We had a really interesting and helpful discussion in our Bible Explored group last night about giving to the poor. I expect all of us have faced the situation where someone has asked us for some spare change or claimed they have run out of food. And particularly as Christians it can be hard to resist these requests. After all, we know that we have a duty to give to the poor, and we feel we are being hypocritical if we simply walk on by, or shut the door. After all, aren’t we supposed to be like the Good Samaritan and help those in need? What would friends and family who do not yet believe say if we told them we passed by on the other side of the road?
Nothing I am about to say negates the fact we are called to be generous and to recognise that one day we will have to give an account to God for the way we have used His money. That was the point of the passage we were looking at last night – Luke 16:1-15 (and do join us next week as we move on to look at the rich man and Lazarus). But alongside our duty to give to the poor, there are a couple of other considerations we have to take into account.
First of all, our primary duty is to love our neighbour as ourselves. If we give money to someone who we know is going to spend that money on drink or drugs, in what way are we loving them? There are other ways we can give generously to our neighbour without directly giving them money, such as buying food, calling a taxi, topping up their gas or electric. Such tasks are perhaps more difficult because they involve establishing a relationship with the other person – going with them to the shop, for example, or waiting with them for the taxi. But that time is in fact an opportunity to show them the love of Christ and maybe even to silently pray for them as we quite literally walk with them.
Secondly, the best way of giving is through the local church. That is, after all, how the local church operated. After the day of Pentecost a new community was formed where all the believers were together and had everything in common (Acts 2:44). So if anyone had a particular need, funds could be raised to be that need. Later on, we learn in Acts 6 how the church had a system of daily food distribution for the widows among them (Acts 6:1). When Jesus says, “give to the poor”, he is addressing the community of disciples (Luke 12:33). Our giving is so much effective when we pool our resources and we can set up ministries of mercy and compassion.
That’s why if anyone asks me for spare change, I point out how much we already give to Shekinah and to the Foodbank, and direct them to these organisations. That is not to duck my obligations, and I do buy food for those in need, but to me that seems the best way to heed the Lord’s call to give and to show Christlike generosity. But as we saw last night, the real challenge we all face is to recognise that all we have is not our own and the Lord’s. And there is much more all of us can do to heed the Lord’s call to use what He has given us for His glory, to trust Him enough to give generously, and to rely on Him for our daily bread.