Are Christians Always Obligated to Give Money to Others When They Claim They’re in Need?
Steve, I have a couple of interrelated questions for you about God’s rules on giving to others who claim to be in need:
Biblically, are Christians obligated to help others, financially, such as family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, or even people who are not truly close acquaintances, just because they ask? Is that what Matthew 5:42 means when it says:
Mat 5:42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
Also, in Luke chapter 6 the Scripture says:
Luke 6:30 Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.
Secondly, are we to always give, or lend, without expecting anything in return, as the following Scriptures states:
Luk 6:34-35 And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
What about family members or friends who are constantly asking for money, or help of some kind, and never reciprocate, show appreciation, or straighten up their acts?
Are we obligated to always give them money, or help, every time they have a new crisis? What about those who are always in some kind of financial or personal trouble, and constantly need bailing out?
Thanks for your great questions, Rosie. I think we’ve all run up against situations such like you’ve described, at one time or another in our lives.
Indeed, these are decisions that individual Christians struggle with all of the time, especially when it comes to family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers or other acquaintances who seem to be constantly in need of handouts.
All of the Scriptures you cited are true, of course. But you have to take them in context. Not just generalize them to “every time someone asks.”
Keep in mind there are people in this world – and I assume you’re one of them – who are of a charitable disposition. These can simply be called Givers. And there are people in this world who are simply Takers, always looking to take advantage of those who are, by nature, charitable.
So, with that in mind, I’ll answer your question, first, from a more-or-less secular point-of-view, and then from a more Biblical point-of-view:
The Secular Point-of-View
Back in the 80’s, there used to be a TV psychotherapist who would frequently say something to the effect of, “There are two kinds of people in this world: Givers and Takers. And the Takers can always see the Givers coming a mile away.”
And as the meme at the top of this page sagely points out, “If you are a Giver, know your limits because Takers don’t have any.”
Both of those statements are true. The world is basically divided up into the Givers and the Takers, which is why the welfare rolls today are so full of perpetual “victims” of supposed “poverty,” while the rest of the middle class struggles to pay their taxes to help support these supposed “victims.”
Takers often spend their entire lives honing their abilities to take advantage of the kind hearts of the Givers. They often develop an array of emotion-laden tactics designed to sway the thoughts and emotions of the Givers, and even lay subtle guilt-trips on the Givers.
In other words, Takers are very often shrewd, devious and cunning manipulators. And if Givers aren’t very, very careful, the Takers will take advantage of them every time, which eventually leaves the Givers jaded and disgusted with humanity. And when that happens, the Taker simply moves on to the next victim. It’s nothing more than a numbers game, to them.
Thankfully, getting stung by a Taker can be mitigated simply by exercising a bit of discernment in your dealings with others, especially where emotional ploys are being exercised. Don’t just believe a person’s gut-wrenching emotional story-line. Always check into their story, first. Make double-sure it’s actually true. Consider carefully whether or not to give.
And always remember, you have no obligation to give, solely because someone has their hands out.
While it’s true that the Scripture says “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away,” that was never meant to be an all-encompassing, on-demand command. It’s more of a command against greed, and in general favor of generosity. After all, there’s nothing wrong with having a generous spirit. But having a greedy spirit, to the point you wouldn’t help someone in need if you truly had the means to do so, can estrange you from God.
But let’s say all of the money you have to your name is enough to pay the mortgage and buy food for your spouse and kids, and someone is asking you to give them a portion of your money for some perceived need they have. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I’m sorry. I just not in a position to give, right now.”
In other words, you have no obligation, as a Christian, to go into a financial hole for someone who got themselves into a financial hole, just as you’re not obligated to set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.
Or, let’s say the only extra money you have is in your child’s college fund, or your retirement fund, and people are constantly asking you to give them money for some financial challenge they’re facing.
Are you obligated to dip into your child’s college fund, or your retirement fund, to fund the financial needs of others, when you know you’re going to need that money some day? Are you obligated to give that money to someone who hasn’t been responsible enough to save for the future, or put money aside for a rainy day?
The short and simple answer is this: No. And the only person who would argue with you, otherwise, would be a Taker.
If you can indeed help, and the individual is worthy of your help, fine. But if you can’t, then you simply can’t. It’s that easy. And God’s not going to rain down hell-fire on you for not being in a position to give.
