Dear Esther :: February 1, 2016

Dear Esther,

I am wondering how to help friends who are struggling financially. We know several families who are barely making ends meet due to layoffs, injuries, etc. One family in particular is in serious trouble.

We have been trying to help them out in small ways like supplying dinner whenever we get together, babysitting for free, treating their children to outings like the zoo and hiring them for odd jobs like pet sitting.

While they have never flat out asked for money, they often hint that they need cash. Our area has been particularly hard hit economically and our church no longer gives direct assistance to individuals. Instead they refer people to community organizations.

We have suggested they look into various program but aren’t sure if they have followed-up on any of them, although we know they do get some sort of government assistance.

We are fortunate that my husband has a good paying steady job, and we want to be generous. But at the same time, we are on a budget providing for our own children, trying to pay down debt and investing for our future.

We have given money to other friends in the past and it always ends badly. Plus, even if we help now, what happens when the same bills roll in next month and they still can’t cover them?

What, if anything, should we do to help our friends? Thank you for any advice or insight.

Emily

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Dear Emily,

First of all, the Christian church in general has fallen short of its obligation to care for one another. This is symptomatic of the downward spiral of this day and age. The Scriptures teach that the church should help provide for those congregants in need, especially when their families cannot. Not as a social welfare program but as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Instead, as you say, those in need are sent to community and government agencies. We are taught to live in the world but not be of the world, yet then when it comes to needing real help, today the church says, “Go to the world.” Although there are still some good churches that lovingly try to do what they can.

A good church should have a way to provide in some way for those in need (James 2:15-17 and Galatians 6:10). But our church “system” is rarely a closely tied group these days. We don’t always pull together and carry each other’s burdens in ways that we should. A lack of good biblical leadership is the major problem.

So as believers who comprise the Body of Christ, we should do what we can for each other individually, especially when the hierarchy of a church is neglectful.

Many innovative things can be done, but most churches lack leadership in the way God intended. The Christian church as a whole is weak in its bond together. Have you ever noticed how strongly Mormons stick closely together and help each other very generously?

A young Mormon woman I know was telling me about how she grew up in a single parent home. Her mother would often go to the Mormon church in her community where there is a very organized and comprehensive assistance center. They were not shamed into going to the government for help. They were loved and taken care of in so many ways when funds were scarce.

What a slap in God’s face when Bible believing Christians get little or no help from their churches. True Christians should be knit tightly together but instead we too often see others who are not part of the Body of Christ being much more caring and generous.

So with that said, my suggestion is that the best way to provide from your small corner of the world is the way you have been doing already, especially for the sake of the children. It sounds like you are concerned that if you do give cash that it might be expected again.

Also, it is true that there are those who take advantage of others and are not doing everything possible to turn their situation around. In your case, I would step back and continue to carefully assess the situation. It is hard to determine if the family you are most concerned about would try to become dependent on your family—if you do give them some cash.

Perhaps if you and your husband want to give your friends who have the greatest need a one-time cash gift, you could sit down with them and tell them it is a one-time gift to help them get on their feet, and that you would like to do more but have so many of your own responsibilities and expenses (debts) that there is no way you could do it again.

Explain to them how you are concerned that this situation could become problematic because you cannot take on the burden of feeling the need to do more when you must be wise stewards to be able to meet your own obligations. Then lead them to the Scriptures about God’s providence; God blesses those who take refuge in Him. The entire book of Ruth reveals this beautifully.

Encourage your friends to put their full faith and trust in the Lord. Hopefully the man of the house is strong enough emotionally and spiritually to realize that he needs to do everything possible to provide for his family, and by humbly seeking the Lord, things can get much better for him and his family regardless of a down economy.

If you do give a money gift, and your friendship does take a turn for the worse because they expect more, you will have still done something good and you can rest assured that you are not obligated to keep paying their way. If the entire thing blows up then so be it. It won’t be because you and your family have not been kind.

The Bible does not support helping those who have a way to work but choose not to because they are lazy, irresponsible and do not provide for their family” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12, 1 Timothy 5:8).

Give from your heart as unto the Lord and try not to be attached to the outcome. We can’t control what others will say or do. If you do have some cash that you can live without, give it unless you detect that the head of the household is not really trying to improve the situation for his family. God will bless you for your generosity.

When someone is really suffering from a lack of money, even a small money gift can be a huge welcome relief and act as a positive glimmer of hope. And remember, when it is all said and done—it is what we do here on earth in the name of the Lord that matters. Trust that He will continue to provide for your family as you help others in need as best you can, without placing your own family in jeopardy.

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10).

Scripture does teach that the Lord loves a “cheerful giver” and especially when it comes to children. I am going to list for you some Scriptures that deal with the topic of giving: 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 2; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Matthew 6:1-4; Proverbs 19:17; Proverbs 22:9; Matthew 10:42; 1 John 3:16-18; Proverbs 11:24-25; Acts 20:35.

Be sure to pray carefully about all of this before taking any specific action. God will guide you. It is obvious that you are a kind, caring, giving individual.

God bless you for your caring heart, Emily.

Esther

“Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:11-12).