In Matthew 25, Jesus spoke to His followers about how important it is to show compassion and help those in need. He specified that we should help those who are hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned, in need of clothing, and foreigners. Jesus spoke of rewards for those who showed compassion by providing food, water, clothes, care, shelter, and companionship. However, nowhere did Jesus say we should simply hand out money to the poor and needy.
There are many people today who are advocating giving monetary payments to people who are low-income earners, homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless. Just this week, some politicians in Oregon proposed a $1,000 per month to such individuals. While it is hoped that this money will be used for food and shelter, there are no restrictions on how it can be spent. While this plan is well-intentioned, it is riddled with flaws, because it does not follow Biblical guidelines for helping those in need.
In both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible encourages generosity toward those who are genuinely in need. At the same time, it discourages helping those who are able to work and provide for themselves but choose to be idle.
First and foremost, we are instructed to help members of our families who are in need, particularly the widows. We can read in 1 Timothy 5:3-4, “Give proper recognition to those widows who are in need. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents, for this is good and acceptable before God.” If the widow has no family and if she is older and unable to provide for herself, then the church is instructed to step in.
But, what does the Bible say about helping other people?
- We should meet their immediate needs with food, water, clothing, shelter, and companionship, as Jesus instructed. 1 John 3:17 warns us against seeing a brother in need and not helping meet that need. “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”
- We are commanded to provide opportunities for the poor and foreigners to work and provide for themselves and their family members. In Leviticus 19:9-10, the Lord commands the Israelites, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.” Notice, however, that the poor and needy were not given handouts. They were given access to the fields and vineyards, where food was available. But they had to do the harvesting themselves. They were able to eat because they did the work.
- In the book of Ruth, we see this principle in action. Ruth, a young widow provides for her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, by going out to the fields and gleaning wheat. When Boaz, the field owner and a near relative of Naomi, saw her working, he told his men to leave more wheat for her to glean. He did not give her money or even provisions, but he made it easier for Ruth to provide for herself and Naomi. He also provided her with sustenance while she was in the fields working.
- In the fourth chapter of 2 Kings, we read a story about a poor widow whose two sons were going to be sold to pay her debts. God provided assistance through Elisha. Elisha did not pay the woman’s debts; instead, he instructed her to collect jars from her neighbors. Then he instructed her to pour the small amount of oil she had into the jars. The oil filled every jar. The woman could sell the oil to pay her debts and redeem her sons. God provided a miracle in that the oil did not run out until she had enough to sell. However, she had to make the effort to collect jars, pour the oil, and sell the oil.
- We are instructed to not help those who are lazy and refuse to work. In fact, God promises that such people will be poor. “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty.” Proverbs 28:19
God blessed Ruth and Boaz for their obedience, Ruth for working, and Boaz for leaving gleanings for the poor. They married and raised a family. Among their descendants were King David and Jesus Christ, our Savior. God also blessed the widow who obeyed and followed with the work Elisha told her to do.
Providing the poor and needy with opportunities to work and be productive is God’s plan for taking care of them. Those who cannot work do need to be cared for, but most people are able to do some type of work. Work produces self-esteem and confidence, as well as independence and financial freedom.
Perhaps those legislators in Oregon should take a second look at their plan. How can they assist homeless people in getting job skills that will allow them to escape perpetual poverty and homeless? Giving them unrestricted money will help some for the moment, but it is not a lasting solution.
When you are given the opportunity to help someone in need, pray and seek God’s solution. God will always make a way.
If you grapple with how to help others and whether to give to charitable causes, my blogs on generosity can provide you with godly guidance.
To learn more about how to honor God with your money and build treasure in Heaven, please click the Finances categories tab to find many blogs on money management, budgeting, and stewardship. My book Honoring God with Your Money is a great tool for financial money management.