Even if you do have the spare money to give, if their emotion-laden story regarding why they need your hard-earned money doesn’t check out…or doesn’t pass the “smell test,” so to speak…it’s okay to simply say, “Sorry, I can’t help you at this time.”
Again, God won’t rain hell-fire down from heaven on you for being careful, and for being a good steward of the blessings He’s bestowed upon you. As a Christian, He’s given you the gift of discernment, along with the gift of a charitable heart. Use both of these gifts wisely.
After all, without the use of discernment, your charitable heart will often-as-not end up broken, because Takers generally have no remorse about the money they take from you. Ever. They simply don’t care that you had to exercise years’ worth of discipline, hard work, personal sacrifice and tenacity to earn that money, in the first place.
And they could care less that you’ve worked a lifetime to get where you’re at. All they see is that you have, and they don’t. Therefore, you should give to them. The equation they see is that simplistic. And that selfish.
“Shit Just Fell on Me From Out of the Sky”
Also, watch carefully to see if the Taker is utilizing tactics such as the “Shit just fell out of the sky on me through no fault of my own” ruse.
After all, generally speaking, shit doesn’t just fall out of the sky on people. People usually cause their own problems, often through behavioral issues that lead to gross financial mismanagement in their lives. And if that kind of gross financial mismanagement is a visible trend, over many years, then you’re not responsible for aiding that person. You’d actually be aiding their chronic irresponsibility. It’s called being an “enabler.”
In other words, all-too-often, the financial predicament the Taker is in, if it’s real at all, was caused by their own bad judgment. Their own character defects. Their own bad habits. Or their own behavioral flaws.
And the important thing to understand is that they want you to pay the price for their bad judgment, or for the consequences of their character defects or behavioral choices, rather than own up to them and make the necessary changes and adjustments to their lives in order to preclude such problems in the future.
In other words, if a person is using you, so he (or she) doesn’t have to make uncomfortable changes in their lives, then you have no obligation whatsoever to give to them. None at all.
The Bible verses you mentioned are talking about true need. Not bailing people out of their bad habits or behavioral choices, over and over again, so they can keep living like heathen.
Of course, a skilled Taker knows you won’t provide the sought-after aid if you become aware of the fact that they caused their own predicament, and particularly if you became aware of the fact that they have a long history of making bad judgments and then conning others into paying the price for those bad judgments.
So, they cleverly blame fate (i.e., the “shit from above” excuse), or friends, or parents, or co-workers, or school mates, or bosses, or whatever and whoever they can for their financial predicament, rather than admitting their own culpability and working to pull themselves out of the consequences of their own bad judgment.
A famous motivational speaker once said something to the effect of, “When you come across a person who’s gotten himself or herself into a deep hole, don’t throw down a rope and try to pull them up, because ultimately, they’ll end up pulling you down into the hole with them. Instead, tie the rope around a tree and toss it down to them, and let them pull themselves up.”
In other words, it’s better to give them the opportunity to overcome their own bad judgment, with their own effort, and make changes in their lives that lead to better judgments and decisions in the future. And if they won’t change their ways, then tough nuts when they come for the next hand-out.
Hand Up v/s Hand Out
I have found that often, when you offer someone a hand-up rather than a hand-out, a Taker will turn it down, because what they really want is the instant gratification of having someone else pay the price for their laziness, bad decisions or poor lifestyle choices.
For example, once, when my wife and I were heading into a local restaurant for dinner, a young and perfectly healthy-looking panhandler approached us, asking for money for food, claiming he was homeless and broke.
So, I reached into my wallet, took out a business card from the local food shelter, which was only a short distance away, and said, “Here, these guys will feed you a good, hot meal, and even give you a bed to sleep in if you need it, no questions asked. They even have a job board where you can find local work.”
The guy took the card, and without even looking at it, cast it to the ground, turned and walked away in disgust. I called out to him, “Why did you throw that card away if you’re truly so hungry and homeless?” He replied, without even looking back, “I feel I’m better than that.”
Ahh. He wasn’t too proud to publicly panhandle for money from total strangers outside of a restaurant. But he was too proud to go to a local establishment specifically designed to help folks in need get back on the straight-and-narrow. Right?
No. He was simply begging for money from people he perceived to be Givers, utilizing the emotional guise of being hungry and homeless, so he could use the money for other things, such as booze or drugs.
