Speaking the Truth in Love

When Charity Hurts

  By Brent Smith

[Brent Smith is the preaching minister of the Trenton Church of Christ in Trenton, Tennessee.]

Image result for christians helping others in needDisplacement, persecution, domestic hardships and natural disasters all contributed to persistent poverty in the Jerusalem church and among the Christians in Judea. There is no evidence to suggest that any relief came from Rome or the Jewish community at large — no food stamps, public housing or any such safety net. Brothers and sisters in Christ helped each other. Believers (Acts 2.44) helped those who were “among them” (4.44). Years later, aid would come from outside Judea, but it would come from Gentile Christians.

The relief was freely given and distributed. It was not taken by force and redistributed. The benevolence was dictated by love, the Golden Rule and the spirit of Christ. Compassion was certainly expected: “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3.17). But generosity wasn’t compulsory. Something cannot be forcibly taken and freely given at the same time. Biblical giving is characterized by “free will offerings.”

Image result for when charity hurtsIn his book “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help,” Robert D. Lupton writes, “Give once and you elicit appreciation. Give twice and you create anticipation. Give three times and you create expectation. Give four times and it becomes entitlement. Give five times and you establish dependency.” There are exceptions, of course. True Christians have a willingness to work, a desire to bear their own burden and the urge to prosper so that they can give to others who need help. Dependency isn’t always a choice. The persecuted, the widows and the orphans don’t bring their plight upon themselves.

Image result for Christians Supporting One AnotherHowever, Lupton makes a valid point, and what he describes can be observed even among the Christians in Jerusalem. The ministry aiding poor widows (Acts 6:1-6) was apparently troubled by partiality and jealousy. People able to help others have a responsibility to do so. But those who are helped by the church also have a responsibility, the obligation to be thankful. Feelings of expectation and entitlement demonstrate an unhealthy attitude and discourage potential givers.

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