Give to Those Who Ask

Reposted from Rooted Thinking.

In Matthew 5:42, Jesus said, “Give to the one who asks of/begs from you.” This command of Jesus is not an easy one to apply. Christ’s words are straightforward: we must respond to those who, in their poverty, ask help from us.

Life according to the principles of God’s kingdom means that we no longer live primarily to get and acquire for ourselves and our loved ones. Covetousness and greed are everywhere condemned for those who are God’s people. Generosity towards the poor is expected. The love of Jesus demands that we show compassion on the needy. No genuine Bible-believing Christian would disagree with these statements.

Maybe you have given to assist refugees fleeing from the brutalities of war, given to relieve Christians enduring life-upending and violent persecution, or helped to provide urgently needed supplies to help those who lost everything from a natural disaster. Such efforts are clearly worthy of our generosity.

These words of Jesus, however, have to do with how we respond to someone who approaches us personally: “Give to the one who asks of/begs from you.”

It’s Complicated

If someone were to walk up to you today, declare their poverty, and ask you for help, what should you do? Your first inclination might be to think, “Is this person a drug addict or alcoholic trying to use me to further their life-destroying vice?” Or “Is this person a professional panhandler content to mooch off of hardworking people?” Other thoughts might be, “How do I know if this person is for real?” Or “I don’t want to encourage laziness and poor character.” And you would be wise to have such thoughts. But should you still give anyway? They asked it of you. They declared their need.

The Guy Who Just Got Out of Prison

Recently, we were visiting the city of Siem Reap with guests who were here in Cambodia to assist with ministry. While walking to a restaurant to get breakfast, we were approached by a man who looked to be in his forties. He claimed to be a Laotian American from San Jose, California. His English accent was clearly inner-city American. There are indeed large numbers of Southeast Asians in San Jose and all around the Los Angeles metro area. I believed him.

“Steve” said that after he visited his family in Laos, he visited Siem Reap. While here, he saw a foreign pedophile abusing a child. In his anger, he fought with the man and threw him off a balcony (to his death?). He said he had served two years in prison. Now just released, he was cashless and in desperate need. He said he needed food, money to get to the embassy in Phnom Penh, and money for guest houses over the weekend to keep him off the street until the embassy opened. He mentioned interactions with a Christian organization called Prison Fellowship, and even mentioned an American missionary we knew who previously worked with prisoners. Steve even made derisive remarks about cults like JWs and Mormons as we walked past a few.

Did I believe his story? I believed that some of his story was probably true. I understood him to be truly in need. Did I believe him a good honest guy who had a bad break and worthy of help? No. I bet there was a lot he did not tell me. Maybe I am glad he didn’t.

What Should I Do?

My wife, teen children, and foreign guests heard this whole conversation. Steve knew we were on our way to get breakfast. My mind was racing. I was praying. How do I respond to this guy? How do I appropriately give to a man that begged of me expressing serious need when his character and story were so questionable? How can I please Christ in this situation?

I gave him $5 and suggested that he go and eat breakfast. I told him that while I took my guests to breakfast, I would call Prison Fellowship and see what they had to say about his case. I told him that afterwards I’d come speak with him some more.

My phone call did not provide any real help, as could be expected. The group was in Phnom Penh, not across the country in Siem Reap. I then met back up with Steve.

I decided that the best way I could help the man was to buy him a bus ticket to Phnom Penh. He said that getting to the capitol city was urgent. I was not going to give him more cash, so I walked him to the bus station and got him a ticket for the next bus, which was to depart in about 25 minutes. I said goodbye to Steve and caught back up with our party.

For twenty minutes after his scheduled bus departure time, I received phone calls from the bus company asking me where “Steve” was. He never did show up for the bus.

I lost $10 on the ticket, but my conscience was clear: I gave to a man that begged of me, and I did so in a way that I thought was wise and pleasing in God’s sight.

A Bad Investment?

Three things were important to me in this exchange with “Steve.” One, I had to do something. Jesus made it clear that inaction was not an option in such a case. Second, Steve knew I was a Christian. It was important that he knew that I tried to do right by him in obedience to Christ. Third, my kids were looking on, and it was important they see obedience to Christ in action. The time and $15 spent on Steve were well worth accomplishing these things for God’s glory, even if I do not know the end of the story.

Guiding Principles

Do you have any guidelines or principles for what to do in situations like this? I would like to suggest some that we seek to abide by.

  • Give to show love, not solve the problem. Most of the time, we are not in a position to solve someone’s problems. Rarely will that be possible. We are not to give in order to be someone’s “hero.” We give out of compassion to show the love of Christ.
  • Network. If possible, point them to where they can get real assistance to help solve some of their problems long-term. There are many organizations and ministries that specialize in helping certain vulnerable groups, and they can weed out the frauds.
  • Avoid giving cash. There are at least several reasons to avoid giving people cash. If someone is hungry, for instance, go and buy them food when possible. We can show generosity without giving someone exactly what they asked for.
  • Don’t lend. Lending money is about as sure a way as any to kill relationships. Dr. John Dreisbach, cross-cultural missionary of many years in many contexts once urged us never to lend. He told us to always choose to give outright over lending money if we wanted to keep our relationships in missions ministry. If someone you know asks to borrow, just give what you can.

Forrest McPhail Bio

Forrest has served as a missionary in Buddhist Cambodia in Southeast Asia since 2000. He presently serves as the Asia/Australia/Oceania regional director for Gospel Fellowship Association missions. He enjoys writing and teaching on missions and the Buddhist worldview. He and his wife, Jennifer, have 4 children.

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