I'm almost embarrassed to ask this one, but I would like an objective point of view and refuse to bring it up to anyone at my congregation. We recently moved and placed membership at a local congregation of the Lord's church. Since I become a Christian in December, I have really been looking forward to starting over in a new place where I can live for the Lord without my image being tainted by the old me. I pray often for the Lord to allow me to be a blessing to others and to lead me to others who need encouragement.
So, I got a call from a lady at church a few weeks ago. The church secretary had provided my number to her as I had signed up to help in a variety of ways. The lady's car was broken down and needed to get her son to the eye doctor. I happened to be off that day, and even though I had a meeting, I agreed to leave early and drive 45 minutes to help her out. This woman is severely obese, does not work, is 29 years old and has two children from different relationships. She lives with her mother and several other relatives. She suffers from lupus and says that her medicine makes her very hungry and that's why she's so overweight.
Honestly, I enjoyed spending the afternoon with her and was thankful for the opportunity to be a good steward for Christ. Ever since then, the lady has called several times for rides and seems annoyed when I am unable to help out. Remember, I live 45 minutes away, work full-time, and have a husband and four children, on top of teaching Sunday school and doing visitation. I am happy to help her out if I can, but I'm not sure God expects me to drop my family and other responsibilities to drive here wherever she needs to go. Gas is not cheap here and in recent weeks, it has been difficult to come by.
Sunday night at church, she beckons me aside and asks if I have $10. Apparently, she had a tooth removed and could not eat anything she had in her house and needed the food to last a week. I don't carry cash, but I offered to take her to the grocery store and buy her whatever she needed. I spent significantly more than that and had to talk her out of some unreasonably priced choices.
Now, I don't know much about lupus, but I've known a few people (including her mom) that have it and I have never seen such a severe case. Both of her children are overweight, sweet as they may be, and I'm starting to wonder if maybe I'm being taken advantage of. My husband suggested that I am the only one willing to help her and its possible that the other church members washed their hands of this before we moved here. It seems that maybe her problem is not entirely caused by her condition and could be improved by some motivation and self-responsibility.
She mentioned that her car requires $600 for the part alone to fix, and a mechanic at church has offered to fix it for her if she can pay for the part. I'm afraid she's going to ask me for that eventually. That would be impossible for me to do.
I bring this up because the sermon topic yesterday was based around, " . . . if any man won't work, neither shall he eat . . ." and the preacher pointed out that one of the first things Adam was instructed to do was to tend the garden that God had given to him. My question is, where is a Christian to draw the line between benevolence and enabling? We have been blessed with good-paying jobs, we are not overcome by debt, and I find myself being very happy by helping others and have never blown a horn before myself. I am afraid that if I am being taken advantage of, then I won't be as eager to help out the next person in need.
Go ahead, let me have it.
If I "let you have it," I would be including myself because I've been taken advantage of numerous times over the years.
Yes, you are being taken advantage of. I've known a few people with lupus over the years and not one was overweight. Just to be sure, I checked the symptoms of lupus. The only cause of weight gain is sudden water retention -- not overeating as is in this case.
Give aid to those in need, but check that the need actually exists. In this case, I would involve the local elders. When she asks for money, let the elders know. Tell them you would like to help, if that is the case, but you suspect there is more going on and would like them to check on the situation first. Since you know there is a need for a car repair that is beyond your ability to help, tell the elders about it. You might learn that they know about this woman's problems and may even advise you not to help if they think she is taking advantage of you.
One of the things that Jesus tells us is that we can spot false Christians by their behavior. "You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them" (Matthew 7:16-20). I've notice that those who take advantage of Christians are not contributors to the church. They aren't active in helping others, they aren't teaching classes or cleaning the building, nor are they at services much. The excuses are endless, but I can't help thinking about one of my family members. She has very little to her name, but she gets by. She's at every service. She helps as often as she can, sometimes over doing it. If someone is ill, you can often find her there tending them until they get better. Family and people around her watch out for her because she is well loved. She is poor but rich in all the important areas. Those are the people who should be helped.
When helping out others you are not certain about it should always be with things you do not need, whether it is time, money, or items. "So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver" (II Corinthians 9:7). So I always try to give with the attitude that it isn't coming back. If it doesn't matter to me, then I know I'm able to help. You can't neglect your responsibilities to your husband and family -- they are your obligations which come first. We give of our excess, "He answered and said to them, "He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise" (Luke 3:11). One of the reasons we work is so that we might have extra to give to others. "Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need" (Ephesians 4:28).
One question to ask yourself when helping someone is, "Are you improving their situation?" Helping a family who had a series of disasters come that has overwhelmed them is something every Christian should do. But when you have someone who is making no effort and every effort to help only allows them to continue making no effort of their own, those are the people who need spiritual help, not physical help. It is a judgment you have to make in each situation.
It is hard sometimes, but I tell the panhandlers "no" because I want to use the little I have help people who really need it. I view myself as a steward of what the Lord has given me. I would be a bad steward to neglect my assigned duties to take on additional tasks. I would be a poor steward to use the Lord's resources for purposes that keeps a person bound to Satan's will. I still get taken advantage of because I err on the side of generosity, but hopefully I'm getting wiser over the years and make fewer mistakes.