Give your attention. It may be tempting to ignore unwashed, raggedly dressed street-dwellers begging for money, but Solomon wrote, “He who gives to the poor will not lack, but he who hides his eyes will have many curses” (Proverbs 28:27). He further penned, “Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard” (Proverbs 21:13).

Give from preparation. Benevolence is required as an objective of personal industry, for it is written, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need” (Ephesians 4:28). Every household budget should afford some amount for relieving the needs of the destitute. This principle was enforced in ancient Israel as the Lord commanded, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:9-10; cf. Deuteronomy 24:19-22).

Give personally. Obligation in this regard is clearly individual in nature, and is not to be transferred to the church. The work a church does to relieve poverty must be limited to saints alone. Every instance of material benevolence recorded in the New Testament involved the church supplying the needs of Christians, no one else (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35; 11:27-30; Romans 15:25-27; 1st Corinthians 16:1-3; 2nd Corinthians 8:1-9:15). Even among Christians, the church is restricted as to whom it may assist. Relatives of the needy have primary responsibility, with Paul saying, “let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened” (1st Timothy 5:16). Regardless of family ties, “distributing to the needs of the saints” is a personal duty that should prevail over the collective responsibility of the church (Romans 12:13; cf. James 2:15-16; 1st John 3:17).

Give to him who cannot help himself. Those who choose unemployment deserve their consequent hunger (Proverbs 19:15), as Paul commanded, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2nd Thessalonians 3:10). Those who are capable of laboring to provide for their own necessities ought to do so (Acts 20:34), and not burden others (1st Thessalonians 2:9). Nevertheless, those who “aspire to lead a quiet life… and to work with [their] hands… that [they] may lack nothing” (1st Thessalonians 4:11-12), yet are unable to do so, are worthy of our assistance.

Give what is needed. Those truly in need will happily accept food, clothing, or medical treatment, such items as are specified in scripture (Luke 3:11; 10:29-37; James 2:15-16), but others will greedily insist on cash. The use of a monetary gift, however, is beyond the control of the giver, and might be used to fulfill the lusts of the flesh, like drunkenness or other vices (Romans 13:13-14; Galatians 5:19-21). The Christian who dispenses cash to panhandlers may very well be contributing to their sins.

Give according to your ability. John taught, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise” (Luke 3:11). The Christian with just one tunic is not obligated to surrender his only means of warmth; doing so would create a greater need, which would require relief from others still. With reference to giving, Paul commented, “For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened” (2nd Corinthians 8:12-13).

Give spiritually. Even those lacking in this world’s goods can still give a valuable gift to the needy, the gift of the gospel! When Peter and John encountered a beggar at the gate of the temple, Peter told him, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6). As with all miracles recorded in the New Testament, this event brought about an opportunity to preach the gospel of Christ (Acts 3:7-4:4). Since “Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing” (Luke 12:23), filling spiritual emptiness and covering spiritual nakedness takes precedence over physical food and clothing. Let those who hunger be filled with “the Bread of Life” (John 6:26-58; cf. Matthew 5:6), and let those who are naked “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14; cf. Galatians 3:27).

Give discreetly. Giving alms is a private matter involving just three parties: the needy recipient, the generous giver, and the God of heaven. Jesus explained, “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” (Matthew 6:1-4). The only repayment to be sought from giving to the needy should be that which comes from God. “He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and He will pay back what he has given” (Proverbs 19:17).

By Bryan Dockens

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