I’m sorry if that trips anyone’s emotional triggers, or gets their panties in a knot. It might sound like a cliche’ or a stereotype. I recognize there are truly people in real need, in this world. And my wife and I have never turned down anybody truly in need, if, indeed, we were in a position to help. But we test them, first. We check out their stories. And more often than not, they fail the test.
For example, another time, in California, a young man about 25 years of age approached us, asking for money for a bus ticket home to Oklahoma. He had a heart-wrenching story about having his car engine blow up on him, unexpectedly, after a drive to California to take a job he’d been offered, and getting ripped off by a local car dealership for all of his remaining money, leaving him without transportation, shelter, or money to get home with. To top it all off, he didn’t get the job he’d been offered, either.
Instead of just handing him the very substantial sum of money he was requesting, my wife and I offered to drive him over to a nearby local restaurant, buy him a good, hot meal, and then drive him to the local bus station and personally buy him a bus ticket to his destination in Oklahoma.
But he stubbornly refused our offer. He said he’d rather just have the money. When we asked him why he was refusing our generous offer to go get a hot meal, then go to the bus station for a ticket home, he said “My mom always taught me to never accept rides from strangers.”
Okay. Once again, he had no problem begging for cash from strangers. His mom apparently would have approved of that. But to accept a car ride from a generous Christian couple willing to buy him a nice, hot meal and a bus ticket home, he could not accept. It made no sense. It was the flimsiest of excuses.
So, we told him those were our conditions, and he could take it, or leave it. He chose to leave it.
Why? Because he knew that with his emotion-laden story of woe he could eventually con some other poor Giver out of the cash, which is what he really wanted. The heart-wrenching “shit just fell on me from out of the sky” story was just that…a story that fell apart upon the testing of it.
The Scriptural Answer
Takers will often tell you that the Bible says you’re to give freely with no thought of receiving in return.
And, yes, the Word of God actually does say that (Luke 6:30-35).
In other words, when you’re giving to someone in need, do so because it’s the right thing to do under the circumstances, and not because you’re looking for a return on (or, the return of) your charitable outlay, or are looking to be seen publicly as a charitable person (i.e., virtue-signaling).
But here’s the pertinent question: Does this mean you’re to give every single time someone asks, and never expect anything from them in return?
As an example, when I approached one “good friend” for help, after I’d helped him out of jams both financially and personally many times in the past, this individual actually had the gall to say, “Doesn’t that Bible you claim to believe in say you’re to give to others without expecting them to ever pay you back?”
In other words, in my own time of need, this individual basically told me to “beat feet,” i.e., go away. He told me I had given to him with “no strings” attached, and shouldn’t expect his help in my own time of need.
So is that the right way to look at what the Word of God actually says in a matter like this?
Well, as always, the Good Lord, Who is the ultimate Giver, sets the right example for us. So, let’s take a look at His own freewill giving, and see if there are any “strings” attached to it:
The Scripture says Christ gives us freely of two things: forgiveness of sins, and salvation through His shed blood. And that’s certainly true.
But by “freely,” He means, there’s no amount of money or goods on the face of this earth that any of us could use to pay for that forgiveness and salvation. He paid the price for our sins. And He did it alone. Period. You cannot possibly make it up to Him, because He literally took death upon Himself, on your (and my) behalf. Right?
What could either of us possibly give Him, in order to pay Him back for laying down His life to pay the price for our sins, when He was sinless and thus undeserving of death?
Yet, at the same time, He never-the-less holds us to a significant number of conditions and expectations – “strings” — in return for that “free gift” of forgiveness and salvation:
- He expects us to repent of our sins (2 Peter 3:9), on an ongoing basis, which means to have a complete change-of-heart about matters in which we fall short, and a complete change of actions (Matthew 3:8). We must turn away from the sin, and toward righteousness, or we can actually lose that “free” gift of forgiveness and concurrent salvation.
- He expects us to have faith in Him, in return for that forgiveness and salvation (Hebrews 11:6). Without true faith, there’s no forgiveness and salvation. Father looks at one’s deeds, not one’s words. And if our deeds are not deeds of true faith in His Word, then His “free” gift of forgiveness and salvation are negated (James 2:17-26).
- He expects us to bear fruit on His behalf, in return for that forgiveness and salvation, which means to carry His Word to others so they too can be saved (Mark 13:23; John 15:2). What’s more, those who fail to bear fruit for the Lord are rejected (Matthew 25:14-30). In other words, they get no forgiveness of sins, nor salvation (John 15:1-2).
- He expects us to be merciful to others, in return for the mercy and grace He’s granted to us (Zechariah 7:9; James 2:13-16).
- And, as we’ve seen, He expects us to be charitable to others, in return for that most wonderful and most charitable of all gifts He’s given to us (I Corinthians 13:1-8).
- He expects us not only to give freely when it’s within our means to do so and the circumstances are right (Proverbs 11:24; Luke 6:38), but also to do so cheerfully rather than resentfully or begrudgingly (2 Corinthians 9:7).
- He also expects us to be longsuffering (i.e., patient – Galatians 5:22) towards others as they struggle with the flesh (Romans 15:1), in much the same way that He’s longsuffering (2 Peter 3:9-15) with us as we, too, continue to struggle with the flesh.
- He expects us to love our fellow man (Galatians 5:22: 1 Peter 4:8; John 13:34-35), as He loves all of His children (John 3:16).
- He expects us to be gentle, meek and temperate (Galatians 5:22-23) in all aspects of our Christian lives.
- And there are many other conditions and reciprocations (i.e., “strings”) He expects of us, in return for that “free” gift of forgiveness of our sins, and salvation.
So, don’t ever let anyone tell you that, as a Christian, you’re supposed to give and give and give, and never expect anything in return. That’s not what the Scripture says, or means, at all.
After all, Christ didn’t give anything of great value to us without conditions and expectations attached. In other words, He’s not a “no strings attached” God. And neither are we to give to others, without conditions and expectations, lest we become enablers to those who refuse to have that honest and sincere change of heart that brings them to a more disciplined and bounteous life in the Lord.
For example, among the conditions we can certainly expect from those we willingly and charitably give to, are:
- They should work hard to get their act together, and become decent, productive and self-reliant citizens, so they don’t have to live their lives always looking for the next handout to pay the cost of their poor decision-making, judgments or lifestyle choices, when new problems arise.
- They should start exercising ongoing financial discipline in their lives, such as saving money for a rainy day, and not going out drinking all of the time or spending money on frivolous things. In other words, they can develop the discipline to set aside a portion of their income so they don’t have to be a burden to others when something goes wrong in their lives.
- They should show demonstrable and sincere respect to us, in return for our kindness.
- They should show demonstrable and clear thanks and appreciation, in return for our kindness.
- They should show demonstrable and sincere love, in return for our kindness.
- They should demonstrate sincere and unfeigned care for our well-being, in return for our kindness to them.
- They should demonstrate harmonious and decent behavior in our presence, instead of constant negativity, in return for our kindness.
- They should show reciprocal kindness to us, in return for our kindness to them.
- And yes, they should even show us reciprocal help to us, in our own times of need, if they have the means to do so.
You see, it works both ways; giving is not a one-way street. There’s nowhere in the Bible that says “Takers are entitled to a perpetual free ride from Givers, and Takers never have to do anything in return for the help.” Absolutely nowhere.
The Bible verses you brought up mean that God expects us to give freely and cheerfully, when it’s within our means and the person is not conning us into supporting their bad judgments or behaviors.
And we’re not to expect anything in return, in the sense of expecting the person to pay you back, financially, or expecting to gain public acclaim for our charity. Don’t look for a financial return of your money, or on your money, when it comes to helping others who are truly in need. But you can expect that person to get their act together, so that their neediness doesn’t become habitual. Habitual neediness is nothing less than greediness, in disguise. Again, it’s “You have. I don’t have. Therefore you should give to me.”
And, of course, common sense dictates that if you absolutely need to have the money back (for example, to pay the rent, or to buy groceries for your family, or to have gas money to get to work the rest of the month) then don’t give it away in the first place.
Again, as I mentioned earlier, you’re not obligated to go into a financial hole for someone who’s gotten themselves into a financial hole. Nowhere does the Scripture say you are. Give if you truly have the means to give, which is to say, the extra funds. And if you don’t have it, then don’t give.
And just as there’s nowhere in the Scriptures that says God is obligated to keep giving and giving and giving to His wayward children who never give anything to Him in return (i.e., things like love, respect, faith, praise, etc.), likewise, there’s nowhere in the Scriptures that says we, as Christians, are obligated to give perpetually to people who demonstrate no appreciation or reciprocal goodwill to us whatsoever for our charitable nature and expenditures.
