without Stipulations

I spoke to someone recently who is involved in caring for those in need. He felt that that churches ought to confine their outreach efforts strictly to efforts coordinated with other churches. His concern is that if we don’t do such we might redouble our efforts – that some of the poor might take advantage of the system. He went on to say that there is a lot of manipulation that goes on among people in need – that they typically try to get as many goods and services as possible out of social systems. On the surface he seems to make sense. After doing outreach one on one to those in need for many years among many thousands I have a different perspective.

First, I have found that by and large these folks are not manipulative. Sure there are occasional ones that are out to scam others because of the fear of not enough supply. Then again, maybe my friend in ministry has a touch of that same fear! My experience is that most of the poor are honest people. I have dealt with literally thousands of the poor door to door in various places where I have planted churches and I know with certainty that manipulation is fairly rare. There is a code of ethics among the needy that keeps them in line for the most part. Sometimes it comes down to asking, “Do you really need this…?” and then taking the time to get a candid response. They realize that if they take more than they need there won’t be enough for their neighbors, whom they care for.

As well, and more importantly, we are not walking in obedience to Christ when we withhold goods from the poor. There are numbers of verses in the Gospels that specifically address this issue. One that particularly haunts me is this:

“Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Matt. 5:42, NASB)

Jesus doesn’t put any stipulations on this call to obedience. He simply calls us to be available, come what may, to those who ask of us. Our task isn’t to evaluate the worthiness of those who ask according to Jesus’ words. Ours is to be available. Those are Jesus’ words. How different would the Church appear in the eyes of the world if we simply began, on a broad scale, to obey this one verse!

As long as we are concerned about being taken advantage of we will not be able to walk in obedience to Jesus’ call.

Were Jesus and the Twelve taken advantage of by the poor? Of course they were! In their day there were certainly some who were fearful to the point that they were working the system just as some do today. There will always be at least a small a percentage who cheat. We can’t build a system that guarantees no abuses, but that’s okay. Apparently Jesus didn’t concern himself with being ripped off. He thought that being taken advantage of now and then was part of the deal. If he had been concerned he wouldn’t have called us to “give to him who asks of you…” Our calling is to persevere in extending the practical love of God as a lifestyle—no questions asked.

Comments

  1. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. Some poverty is passed down from generation to generation and those are usually folks who know how to work the system. In some cases they may have never been taught better. Some are sluggards, folks who just don’t want to work, but many are in poor circumstances due to lack of knowledge, poor decisions, or circumstances beyond their control. I talk about what the Bible says how we should care for the poor in my Beacon Hill book, Benevolence: Caring for the Poor and Needy. It is good to hear different perspectives on this.

  2. One of the greatest examples of this I know of was through Rolland Baker when he was being robbed in an alley in Mozambique. He was trying to take a bleeding person to the hospital when some thieves decided he was a good target, and rather than resist, Rolland asked them, ‘Do you need my coat too?’

    Certainly part of Rolland’s motivation was to speed the robbery along so he could get the severely injured person to medical care, but it was more than that. I know, because years earlier I had sat across a kitchen table from him as he expounded on the Scriptures, particularly about how he found so few Christians who actually believed: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
    —Matthew 5:39-42, NIV

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *