Thursday, March 27, 2008

how long should we give?

I've been plagued recently by some folks who seem to want to live off of what the church gives them. They are content to call me multiple (I got 4 phone calls today from one person) times at work or my cell phone or at the church and basically demand help. Now, as you know from a recent post, I like giving. I think we, as the church, need to be more giving despite what the gifts are used for, but...there just may be a reason why I can't find much 'relief' efforts going on in the early church.

The folks, as it would happen, are not members of the church, do not attend a church elsewhere, and show no signs of being a believer other than saying "I used to go to church." They are, for all intensive purposes, nonbelievers and non-attenders.

What then, is my responsibility to help them? Should I continue to give support to them despite the fact that they are not (by any means that I can see) trying to help themselves (2 Thes. 3:10) or responding to the Gospel? Does the common grace of God extend through us to them?

I must admit, the problem makes my head hurt. The other things weighing on me is the lack of Scriptural evidence that either Israel OR the church ever paid much mind to those who were not part of their community. I wonder if the lack of textual evidence points to the actual exclusiveness that I lean towards in these posts on missional giving and on giving in emergencies (such as natural disasters).

So, with a weary heart, I gave to the man who called 4 times today.
Did he deserve it? Probably not.
Did he need it? Not really.
Were there those in the church that would have benefited more? If I knew them, I'd be banging down their doors.



1 comment:

Joey said...


I know you and I have had our disagreements over many issues but I think this is one that is close to both of our hearts so I thought I would comment, hopefully in a constructive manner.

I think there are a few different angles from which this needs to be approached in order to do justice to the gravity of the issue. The first one, where we should always start, is scripture. Does scripture imply or command that we act in a certain way towards those who are down and out, specifically if they are or are not a part of Christ's body? If it says something about the manner in which we should act does it then instruct us with specifics?

You've suggested here that in both the OT and NT it is difficult to find justification for going out of our way to help those who are not part of God's explicit body. I would ask you to consider the circumstances surrounding the story of the Good Samaritan first. Here we have a story about a man who was not a child of Israel helping a man who was different from himself when others wouldn't. The point of the story? To help us recognize who our neighbor is and to help us recognize to whom we should show mercy.

Luke 10:36-37 36 "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" 37 And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same."

I contend that this is one example from the NT that gives us reason to believe we are to help those who are not part of our community of faith. Our mercy should not discriminate as God's does not.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Not to forget Matthew 25 serving those who are the least is ministering to the master himself. Yes some argue that the passage is referring to the least among Christians but the passage has not been historically interpreted that way and really there isn't any scriptural precedent for that interpretation (yes, Jesus says "brethren" but that doesn't necessarily mean Christian).

Extra-Biblical texts give us insight into the Jewish idea of giving. The Talmud has four levels of Charity ranging from lowest (4) to highest (1):

4. Give a person something that they need with full knowledge of you as the giver.

3. Give a person something they need anonymously.

2. Give a person a job with full knowledge of you as the employer.

1. Give a person a job anonymously.

I think this list resonates with me because it points out that typical Christian charity is the lowest form of charity. We can "give" and sometimes we feel really proud of ourselves for doing so, but nothing really changes does it? That person is still going to call you 4 times in one day asking for money or food or something again isn't he? I resonate with your discomfort here yet I, like you, end up giving in the end.

The problem with resting on our laurels (the fourth level of charity) is that no permanent good comes of it. No person is changed for the better. You would probably contend that it is because they have not been evangelized to. I would agree on some level with that though I probably define evangelism more widely than you.

I believe that scripture teaches that we are to help people indiscriminately because we love God. But being indiscriminate is not the same as being irresponsible. As followers of Christ we need to come along side people and help them help themselves. We need to be co-restorers with God.

Mark 9:12 "Elijah does first come and restore all things."

Revelation 21:5 "Behold, I am making all things new."

If scripture tells us that we are to care for those who are the least because God cares for those who are the least then we must figure out the best way to do that. What does scripture say? Not as much as I wish it did. Unfortunately there is no "how to" section of scripture dealing with this, though the Old Testament has some laws that require charity (gleaning of fields and such).

Here is where I think it is helpful to turn to sociological and anthropological views of how to help people. I hope I haven't lost you here using those words. Scripture is still our foundation for why we do these things and we always need to make sure that what we are doing is not infringing on scripture.

We know that "doing for" only perpetuates the problem. We can give but they'll just come back. That is called dependency and is not healthy, nor very helpful long term. "Doing with" however seems to be a better approach though coming along side a hurting person and giving them an atmosphere in which they can help themselves is way more difficult and time consuming. Paul recognized this and put together a group of elders to spend their time and energy doing this so that he could do the work that he was called to. I think that the gift of service is important and we should allow those who have it to use it, just as we allow evangelists to use their gifts.

Joe, I'm glad you are uncomfortable with how we give. I hope you are not discouraged to the point of stopping your charity because it would be a shame to hold out on Christ himself as I'm sure I have so often done. Peace.