“And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3)
Almost everyone has encountered this situation, a stranger or vagrant approaches you with a story of financial destitution. On first response, you may have compassion and reach for your wallet. But wait, if this person is a stranger, do you know they are speaking honestly? How do you know where this money will go? Will it go to an alcohol or drug habit? Will this money be used for any evil deed? Will this money enable a person who is able bodied not to work? 2 Thessalonians 3:10 tells us if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. If you give out of a spontaneous emotional moment, how can you know you are being a good steward of what the Lord has given to you? This money does not belong to you; it is the Lord’s, and you are the steward: will you use the money of your Master for something sinful? Should not a Christian give to the Church or a well researched mission? Let’s sit together at the feet of the Lord Jesus and see what is the biblical answer to these questions.
People usually would not like to be tricked to give money to a deceiver who pretends to be a poor and a beggar, some for bad reasons, others for good reasons. Worldly people have some selfish reasons for refusing to be deceived like that, while the children of God refuse to give money to a deceiver for a good reason which is love… Yes, indeed, often not giving is the loving thing to do. God is love (cf. 1 John 4:8), and yet God does not give us everything we ask the way we ask for them, because love does not want to hurt the loved one, and some of our requests are sinful or not profitable for us. And those who are born of God are the children of God who imitate God by walking in the same love: “Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love“ (Ephesians 5: 1-2). And love hates sin… Love “does not rejoice at iniquity but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). It is not a loving thing to do to give money to a man who will use that money to buy drugs or to gamble or to buy alcohol or to do any other bad thing. If we contribute to any of these sinful things, we will not be helping a beggar or a poor, but we will be helping the cause of the devil, which is something the children of God who imitate God would not want to do. The Lord said: “To him that asks of thee give, and from him that desires to borrow of thee turn not away.” (Matthew 5:42) This is not an unconditional giving, but it is conditional just like the promise “Ask, and it shall be given to you.” (Matthew 7:7) This is certainly not a promise that God will give us all what we ask, even if it is something bad or against His Will, as in other places He explains that we will not receive unless we ask according to His Will: “And this is the boldness which we have towards him, that if we ask him anything according to his will he hears us.” (1 John 5:14); “Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask evilly, that ye may consume [it] in your pleasures.” (James 4:3) The same thing will happen with the children of God who imitate their Father: some people will ask them and will not receive, as they ask something bad or against the Will of God to consume it to their pleasures or to sin.
So how should we know which beggar we should help? Should we just throw out the baby with the bath water?… Should we just say: “Here is another deceiver; I won’t give him, because I don’t want to be deceived..”? Some would say this, thus not learning anything from the warning of the Lord about the last days: “and because lawlessness shall prevail, the love of the most shall grow cold” (Matthew 24:12)… Others would like to look “holier than thou” and would say: “It is true that this beggar may be a poser, but don’t forget that there is another possibility: that this beggar is really in need, and I may be refusing to do good to him…”, and they will just give all beggars with this assumption, not realizing that some of them will be using the money for sinful things, and thus they participate in that sinful act… Note that this last category of men would not see the poor who are their neighbors and whom they know, and would just look for people to help in some strangers whom they think the Bible calls “poor”, as if the poor are some aliens who come from planet Mars… Both of these positions are not correct according to God’s Word: God teaches us in His Word that we should help the poor, so we should not refuse to help all beggars just because some may be deceivers; and we should not build our decision to give or not to give on assumptions like “maybe” or “possibility” or “what if”, because God has not left us in uncertainties; His Word gives us all what we need for godliness and good works according to His Will (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). God teaches us in 1 Corinthians 13:3 that even if we give all our possessions to feed the poor, but we don’t have love, then it profits us nothing. If we will just give money to a beggar without loving him, then that’s wrong in ALL cases without exception, because the purpose of the commandment is not that this poor get money, but the purpose is love from a pure heart: “But the end of what is enjoined is love out of a pure heart and a good conscience and unfeigned faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). And love in the Bible is not a feeling or an emotion, but an attitude, a nature and an act! Love is in actions. If I just give money to any beggar, even if he is not a deceiver, I am still doing bad to him, as I am giving a bad message to him that possessions are so important, even more important than the true Gospel that includes denying ourselves and giving up all our possessions, and not seeking possessions: “Thus then every one of you who forsakes not all that is his own cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33). In other words, the Bible teaches us to help the person of the poor, and not just his pocket, thus not encouraging him to covetousness and not risking to be helping him to do something sinful. If we take care of the person of the poor, then we will know for sure that we are helping a poor according to