Thursday, May 5, 2011


On Sunday May 1, during my sermon, I somehow turned to a Bible passage that I hadn't planned to use.  Instead of an earnest prayer about seeing a dear loved one and "supplying what is lacking in your faith" (1 Thess. 3:10) I paged over to Second Thessalonians 3:10 "IF A MAN WILL NOT WORK, HE SHALL NOT EAT."*

That same hard-nosed verse had come to mind the previous week, I'm not sure the context, and came to me again tonight as I helped someone yet again with a financial need.  The person I've helped is willing to stay in relationship with the church I'm currently serving, is growing in faith (though by fits and starts) but is not likely to be stable enough to hold down a job.  There are hundreds of such people in our local area--mental and physical disabilities are far more common than we even know.

What do we do with folks like that?  I believe Jesus would have us err on the side of mercyThe "Sermon on the Mount", for example, is very clear on this: "Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you" (Matthew 5:42).  And when you feel like you're taken advantage of, well, Jesus covered that too in Luke's version of this sermon: "Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again" (Luke 6:30).  And don't forget First Corinthians 6:7 where the Lord let's us know it's not always bad to be taken advantage of. 

(If there are times when we need to stand for truth against those who would profit at someone else's expense, if there are times when we need to take action against those who take advantage of others, better to do that on behalf of someone in need or someone who cannot defend themselves--better to do that instead of insisting on what we think rightfully belongs to us.  When we cut off support, sometimes we truly hurt those who are the least able to defend themselves.)

I want to be part of a church that leans to the side of mercy and even makes mistakes by being too generous.  I want to be part of a church that is willing to take risks in relationship with the poor, even the chronically unemployed.  I believe we need to do this in by the Holy Spirit's power and because of the command and example of Jesus.  I believe we ought to stay in relationship with those who we are helping.  The church is not a free and impersonal vending machine.  But the truth is that often those we support will need consistent mercy over a long period of time.

Some dysfunctional people will stay that way.  Some unstable people will always be unstable.  They will need to be forgiven over and over again.  And these relationships will be difficult!  Sometimes God will even calls us to have them move in with us for a period of time--and that can be very hard!  (See Bible Verses about Helping the Homeless.)  Still, mercy must flow constantly and prayerfully, in practical and personal ways.

Prudence is required.  Since many needy people are truly overwhelmed by life, some are very irresponsible.  Therefore we ought not just give out cash.  We need to be with the person in need, at least enough time to pay a bill or fill someone's gas tank or bring them to the food shelf, the thrift store, or another place of business.  We shouldn't give the needy money too quickly.  I know how tempting that is sometimes because it can get them to go away and let me get back to my less complicated and secure life.

Because it so very rare that God call us to turn our backs, close our eyes and shut our wallets we will often need advice!  God almost never calls us to act in mercy all alone.  God calls the Body of Christ, the church, to act in concert, praying and generously giving through those who are in relationship with those in need.  That's a way to prevent compassion fatigue--don't act by yourself and don't keep secrets.  Talk with a trusted and mature Christian friend as you enter a relationship characterized by the mercy of God. 

In any case, the scriptures cited above overwhelm the concern of being taken advantage of. We need to be remember that whatever we give is really just a passing on of the mercy God has first given to us.

That's a very important key, I think.  Before cutting someone off, ask God how often he has been merciful with you.


* Some Christians use this as a command to automatically judge the unemployed, or, at least those who we judge are "not willing to work."  Often, however, Christians who would impose this command do not know those who are in need deeply and personally enough to know if they are "unwilling" to work or, for some reason, unable to do so.  Some disabilities, particularly those that impact the mind and emotions, are extremely hard to diagnose.  Christians ought to search the scriptures, pray and walk personally alongside those in need--and not doing so secretly but doing so while being in communication and community with other compassionate Christians--we ought to be extremely care-ful (full of tender loving care) before we close our doors or cut off support.  Otherwise we risk hardening our hearts to the mercy of God.

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