Christians And Panhandlers
A pastor friend of mine made the following post this morning on his Facebook page: “Here in Richmond we have panhandlers on just about every stop light. Yeah, times are tough, but why would you give your hard earned money to a guy holding a “Help Me” sign while smoking a cigarette and drinking Starbucks Coffee?”
My first reaction was that the post was quite harsh and more than slightly insensitive to the plight of those who beg or are homeless. It also got me to thinking, as Christians what should our response be to beggars and panhandlers?
To be honest, if I see someone at an intersection who is begging and they are drinking a cup of Starbucks coffee, it’s going to give me pause as far as if I should give them money or not. But how do I know if someone three or four cars earlier didn’t give them that cup of Starbucks coffee, especially if it’s a cold day? The point is, I don’t know and more importantly the Lord doesn’t expect me to know, He just expects me to do what His Word says.
If we say that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, then our walk has to line up with our talk.
It comes down to this. “God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). As the Creator, God has absolute rights of ownership over all things, and to miss starting here is like misaligning the top button on our shirt or blouse—nothing else will ever line up.
The Biblical Doctrine of Stewardship defines a man’s relationship to God. It identifies God as Owner and man as manager. So then everything we have belongs to the Lord, from the clothes on our back to the last dollar in our wallets. He expects us to be good stewards (managers) with everything He has given us. Stewardship defines our practical obedience in the administration of everything under our control, everything the Lord entrusted to us.
Stewardship acknowledges in practice that we do not have the right of control over ourselves or our property, including our “hard-earned money” – God has that control. It means as stewards of God we are managers of that which belongs to God, and we are under His constant authority as we administer His affairs.
With that thought in mind, in both the Old and New Testaments, we see God’s desire for us to show compassion to the poor and needy. Jesus said that those who show mercy to the poor, the sick, and the needy are in effect ministering to Him personally (Matthew 25:35-40), and will be rewarded accordingly.
There is no doubt that poverty’s reach is both widespread and devastating today. As God’s people we cannot be indifferent toward those in need, because His expectations for us in regard to taking care of His poor are woven throughout the entirety of Scripture.
Moses instructed his people how to treat the poor and needy as we read in Deuteronomy 15:10,
“Give generously to [them] and do so without a grudging heart; then
because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work
and in everything you put your hand to.”
The first epistle of John says in I John 3:17-18,
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need
but 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 action and in truth.”
UNLIMITED NEEDS AND OPPORTUNITIES
I know that some people give food/water instead of money, understanding that some beggars would not use the money for the uses the giver intended.
Rather than giving money or food/water, some prefer to offer transportation to a local shelter and/or provide financial support directly to the shelter. By supporting rescue missions financially, we help the poor who would otherwise be begging on the street. If a local church has a food bank, contributing to it and then directing the beggar there for help may be the best way to address the need without enabling the sin. Church food banks also provide an excellent opportunity to share the gospel with the homeless and needy.
Other ways to help include giving food or gift cards to local fast food restaurants, handing out energy bars or other non-perishables to the people on the street corners, or if the situation allows, taking the needy person(s) to a restaurant/grocery store and buying him/her a meal. This also gives us an opportunity to share the gospel with them.
It is indeed a worthy cause to help the poor, including the sign-holders on our street corners. The Bible says in Psalm 41:1,
“Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble
the Lord delivers him.”
Each of us must respond to these people as the Lord guides, not forgetting at the same time to offer prayers for these needy people.
As followers of Christ we have to remember, we were created to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do, and the “good works” Christ spoke of in Matthew 25 includes taking care of the poor and suffering.
Are there going to be some “fakes” among the genuine on the street corners who are in real need? Sure there are. But the Bible doesn’t instruct us to “figure out” who is real and who isn’t, the Bible doesn’t instruct us to determine who is “worthy of help” and who isn’t. Christ said,
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of
mine, you did for me.”
Jesus commanded us to love one another (John 13:34-35). And what better way to demonstrate the love and kindness and compassion of Jesus Christ than by reaching out to the “least of these” among us?