Today, human needs surface more than we wish they would! We witness occasional poverty, chronic marginalization, systemic oppression, racial prejudice, inadequate healthcare and housing, unemployment, drug abuse, conjugal violence, prison overcrowding, estranged families, and child abuse. As a result, people frequently confront us for charity or aid, whether it is on the street corner, at our doorsteps, or even while we're in line at the bank or store.
How should we respond to these victims of circumstances beyond their control? What is the Christian obligation?
Should we be selective, and if so, what are the guiding principles of responsible stewardship? The impulse to give is intrinsically a part of our being because we're created in the image of God. The Judeo-Christian ethic mandates that evangelical Christians respond to the needs of those who are affected by systemic or personal inequities. In Hebraic texts, the term z'daqah, "the cry," and its response ze'aqah, "justice," conveyed an ethos of justice that was not just relegated to the Old Testament texts, but was the foundational model to Jesus' mission as He interacted with the disciples and authorities of His day.
This New Testament rabbi, in His pronouncements and miracles, demonstrated an affinity with the Old Testament texts of compassion and justice.
I am convinced that grace comes to us on its way to someone else. God has blessed us so we can be conduits to bless others.
We instinctively respond to those in need. However, considering that we do not have the luxury of unlimited resources, we must explore responsible stewardship. There are basically two areas of giving: personal and corporate. We respond to needs either to an individual or through an organization. Both responses include a degree of vulnerability, as well as altruism.
Giving to People
We've all been the victims of the guilt-enticing face of a homeless stranger, the benign tale of an unfortunate incident, or the detailed sorrow of tough circumstances a person has gotten involved in. Whatever the cause, we feel compelled to act. Our primary nature is not to question the authenticity of the plea. But as a result, are Christians taken for a gullible ride?
The guiding principle should always be that Christian benevolence is not ours to confer or to deny. The Christian lives daily between the tension created by orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxis (right practice). This tension can be balanced by three giving guidelines.
- Giving should be generous. "Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand" (1 Chronicles 29:14). When we give to the poor or help the sick or the stranger, we are becoming God's presence in a hurting world.
- Giving should be joyful. "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). This Christian dictum reminds us to be servants, and accordingly, we'll also be the object of God's love.
- Giving should be gracious. When we give to the poor we are, for all intents and purposes, entering in a worship experience. The Corinthians were to "excel in this grace of giving." (2 Corinthians 8:7). The effect of this would be the increase of praise and thanksgiving (2 Corinthians 9:11).
Giving to Non-Profits
The amount of money we give to a stranger or homeless person or other individual is usually rather small compared to the sums we give to organizations. The sheer amount given to charitable organizations annually creates a more complex agenda for the Christian who is motivated to give. Today, commercial fundraisers populate the landscape.
So a prospective donor should diligently study before embracing or supporting a charitable organization. For the most part, giving to faith-based organizations offers some guarantee that the gift of love will reach its intended target. However, because we cannot be sure of this, we must exercise discretion and common sense. Give to an organization that is committed to the value of the individual for who they are, and what they need.
It is unfortunate that individuals and organizations sometimes exploit the generosity of well-intentioned patrons. This fact, however, should not be an undue concern when responding to human need. The spectacle of the homeless, the marginalized, the neglected, the unfortunate, and those who have been excluded from what is considered an ordinary quality of life should motivate us to give.
We give because we ourselves have received unmitigated grace and mercy.
Whether or not we might be gullible should not cause us sleepless nights. We need to be a community of faith that responds to human need as a proxy for Christ.
Oliver Phillips is director of Mission Strategy, USA/Canada.
Holiness Today July/August 2006
Please Note: This article was originally published in 2006. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.