We all know the situation: We are driving on a freeway offramp or near a busy intersection and there is a guy or gal holding a sign. Sometimes the sign is funny, like the old guy who has the sign “Allergic to Jail, Too Ugly to Prostitute”; sometimes simple “A coin will help”; sometimes direct, “Need money for a room tonight.”
And I am sure that we have all, at times, considered about the wisdom to give to these bold sign-holders. If we give them money, are we helping or hurting them? Will they use it on beer or drugs (some signs clearly tell you they will), will they ever improve themselves? Is it right to give to them? What if they look healthy or strong, should we just tell them to get a job?
I have discussed how we should give to beggars elsewhere (http://anawimcc.org/beggars-and-sign-holders/ ) but today I am asking a deeper question: should we give at all? Is it wise to give? Recently, an excellent book has been making the rounds called When Helping Hurts. The title alone begs the question: Even though I want to be generous, is my giving actually helping or hurting? And it makes us doubt whether giving outside of our own congregation is wise at all.
Certainly there are kinds of giving that harm others. If we give a drug addict a thousand dollars, we shouldn’t be surprised if we find that person dead in less than a week. A documentary filmmaker granted a homeless man a hundred thousand dollars one time to film him and see what he did with the money. After the money was almost gone, the man regretted ever finding the money and ended up homeless again, content with his daily recycling regimine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reversal_of_Fortune_(2005_film) ).
But does this mean giving to the poor of any kind is a mistake? No matter what economists or politicians might say, the Bible makes it clear that giving is important for all who want to serve God.
Giving is a command
All throughout Scripture giving is something that is expected of God’s people. Abraham provided an example of generous giving; Moses commanded giving generously to those in need; Jesus commanded generous giving to the poor of all his disciples; James spoke about giving as being a sign of faith; John spoke of giving as a sign of love; Paul commanded the wealthy to be generous. If there is one action that is commended consistently throughout all the Bible, it is giving.
Giving benefits us before God
The one who gives to the poor is blessed greatly before God. It says in scripture that the one who gives to the poor will be delivered from sickness and their enemies (Psalm 41:1-3). The book of Proverbs says that the generous shows honor to God (14:31), and that God will repay them for their work (19:17).
Giving is an act of love
The primary act of love is giving. There are certainly ways to give without love (we will discuss those in later posts), but if we do not ever give to those in need, then we can safely say that we do not love those in need. John says this clearly: “Whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17) What John is saying is that we cannot express our love to those in need without giving to their need. If we truly will love our neighbor, at least part of the expression of that love will be in giving.
Not giving harms us eternally
In the end, although giving unwisely might cause some harm, not giving causes more harm. The one who refuses to give to the poor will be denied help from God, no matter how much they pray (Proverbs 21:13). To deny help to another is a sin (Proverbs 14:21). Even more severely, Jesus associates eternal life with the devil and his angels with refusing to give to those in need (Matthew 25:41-46).
If we desire any of God’s blessings, not giving isn’t really an option. Giving is a foundational discipline in living a life before God.
However, this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want us to give wisely. Not all giving has the same benefit. So the next few posts will discuss the manner in which we should give.