I remember seeing a t-shirt with something like the words, “Jesus said, I love you this much. Then he stretched out his arms and died.” On the back was a picture of Christ outstretched on the cross. This is the role model we have as followers of Christ. Love until it hurts.
After all, didn’t Jesus himself instruct his disciples in this way: if someone demands you go with them a mile, you go two; if someone takes your cloak, give them your coat also; if someone strikes you on one cheek, turn and offer them the other as well.
But let’s not forget he also told them to be a wise as serpents, while being harmless as doves. And he told story after story of being wise stewards and of being held accountable for what we do with the things we are given.
Most of us will never be called on to lay down our life. But we may be called on to be inconvenienced, to give more than we think we can, to be stretched beyond our boundaries, to forgive, to be taken advantage of, to bless and not curse. But what may be hardest thing of all is saying, “no” when someone in need calls on us to act.
One of the foundation principles of Christianity is that you love and help those who are in need. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:8 that he who does not take care of his own household is worse than an unbeliever, or an infidel! And while this verse is can be applied to husbands providing for their families this passage is specifically talking about taking care of the widows in one’s extended family.
However, this passage also encourages the younger widows to remarry to keep from burdening their families or the church. What happens to them if you help them instead of allowing them to help themselves, “they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies.” You essentially give them license to be lazy, which leads to sin.
In a broader sense, this is why 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 says, if someone is not willing to work they should not be given the charity of the church. It’s a hard thing because Jesus has instructed us to love, and to forgive, and to go the extra mile. But we must balance this love with the equally important admonition to be wise with the things he has given us. We are called to help those who are deserving of help, especially those of our own household.
In Matthew 25, Jesus condemns the servant in the parable who used the master’s money unwisely. “For unto every one that has shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that has not shall be taken away even that which he has. And cast the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (vs. 29-30). As stewards of the things God has given us, we need to make sure we are using God’s money and God’s time and God’s gifts wisely.
A friend recently told me about a member of his extended family who was unwilling to work to support his wife and children. He continually made the rounds of the family asking for help and handouts. Physically able, he was just unwilling to go out and actually look for work. My friend, of course, didn’t want the family to be in want. In counseling him I pointed to the Biblical model for confrontation found in Matthew 18. You go to him one on one. Then with two. Then with the leaders of the church (or in this case, the family). And if the person still will not change his ways you must set the boundary of your compassion and say, “no”.
Matthew 24:48-51 contains a parable of a servant who begins to abuse his fellow servants. I would equate this to someone who takes advantage of the charity of others. He is lazy, refusing to work, causing the faithful servant to use their master’s money unwisely. This evil servant is cast out and cut off.
When it’s a family member in need, it’s hard to have that “tough love” that says, I have tried to help you, but I refuse to allow you to take advantage of me. I do you a disservice and dishonor God when I allow you to take advantage of me and the things God has given me to steward.
Our goal is to be faithful to God’s command to love while simultaneously being wise. So we try to be compassionate and help. We always give someone in need the benefit of the doubt. We give that cup of cold water in the name of Jesus. Give our coat. Offer that other cheek. Go that second mile.
If someone is unable to help themselves then, yes, help bear their burdens with wisdom and love, knowing that we will be held accountable. We must have Godly boundaries in the generous giving of our time and our money and the gifts that we steward. And remember Jesus our example. He did stretch out his arms and sacrifice his life because we were wretched and naked and miserable, and we could not help ourselves.