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 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 a number 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.” (Matthew 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 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.