Prudent Charity

February 5, 2013

Prudent Charity

            The Bible teaches us to be givers.  In Luke 12:42-44, Jesus commended a poor widow because she gave sacrificially. “And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.   And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:    For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.” Again, in Luke 6:38, he gives us a tremendous promise.  “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” Giving, along with everything we do, should be done with prudence.  It is becoming increasingly evident that not all giving is having the desired effect.  In fact, some giving does more harm than good.

Countries like Haiti have been the recipients of trillions of Dollars of charity, but it hasn’t helped them raise their standard of living.  Often a good portion of money sent to those countries goes into the pockets of corrupt government officials.  Giving to feed the hungry has no long term healing effect if something isn’t done to correct the negligent life style that causes their poverty.

Robert D. Lupton has written a good book entitled “Toxic Charity.” In his book he calls attention to the fact that often well intentioned charity does more harm than good.  It’s unfortunate, however that, in seeking a solution, he doesn’t suggest that a concerted effort needs to be made to correct sinful lifestyles.  Proverbs 14:34 declares, “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.”  Any honest analysis of suffering in society confirms that fact.

Often charitable giving and service is expended in efforts to rejuvenate neighborhoods in inner cities that have deteriorated.  Church groups or other community service organizations go in and pick up all the trash in vacant lots and along the streets.  Some volunteer to paint houses and fix leaky roofs for poor people.  Contributors and volunteers feel good about what they have done.

Before teams go out, research is done to find out what needs to be done.  Research is also done to find the best way to finance and organize the work teams.  No one seems to think about doing research to determine why the neighborhood got so run down.  Why not ask some questions like: who is throwing out all that trash? Shouldn’t we talk to those people and teach them to pick up after themselves? Whose responsibility is it to paint the houses and fix the roofs? Shouldn’t we talk to those people and convince them that they should take more pride in their property? Could it just be that those who live there have a “don’t care” attitude?  Will the work done be a permanent or temporary solution?

Many times charity just serves to support a life-style poverty.  We aren’t helping people if they aren’t willing to help themselves.  If people’s poverty is caused by their life style, it won’t be changed unless and until they change their life style.  Many times we are reluctant to confront people with the need to change their life style.  If we don’t, and give them money, we are just helping finance their destructive life style.

There are, of course, those who are cast into poverty because of the life style of others.  Many women are suffering because of the life style of their husbands.  Some men are addicted to drugs, alcohol, or gambling.  Those situations are most tragic when children are involved.  It’s often difficult to know how to help in these situations.   If a woman has no children she can get a job.  Some women are the sole bread winner of their family.

Many times our help really isn’t needed in dysfunctional family situations because of the government welfare system.  Government money is often given without asking questions about what brought on the need.  Much of the poverty is being promoted and financed by the welfare system.  Have you ever asked yourself why there is such a disparity between wealthy neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods?  It’s a good question to ponder.  Many just pass it off as good luck/bad luck.  If you would do a little research you would find that most of those in wealthy neighborhoods took the initiative to study and prepare to have a profession.  On the other hand, the majority of those in the poor neighborhoods have little or nothing to offer in the job market.  Others are there because they have learned that they can take advantage of the generosity of the government.  They are where they are because of choices they have made.  Many spend their money foolishly and ask help from charity to pay their electric bill.

Of course there are exceptions.  Some are stuck in a deteriorating neighborhood because of health reasons.  Many times young couples live in low cost housing while they are saving money to buy a house in a better neighborhood.

Now for some suggestions about how to be a prudent charitable giver.  Robert Lupton, In his book, has what he calls “the oath of compassionate service.”  It is the following.

  • Never do for the poor what they can (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
  • Limit one way giving to emergency situations
  • Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievement.
  • Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served.
  • Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is being said.  Unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.
  • Above all, do no harm.  Location: 1339 on e-book

Mr. Lupton also mentions harm that is often done by mission groups that go to a foreign country.  They often do for people what they should do for themselves.  They may do jobs that local people can and need to do.  Recipients of the help given suffer from the jealousy of those around them because they didn’t get anything.  Mission trips often contribute more to travel agencies than they do for the people they went to help.  It is an exciting and adventuresome trip.

Charity giving is best done through a Bible believing local church.  Those churches use the most wisdom in helping people in the community where they most need help.  They are often the only ones willing to help people turn from destructive life styles.  That’s the best way to help people get victory over poverty.

Another commendable channel of charitable giving is to give to missionaries who go out with God’s message to start churches.  They live among the people and become one with them.  Every Bible believing local church in a community is a cell for change.  They teach people how to have the right relationship with God and live righteously. A genuine salvation experience changes people’s values.  For them, sin is repulsive and righteousness is to be desired. They don’t just go out to pick up trash and paint houses.  They focus on changing lives.  That, in the end, is what changes a community.

My wife and I are part of a mission board called “Baptist Mid Missions.” We can highly recommend it.  The address is:

Baptist Mid Missions

P.O. Box 308011

Cleveland, Oh. 44130-8011

Don’t miss the joy of giving, but be prudent as to where you give it.  Don’t be moved by emotional appeals about starving children and homeless families unless they are in your community and you know them personally, or unless you know that the appeal comes from a reliable source.


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