In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that we should give to him that asks of us and love our enemies, because God is even good to the unjust by causing His sun to rise and His rain to fall upon them. This means to be like our Saviour, we’re to be people of compassion and giving. But this presents a difficulty in our day and age: How do we lovingly give without enabling bad behavior, such as substance abuse? After all, Paul wrote to the Thessalonian brethren that if a man won’t work, he also should not eat. Of course, Paul was addressing men within the church when he wrote that, but it is a true principle. It’s also worthy to consider the finite nature of our resources. Every dollar given to a swindler is one less to give to a hungry person, though I confess this hasn’t been a great issue in our church family’s experience.
Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away…That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:42&45
So how do we weed out the substance abusers? Here are some tips.
For very costly requests, investigate.
A woman called me one time and told me her house, which had been behind the post office, burned to the ground. She claimed to be in a local hotel and needed money and only needed a couple of days worth of rent. I began to ask her questions.
Me: Do you have a copy of the police report?
Her: Well…err…the officer does.
Me: What’s the officer’s name?
Me: What’s your former landlord’s name?
Her: Larry Thompson.
Me: Hmm. Is there someone from the fire department I could call?
Her: Yes, call Larry.
Me: You sure know a lot of men named Larry.
Turns out, no house had burned behind the library and it was all a lie. I know that’s a funny story, but it shows how good questions can weed out some of the claims. In most cases, someone needing legitimate help doesn’t mind answering your questions. They really want help and if anything, your questions to them show your sincere intent and are appreciated.
Provide the Need
Here’s the best advice I have to offer. Rather than giving a financial handout, provide the actual need. Here are some reasons why:
1. It’s the Biblical example –
This is the pattern Jesus set! When men followed Him, Jesus oftentimes knew their intent was not entirely sincere. And yet He fed them. Miraculously. Jesus provided the need. When Peter, James, and John went into the Temple, they said to the beggar “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” They provided the need. Even when the church raised funds, the example set seems to be a collective gathering, and then from that gathering collective care was given to poor members of churches, such as widows.
2. It’s harder –
Anyone can hand someone a $5 bill. It’s much more time consuming and difficult to accompany a perfect stranger into a store and order him a hamburger. Do they ask for money for gasoline? Follow them to the gas station. Do they need rent? Go meet with their landlord. Do they need prescription heart medicine? Meet them at the Pharmacy. It takes more effort, more time, and more commitment. What does that sound like? It sounds like Christlikeness. This really shows people that you have a genuine concern for them. According to Jesus, in acts such as this we do become “the children of our Father” in the eyes of onlookers (Mth 5:45).
3. It’s safer –
This method of assistance greatly reduces the risk of your help being used to buy drugs or other damaging substances. For starters, if a person asks for gas, you don’t know if they need gas or want money for something illegal. By providing them gas itself, you provide the need without the risk of your help purchasing drugs. It also filters out people who lie for a quick lump sum of money.
A few years ago a man came to our Sunday worship service, listened the preaching, and privately asked for assistance with his rent after service. He said he had unexpected expenses and could not make his payment. We consulted with his landlord and everything was accurate, so we happily payed it. He was so thankful for our help that upon noticing a construction project we were undertaking at the time, he offered to come help us work, and he did! This was a real need and we were blessed in helping each other out. Plus, his dignity was intact in that he helped us in return.
But then there are the no shows. Once, a woman came to us after lunch asking for help so she could purchase her prescription medicine. I inclined as to what type, as we wouldn’t feel comfortable buying a narcotic, and she said it was for heart meds. “OK,” I replied “please let me know where your pharmacy is and we will meet you there tomorrow morning.” We agreed upon a time and departed. The pharmacy was an hour from my house, in a town south of here. A deacon and I drove out there the next morning and surprise – the lady never showed up! Apparently, she just wanted some cash. Unfortunately, she didn’t pick a closer pharmacy. That’s OK – I don’t judge her and I am sorry she was in such a shape. But at the same time, I don’t want to contribute to her illness.
The latter of the two stories happens. In fact, something very similar happened to me just this week. But in those events when the need was real, it is so worth it! Honestly, there’s hardly anything sweeter than seeing a mother burst into grateful tears at a truckload of groceries for her family. It is hard for a downcast person to ask for help. It takes swallowing pride. It isn’t easy to ask total strangers to help you. It should be our privilege and pleasure to provide the need, as we are able. I’ll tell you, even if the person is suffering self-inflicted wounds, it is a blessing to buy them a meal and pray with them. That may be the only gospel anyone has ever cared to preach to them.
Originally published August 2015