There are many problems and conflicts when we think about giving to the poor. And two of the biggest challenges are that we don’t know exactly know how much we should give and we might not know how the money will be used. So, here are four “bridges to cross” (things you should own) about giving to the poor:
God, very clearly, would have us care about those in need
If we can summarize our role here through Matthew 22:37-40, Love God and love your neighbor, we must take a deep dive into how we can do better at both. And in both, we are fighting the enemy.
In Deut 15:7-11 we find two aspects to consider: don’t harden your heart to the poor, and the poor will always be with us so giving to them will be relevant as long as we have the ability to give.
- Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed. – Proverbs 19:17
- Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor. – Proverbs 22:9
- Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse. – Proverbs 28:27
- And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” – Luke 3:11
- Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him; the LORD protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; you do not give him up to the will of his enemies. The LORD sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health. – Psalm 41:1–3
And, the Apostle Paul would say that giving to those in need is a motivation for work:
- Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. – Ephesians 4:28
Giving to the poor with no expectation of return is difficult
This moves against our natural inclinations. Most of the time we have a give-to-get perspective – which isn’t giving. Being generous with money and knowing we’ll get nothing in return is tough. The power of money is sooooo deceptive. It’s easy to complicate and confuse and ponder so that in the end we avoid doing anything.
And churches face struggles and questions too:
- To what extent do we emphasize meeting the physical needs of the poor?
- Will we dilute the message of the gospel if we advocate generous dedication to the poor?
- How should we give so that it helps people and doesn’t reinforce bad behavior?
- What is the “balance” (I don’t like the word balance) between funding the needs of the poor and funding the needs of the church?
And there are other temptations that can be found underneath these questions, like:
- It’s easier to keep my distance and stay focused on what is comfortable than step out and trust God for help.
- It’s easier to find solace in blaming the system or blaming the individual for their situation than to do something.
And, I think there’s often a significant conflict of interest in the church. It’s difficult to spend time, energy, and resources to advocate real giving outside the church.
Many of the questions we ask about giving are essential but we don’t want to use the questions as a means of, in the end, being hypocrites of frauds – saying we care when we clearly don’t.
- If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? – James 2:15–16
It’s even more difficult to give ourselves
While we’re talking mostly to money, the truth is we are called to do more than give money. We are called to give ourselves (this includes our money) to the needs around us. This is what living for Jesus is. It’s moving from self-preservation and accumulation and entertainment and comfort to the needs of others – just like Jesus did.
Maybe giving our money would be easier if we connect with those who have the need:
- …Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. – Romans 12:16
- Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. – Philippians 2:3
We should be concerned about how the money is used but we can’t control everything
I spoke to a man after one of my classes who was a generous giver. He confessed that his biggest struggle was his continual assessment of exactly how the money he gave was being used. After further discussion, I found out that this had caused real problems. His giving went from one organization to another because he wasn’t satisfied with exactly how it was used. I even think he had moved between a few different churches because he couldn’t let go.
This is not to say we shouldn’t be concerned with how our money is used. Good stewardship includes making sure our gifts serve a God-honoring purpose. This is often the main concern when we think about giving to panhandlers. We have no idea as to their real needs our how they will use the money.
There are, however, many overt needs that are very apparent and are necessary. We can give food or clothing or time. There are well-run organizations that take steps to meet core needs like food, clothing, shelter, and employment – we can give to them.
Giving money to our churches should be a priority but we are supporting a cause that has many benefits for us. Giving to the poor is a bit different. We are helping those who may oppose our message. We are helping the vulnerable. We are helping without expecting a return here.
How much should I give to the poor vs my church?
There is no one answer here but here are a few thoughts:
- The church is a cornerstone piece in God’s plan. It’s here for corporate worship, ministry, fellowship, discipleship, and witness. We cannot neglect the church.
- We also, however, must be concerned about those in need and we must be generous here.
- We must study and pray and fast in our searching to follow God’s heart.
- We need to do more than just give money. We really are called to follow Jesus’ example and go.
He, who gives what he would as readily throw away, gives without generosity; for the essence of generosity is in self-sacrifice. – Jeremy Taylor