A 7-Point Checklist for Givers
The late Pastor Arnold Murray, of the Shepherd’s Chapel, had a recommended three-part checklist regarding family members, friends, co-workers and other acquaintances who would approach you for help, whether financial or otherwise. Here it is:
1.) Have they earned your help?
2.) Are they in good standing with you?
3.) Are they in good standing with Jesus?
There’s a lot of wisdom in that simple checklist. So really think about those three simple questions the next time a Taker approaches you with their sad tales of woe, and their list of reasons why you need to give money or other forms of help to them, once again.
I would add to that checklist, however, the following four additional criteria:
4.) Does the individual treat you like their own personal no-obligation ATM machine whenever they get themselves into financial trouble? Have you become their main resort any time they get themselves into a financial bind? Do they ever bother to save up money for a rainy day, so they don’t have to be such a financial burden to you?
5.) Is the only time you ever hear from this person when he or she is in some kind of personal need, crisis, or financial jam? Does this person ever bother to call you or to come by to check-in with you from time-to-time, to see how you’re doing, without wanting anything in return, except to make sure you’re well?
6.) When the individual asking for help has problems, does he or she constantly exonerate themselves from blame, and instead blame others, or blame circumstances (i.e., the “shit from above” excuse), for all of their problems, never bothering to evaluate their own poor behavior, decisions, or lifestyle choices for much-needed changes and adjustments?
7.) Does the individual consistently use you as a verbal and emotional dumping ground for their problems, but never really follow your advice, or only pretend to accept your advice, nominally, as a means of getting money or other forms of help from you?
Any of the above criteria are certainly grounds for you, as a charitable Christian Giver, to not allow a Taker to take further advantage of you.
Christ taught us to help the poor, freely, if we have the means to do so. But He never taught that we’re to be perpetual enablers of those who constantly get themselves into financial or personal difficulties because of their bad choices or irresponsible lifestyle.
Now, it’s true the Scripture clearly states the following:
1Jn 3:17 But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
This, of course, is talking about sheer greed, i.e., the blind love of money outweighing the love for your own brother.
If your brother finds himself in destitution…let’s say, for example, from an unexpected illness…and you have the means to come to his aid, and help him get back on his feet, you certainly should. Otherwise, you literally don’t have the love of God in you.
- But…what if the person is a drug addict, and finds himself or herself in self-caused destitution, and in need of financial help, on a regular basis?
- What if, as soon as you help him (or her) get cleaned up, they’re right back on the streets again, over and over?
- Or what if the individual is a free-wheeling gambler, and refuses to take steps to control his or her gambling habit?
- Or what if the individual is just plain lazy, and won’t lift a finger to help himself or herself, no matter how many times you’ve pointed out ways the person could better themselves and escape their “poor-me-baby, shit-just-falls-out-of-the-sky-on-me” life situation?
- What if you cannot specifically remember a single time the person has ever done anything truly charitable for anyone else, yet is always expecting help from you, or from others?
For the answers to those questions, go back and review the 7-point checklist above.
And remember that while God does not want you to shut up your bowels of compassion from a brother or sister who’s truly down-and-out, He also doesn’t like it, at all, if you become an enabler to a habitual miscreant, always rescuing them so they can continue in their sinful and selfish ways without changing.
Do you see the difference?
As the tenets of any good 12-step program will tell you, sometimes you simply have to exercise a little bit of tough love, step aside, and allow people hit rock bottom in their lives…
…until they grasp the simple fact that they’re ultimately the captain of their own ship…the architect of their own problems…the sole responsible party for their present condition (in spite of all of their past finger-pointing)…and the only one who can institute the needed change in their lives.
So, when you’re approached for help, financial or otherwise, from friends, family, co-workers, neighbors or, quite frankly, anyone, be sure to test the fruit. Make sure the alleged need (and the story behind it) is real. Look to see if the person is blaming others for their own self-created problems. Analyze the situation and determine if this “need” is habitual, or a one-time thing.
And if you determine that helping is indeed the appropriate thing to do, then take stock and decide whether or not you comfortably have the means to help, without expecting anything in return but the person’s most gracious thanks, love, respect and appreciation. And act accordingly.
Above all, make sure you’re not being an enabler, for while God will indeed bless you abundantly for helping someone in true need, He will not bless you for enabling one of His perpetually intransigent “poor me, baby” children to continue escaping the need for true change and for Godly self-discipline in their lives.
Regards in Christ,
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