A few weeks ago, Michael Covington and I had an email conversation about giving. Michael had been thinking about how we should respond to solicitations from charities, but we ended up discussing giving to everyone who asks as well.
Jesus was quite clear that we should give generously. He taught us to give to the poor & needy – even if they are our enemies. And in Luke 6:30, Jesus tells us to give to everyone who asks:
Give to everyone who asks you, and don’t ask him who takes away your goods to give them back again.
Luke 6:30 (WEB)
Also found in Matthew 5:42.
Note: “Ask” can also be translated as “beg” and it often is translated that way.
It’s quite clear that we should give to everyone who asks. The question, then, is how do we apply this in our lives as we seek to follow Jesus? Does He mean that we should give to every charity organization that sends us a postcard or letter or calls us on the phone? Does He mean that we should give exactly what a person asks from us? These are important questions.
Charities & Organizations
We do not have a special and clear Biblical obligation to give to every charity or organization that writes to us, calls us, or otherwise asks us for support. While many charities are indeed doing great work to alleviate the suffering of the poor and the injustice of the oppressed, we must not feel guilty for refusing to support some charities and not others. In fact, many of the fundraising phone calls you may receive are run by telemarketers who take a cut of your donation (sometimes up to 80%!). Your donations can be more effective by diligently searching for responsible organizations and giving directly to them.
Neither should we ignore requests from charities or organizations. God could be using that opportunity to raise our awareness to a need He wants us to meet. When it comes to charities and organizations, our approach should be one of prayerful, intentional, planned, and Spirit-led giving. Following such a pattern can help us remain confident that we are fulfilling God’s will for our giving and allow us to refuse giving to those organizations God has not laid on our hearts.
However, we should remain open to new or different needs and revisit our giving to organizations often. When you are presented with a need from a charity, tell them you will consider their request and pray about God’s desire for your giving. Let them know you will contact them if you feel God calling you to give to their organization. Then seek God in prayer for wisdom and discernment.
In stark contrast, the Bible is quite clear that those who wish to follow Jesus and honor God must always be ready to help a person in need. Jesus’ teachings revolved around compassion and care for each other – but especially for the poor. The Old Testament clearly lays out that even under the Law Jews were to give to the poor & needy, the orphans, the widows, and strangers (foreigners in the land). We should not be surprised that Jesus requires the same from His disciples. Compassion and mercy are trademarks of God’s love.
So when individuals ask us to give to them, our first response must be one of generosity and compassion. However, there may be times when it is not wise to give exactly what someone requests. In those cases, we must seek discernment through the Spirit. A few examples will illustrate my point.
1. The person is not needy. Should we give to the rich? The Bible is clear that giving to the poor is commendable – not the rich. Those who are not truly in need should not be given whatever they ask. A simple scenario makes this point clear. Your teenager asks you for a new iPod. Should you give it to them based solely on Jesus’ words in Luke 6:30? Or someone who has all his needs met asks you for $100. Should you give it to him even when you know there are others who need it more?
2. The person will cause harm to themselves. Should we give money to an alcoholic or drug addict who will very likely use it to fuel their addiction? This does not mean we should not give. It merely means that money may not be the best gift. Which is more compassionate? To give $20, or to give 2 hours? We can give our time by becoming the person’s friend, meeting their needs directly (taking them to eat, getting them a place to stay, etc.), or taking them to a ministry specializing in breaking their addiction and helping them recover. Compassion doesn’t blindly throw money at those who ask. Compassion seeks to alleviate suffering.
3. The person is being dishonest. While there are dishonest people out there panhandling and begging for money, we must be very cautious about refusing to give based on this idea. However, it is often easy to separate the honest from the liars. Simply ask a few questions about what the person needs. If they’re asking for money, what do they need it for? Then see if they’ll let you fill that need directly (buying gas at the gas station, eating a meal with them, taking them to a shelter or ministry, etc.). The con men will not let you do this (most times). They want cash and cash only. Those who are truly in need will not refuse your help.
I know I may sound like I’m ignoring Jesus’ teaching. He said to give to anyone who asks. He did not give us any qualifiers. However, to ignore the rest of Scripture and the rest of Jesus’ teaching would be quite foolish. I fully understand the idea that we should err on the side of generosity, and that is the approach I try to take. But we must not trade feelings of righteousness and being good with our responsibility to carefully handle what God has given us. By blindly giving to those who are not in need we steal from those who truly need help. Wisdom, discernment, and generosity can work together quite well – and they must.
Giving does not always mean money. But when we refuse to give (for one of the reasons above or others), we must ask ourselves “What is my motive/reason for not giving to this person?” If we are refusing out of selfishness or greed, we are clearly at fault. If we are refusing because of a Biblical teaching, we must consider whether love and mercy should triumph in this case.
What are your thoughts on the issue? Am I just stingy? Did I miss the point of Jesus’ teaching? Bonus: I’ll even give you some ammo for opposing my ideas. In Luke 6:35, Jesus says to do all these things because God is kind toward the unthankful and the evil. Does that mean we should give without any “qualifications” at all? Let me know what you think in the comments!