God’s Will, because we will be acting in biblical love, as we will know who he really is and we will be able to help him in his real needs; and even if he is a poor because of drugs (for example), then we will be able to help him get free from drugs by the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. This Gospel is not just words that we throw to a person, but truth preached with love, which I remind you is an ACT, and not some feelings or emotions… And the gift that we will give is not always necessarily money, as it happened with Peter and John who said to the beggar who expected to receive money from them (sometimes what a beggar expects is not what God wants to give him through His children): “Silver and gold I have not; but what I have, this give I to thee: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazaraean rise up and walk.” (Acts 3:6) It is not said in the Bible that Jesus financially helped the widow who put two small copper coins in the treasury, giving “all she owned, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:44) That widow would glorify God in her need, as God would provide her needs according to His way, and the purpose of Jesus was to glorify God through her example, which is more important than giving her money. When the blind beggar Batimaeus came to Jesus, the Lord didn’t give him money, seeing he was a beggar, but He asked him: “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51). The Lord wanted to give him what he really needed, and not money… Look at the answer of that beggar: “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!” (Mark 10:51). Oh! His real need was not money… The simple conclusion is: the Bible teaches us that if we don’t know for sure that a beggar really needs what we will give him, or if we see that we have no ability to take care of his person with love rather than of his pocket, then that’s a clear biblical revelation from the Holy Spirit to us that we should not give money to that beggar who came to us, because in all cases we will be hurting him and doing bad to him rather than good. At least, we will be encouraging him to covetousness, which is a sin as much as murder and adultery and immorality! This is the biblical way by which the Holy Spirit talks to us, and not by some dreams or emotions that we may have towards a “beggar”… And we should not just justify our disobedience by saying that we have no ability to love the person of that beggar, because the commandment to give to the poor should be obeyed by love, and not legalistically; so if we don’t have love and we don’t want to obey the Lord concerning that beggar even if big sacrifices are needed, then that should make us test ourselves whether we are in the Faith, because all the children of God have this fruit of the Holy Spirit which is love (cf. Galatians 5:22).
So in all cases, we should know for sure that we are giving to the beggar or to the poor (not all poor people will be begging) what he really needs. The biblical way to make sure of this is love: taking care of the person of the beggar according to God’s Will, and not just giving him money. In the Bible, there is NO example of any godly man who ever gave a beggar any money without knowing for sure that he is a beggar or without receiving a clear revelation from God concerning that beggar. In the Bible, the beggar or the poor is always someone we know, because the Bible teaches us to take care of the person of the poor. For instance, in the parable of the rich man and the poor man who needed help from that rich man (cf. Luke 16:19-31), the poor man has a name: Lazarus! It is not by chance that Jesus gave him a name! That rich man knew that poor man! He knew that he is Lazarus whose very name means that God is his help! In the very commandment of the Law that tells us to help the poor, that poor is our neighbor or brother, words that express personal knowledge of that poor and words that clearly mean that we should take care of the person of a poor who we know is a poor: “If there be amongst you a poor man, any one of thy brethren in one of thy gates, in thy land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from thy brother in need; but thou shalt open thy hand bountifully unto him, and shalt certainly lend him on pledge what is sufficient for his need, [in that] which he lacketh.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8) Note how the commandment assumes that we know for sure what the needs of that poor are… “Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thy hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to-morrow I will give, when thou hast it by thee.” (Proverbs 3:27-28) Note that this commandment also assumes that we know what is due to our neighbor…
So let us help the person of the poor, giving them what they really need, taking care of them with love. And remember that the best way to give in a biblical way is to give in unity with the Church, and not as individuals, because we’re not separate from the body of Christ. The Christians in the church of Jerusalem “as many as were owners of lands or houses, selling them, brought the price of what was sold and laid it at the feet of the apostles; and distribution was made to each according as any one might have need.” (Acts 4:34-35) The Christians in Corinth had to do what Paul advised them: “On [the] first of [the] week let each of you put by at home, laying up [in] whatever [degree] he may have prospered, that there may be no collections when I come.” (1 Corinthians 16:2). And the Church should follow the biblical principle of love that we have seen together above, beginning from the household of Faith: “So then, as we have occasion, let us do good towards all, and specially towards those of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10)
So the commandment is to give to the poor, and not people who we don’t know are poor. Otherwise, we will be giving without biblical Christian love, and in that case it hurts the other person and it profits us nothing (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:3).
Grace be with you!
Disciple of Jesus Christ
Thanks to the sister who wrote the major part of the introduction.