When others’ words kindle my own flame: Reflections on words by Jon Acuff @ Stuff Christians Like.
Jon Acuff wrote a pretty interesting article at Stuff Christians Like talking about an issue we all face: How do we decide who merits, if that’s even a useful word in this situation, our charity. One of the things Jon has done is to build a community at SCL, and the discussion on this post is all over the map. Some feel we should always give freely; others feel our giving should be qualified.
This is one of the toughest issues for me to wrestle with personally. My heart is bent towards compassion, but my training and study of Scripture provide me with the balance of discernment. I’ve given in situations where, upon reflection, I think it was unloving to do so, because it was not what that person needed at the time.
I’ve taught financial stewardship classes and done budget counseling for years with families who are struggling financially. I’ve given to help needs that come up and I’ve denied requests for help. I’ve struggled with balancing a desire to love a person through free and generous giving and love a person through not giving.
I’ve also spent time in West Africa in one of the poorest countries in the world, so I have seen abject poverty firsthand, kids who literally share clothing, have no parents, no shoes, very little food, and no education. It is hard to compare needs in the US to needs in Africa, but my time in Africa has taught me that there are certain basic needs (water, food, education, guardians, health care, shelter, Biblical instruction) that exist at a more fundamental level than some of the “needs” we tend to see in the West.
John tells to give to meet to meet a brother’s need (1 John 3:17). This assumes two things: it’s a Christian brother or sister, and the person has a need. Paul tells us that a man who has not provided for his own family has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). He also gives instructions that widows who have relatives to care for them should not burden the church, so that the church might care for those who are truly in need (1 Timothy 5:16). Paul also denies assistance to the “younger widows,” so that they might not become “idlers” (1 Timothy 5:13).
So our primary concern should be to meet the needs of our Christian brothers and sisters in the church who are truly in need. I’ve counseled families who did not have money for groceries while spending hundreds on cell phones, internet, TV, eating out, and other discretionary things. I’ve bought groceries for some of these folks and have declined to do so for others. Either way, I’ve counseled them on priorities, showing them how they were not using God’s money to provide for their own basic needs and were instead becoming a burden, rather than a blessing, on the church. This is a hard message to give, and must be done so in love, but they often see the wisdom in it, and God often changes their hearts, and their situations, to put them in a place where they are free to be conduits of His blessing to others.
When we view the unbelieving world around us, our primary concern for those outside the church is to go and preach the gospel to them and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). This can (and should) be accompanied by meeting physical and emotional needs, but when we make the social gospel our primary means of showing love, we do a disservice to the beauty of the true gospel, that while we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
Ultimately, Spirit-led giving is free and generous, but still Spirit-led. The mind of the Spirit cares not only about mercy and compassion but also wisdom and discernment. I can empathize with those who would rather err on the side of compassion, and there may be cause to do so (see Matthew 5:42). And giving can mean so many things besides money; often, people just need a conversation, or a touch of our hand, or an expression of love, or wisdom from God through us. So we should incline our hearts towards the poor, because Jesus does.
But above all, let us love the church enough to meet people’s needs, not their wants, so that they will be free to see Jesus as their greatest treasure. And let us love the unbelieving world enough to meet people’s most urgent need, which is their need for redemption by a loving God, so that they will be free to see Jesus as their greatest treasure.