The Poor: Who Why and How To Help, Part 3
? Why do we do what we do and when should we not do it?
Sometimes deep, probing questions annoy us. People sometimes want simply to do what is required because it is required. My wife tends down that path. She sometimes gets impatient with the question “why.” As the anthem of the “Light Brigade” goes, “Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die.” The problem one eventually comes to down this road is doing the wrong thing or even the right thing for the wrong reason and 600 charge for the guns into the Valley of Death.
Sometimes these deep questions distract us. We who are more introspective like to know why something should be done before we do it. We are very careful that what is being done is the right thing for the right reason. The problem with an extreme in this direction is that you can become so concerned about the” why” that paralysis sets in and you end up doing nothing.
When it comes to helping the poor, the Bible gives us plenty of reasons why we should help the poor and plenty of instruction about when to not help the poor. With these questions, we want to be probing enough to be doing the right thing for the right reason, yet careful that we actually do something and not be introspectively paralyzed.
III. Why Should We Help the Poor?
Let me list these simply and challenge you to contemplate the Scriptures provided.
- It is commanded in Scripture (Matt. 5:42)
- It is a sign of saving faith (Luke 19:8).
- It was a priority for the early church (2 Cor. 9:9; Gal. 2:10).
- For blessing (Pr. 19:17).
How blessed is he who considers the helpless;
The Lord will deliver him in a day of trouble.
That is the why, how about the question of when not to help the poor?
IV. When Should We Not Help The Poor?
- When our helping distracts from the purpose of poverty.
The Bible says the purpose of poverty is that people might learn how to hope in, depend on and call out to the Lord (1 Sam. 2:8; Job 5:15; Ps. 34:6; 113:7; Matt. 11:5; Luke 4:18).
What if I had planned to bless my family with a fancy meal when I came home from work? But what if, before I came home, someone else, saw them hungry and gave them a ton of paltry scraps. When I come home, they would be too full of scraps to desire the delicacies I brought.
How many times do we keep people from crying out to the Savior because we’ve been a substitute for Him, meeting a physical need thus suppressing the spiritual desire as well?
"The church has also been guilty of paternalism and malevolent generosity when it comes to things such as soup kitchens, food pantries, and so forth. We’ve too often confused free handouts with Christian ministry. Instead, we should be evangelizing, discipling, equipping, and sending out people as they minister within local churches.
We’ve separated mercy from discipleship. Much mercy ministry today is pragmatic rather than biblically thought through. Billions of dollars are spent helping the poor, yet how many churches have been established and how many poor, young pastors are coming up through the current system?"[i]
- When we help the poor to promote our own agenda (John 12:6) or to elevate our self-esteem (Matt. 6:2, 3).
Maybe it is a political agenda or special interest group using the poor to pass legislation.
Maybe it is a church ministry, something to rally God’s people to action.
Maybe it is to feel the good feeling we feel when we help someone.
These can be cheap and tawdry ways to please ourselves at the expense of others all the while claiming that we are selflessly helping.
- When we help the poor without love for them (1 Cor. 13:3).
- When loving the poor becomes a substitute for loving God (Matt. 26:9-11).
This might be best understood in modern terms by a Christian’s willingness to engage in relief efforts with those who don’t share the same Gospel motivation and priority. For some, even Christians, helping the poor is the Gospel. For the biblical Christian, helping the poor is simply a means to the Good News that Jesus Saves.
- When we aren’t providing for basic needs (2 Thess. 3:10), or they aren’t biblically poor.
The problem in America is that we’re so rich, very few people are actually biblically poor. Therefore, poverty has come to mean, “someone who doesn’t have as much as I do.” Often the reason a person doesn’t have as much as we do is that they are addicted to expensive habits. Because few of the “poor” in America are truly poor, when we give them money or even food or clothing, we are enabling them to spend money they would’ve spent on basic provision on frivolous things or even the very addictions that made them poor in the first place.
- When it is a poor stewardship of my resources (1 Timothy 5:8).
There’ve been times I wanted to help someone, and they were truly in need, and they truly had less than me, but I had a wife and five children to care for. It would’ve been folly to help someone else at the expense of my family.
The compassion and love that spurs one to help the poor is a godly sentiment so let’s help the poor, but let’s do so as God would, as He details in the Bible. And I think, if we strive to help the biblical poor in a biblical way, we might find ourselves helping different people than we understand as the poor in different ways than we understand helping.
? Have you helped someone today?
[i] https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/good-news-poor/, August 2018.