“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need and has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:17-18
My takeaway from that verse is that Christians need to be doing more not less to help those in need. There are two kinds of responses people can make to this verse.
- “I just don’t care about the poor, My life is all about me and I like it that way”
- “I can’t wait to help the poor! The love of God is in me”
I guess there could be a third response of I have thought about helping the poor, but just don’t know how.
A word of caution to the people with response number two. There can be mixed emotions and motives behind wanting to help the poor. Here are some possible motives:
- A need for meaning and purpose in our lives
- A desire to feel like we are the answer to someones problem
- To be a bit like God – it makes me feel good to try to save or help poor people.
The danger is to unintentionally reduce poor people to objects that we use to fulfill our own need to accomplish something good. Really the answer for all three responses is that we need to be reminded of the Gospel every day. We are all broken and poor in some way. It may not be financially, but it might be relationally, emotionally, spiritually or physically. We need to be reminded that Jesus paid it all and covers all our sins and short comings. So we are not on this earth to fix ourselves or other people, we are here to love God and love other people.
Our approach to helping poor people should be to love them. Taking the time to build relationships, to listen to their story and really care about them. It means taking a longer term approach with people instead of a quick fix like paying a bill for them, or buying them groceries once. Often times we like to swoop in and help someone out and then never interact with them again. That usually confirms to that person that they are poor and feeds the shame they feel. It does not help that person heal emotionally or to mend broken relationships or build new healthy relationships.
Here are five principles we can use in our approach to giving:
- Give yourself first – First give yourself fully to the Lord and then to other people. This means viewing ourselves as servants, here to serve and love others.
- Give to the point of sacrifice – We should not just give our leftovers, but our best. We should give the first 10% of our income to God through the local church. We should give above that if we are able. We should give our talent, abilities and experiences to helping others through the local church or non-profits. We should give our best time, by planning out when we can serve and help those in need.
- Give willingly – giving should be voluntary and not out of obligation, but out of love. Giving is a privilege and a way of worshiping God.
- Give what you have – We cannot give what we do not have. We can give our money to healthy organizations, we can give our talent to help our churches and healthy non-profits, we can give our time to people and organizations as well.
- Give with a plan in mind – Desire is not enough, there should be a deliberate setting aside of time, talent and treasure. In other words, we need to plan out our giving. Find the right church or nonprofit that we can work with to make a difference.
In order to really help someone we need to understand if they need relief, rehabilitation or development. In many situations, relief is not needed, but rehabilitation or development is needed. Relief should go to the severely disabled, some elderly that cannot care for themselves, the very young, orphaned children, mentally ill homeless and victims of natural disaster. Most others may want relief, but need rehabilitation and development.
Most people are poor because of broken relationships. Development looks to help restore and to build healthy relationships. This takes time, patience and work. We should not do things for people that they can do for themselves. When we step in and do things for people they can do for themselves we send a message to them that they are incompetent, hopeless and helpless. Instead we should work with them to help them improve their lives. This is the helping in truth part from the opening Scripture.
This holiday season, I want to encourage you to think long-term if you want to help someone in need. If you are not willing to do that, then it would be better to not get involved. You can still help by giving to organizations that have this approach. Here are some organizations that my church supports. NewPointe Community Church also has this approach of mentoring and working long-term with people to help make big changes in their lives. We might help them financially along the way, but it is part of a plan for helping them grow and change.