How to avoid pushing people away from Christ in our giving.
Last week, we talked about being intentional to give in ways that lead people to Christ. Yes, we should meet people's physical and emotional needs. But we should also recognize that a person's greatest need is Christ and strive to share the gospel wherever a door is opened to it.
But there are also ways of giving to people that can actually push them away from Christ and are worth avoiding. Words might come to mind like "enabling" or "spoiling" but the idea is that our perception of what a person needs may not be what they need most. Not only can we miss out on an opportunity to discern what they actually need and provide it for them, we can actually help them to cause further damage to their life by putting the wrong thing in their hands. How do you avoid this type of giving? Boundaries.
For example, maybe you have a family member who asks to borrow money or for help with the bills this month or whatever. And maybe this becomes a trend. You gladly helped them out since they're family but then they keep asking for more and nothing ever really changes for them. Maybe it reaches a point where you actually start to feel like you're being sucked dry by a humongous financial leach but you feel conflicted about what to do. You want to stop but the verse in 1 Timothy 5:8 is heavy on your heart... "But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."
The reality is that giving money to someone who doesn't know how to manage it properly is not loving or helpful at all because their problem isn't money, it's a lack of understanding. For this type of person, the more money they have, the more damage they do with it. So, in order to protect them from the danger of money as well as your own resources, you have to put boundaries in place.
Try this: Tell them you'll help with the bills for one month if they agree to sit down with you and take a good honest look at the way they're managing their money. And help them fill out a budget. If that doesn't work for you, tell them that you'll help out if they agree to take an FPU class and meet with you weekly to tell you what they're learning. Better yet, tell them you'll help them if they agree to go to church with you and maybe do a Bible study to see what Jesus says about money. Help them to recognize that their greatest need is not more money but the One who provides all things including everlasting life, Jesus Christ.
Here's another example: There are many people who don't have the resources to meet their most basic needs but to put cash in their hand is practically the same as giving them drugs or alcohol. Why? Because addiction can render someone powerless when it comes to making wise decisions with money. They might be homeless and starving but the only thing they really care about is how they're going to take care of their addiction. It would not be loving to give this type of person money. It would actually lead them away from Christ and toward drugs and alcohol.
Here's a better option: Pack up a couple sack lunches and go eat with the guy who's standing on the street corner begging for money. Take the time to listen to their life story and then tell them about Jesus and how he can meet their every need; physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Or, if you're like most people and you're not able or very excited about having lunch on the corner with a drunk/high homeless person, give financial support to people who are. The Downtown Soup Kitchen here in Anchorage is a great example of people who are doing it right. Not only are they feeding people and meeting basic needs, they're also preaching the gospel to them. They have people who are dedicated to serving physical and spiritual food to those in need. They're seeking to free people not only from physical hunger but from the notion that lasting satisfaction in this life is found in anything other than Christ and his presence in our lives. Give your money to them if you truly want to love on the homeless and hungry people in our city.
The point is that we can actually give in a way that takes away the opportunity for someone to see their need for Christ and we would do well to consider not only how to avoid this type of giving but to strategize for how to give them what they need most. The joy of giving to people who are, we'll say, less than perfect is that we get to do so with grace of God that it requires. And the good news is that the discernment, wisdom, love, patience, gentleness, and faithfulness that you'll need is not in short supply when you're in Christ. It is abundantly supplied upon request. Praise be to God for the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus!