In recent years, helpful books such as When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert have raised our awareness to the fact that many of our charitable efforts may have caused more long-term harm than good. Our “hand-outs” have created unhealthy dependencies, when what people really need are “hand-ups” to get back on their feet.
In considering this modern day issue in light of the New Testament, my mind goes to the account of the Good Samaritan. You can read it in Luke 10:25-37. Three points jump out to me today in re-reading that text.
- The characters that we would predict to serve as conduits of love—the priest and the Levite—both failed to extend it. They not only walked by the broken person, they went out of their way to avoid him.
- We see the Good Samaritan gets his hands dirty. He bandages the man’s wounds, puts him on his animal, finds him a place to stay, pays the price of nursing the man to health, and says that he plans to return to check up on him. He did not just give the man a hand-out, but he gave him a hand-up!
- We discover what motivated the Good Samaritan’s actions: Love. The text says in verse 33 that a heart full of compassion motivated him to minister to the hurting man.
So the help that never hurts is love. And love in NT terms acts. Love works for others. Love serves. Love helps. Love sacrifices. Love gets its hands dirty. Love bandages wounds. No wonder Jesus defined “love of neighbor” with this powerful example.
This may also explain why the Apostle Paul would write this to the church in Roman: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8). The posture we must always take toward others is love. And it will look different for each of us as Corbett and Fikkert note in the preface to When Helping Hurts:
“If you are a North American Christian, the reality of our society’s vast wealth presents you with an enormous responsibility, for throughout the Scriptures God’s people are commanded to show compassion to the poor. In fact, doing so is simply part of our job description as followers of Jesus Christ (Matt. 25:31–46). While the biblical call to care for the poor transcends time and place, passages such as 1 John 3:17 should weigh particularly heavy on the minds and hearts of North American Christians: ‘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?'”
Of course, there is no “one-size-fits-all” recipe for how each Christian should respond to this biblical mandate. Some are called to pursue poverty alleviation as a career, while others are called to do so as volunteers. Some are called to engage in hands-on, relational ministry, while others are better suited to support frontline workers through financial donations, prayer, and other types of support. Each Christian has a unique set of gifts, callings, and responsibilities that influence the scope and manner in which to fulfill the biblical mandate to help the poor.”
I don’t know what you are doing today. Perhaps you are going to work at your office. Or maybe you are traveling. Whatever your schedule, make sure there’s margin in your life to love people well.
I am learning that the opportunities God gives me to love others end up being the highlights of each day and the most fulfilling activities in my life.
Gary G. Hoag, Ph.D. (New Testament, Trinity College, Bristol, UK), serves as a visiting professor at various seminaries, part-time as ECFA International Liaison, and is known widely as “the Generosity Monk” because he’s dedicated his life to encouraging Christian generosity. Subscribe to his daily meditations at www.generositymonk.com.
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