Why Charity Demands Wisdom

By: Tim Ritter

“Can you spare some change?”

We hear this all the time. But how should we respond to panhandlers asking for money?

Well, what does the Bible say?

How about Old Testament law? “I command you,” says God, “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land” (Deut 15:11). 

Or Proverbs? He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses (Prov 28:27). 

Or Jesus’ teachings? “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matt 5:42).

Ok, so it’s simple, right? Christians are called to charity, so we should give generously to those who ask.

But what if that $5 bill won’t go toward food, shelter, or anything close to human flourishing? What if it might be exchanged twenty-minutes later for another destructive hit of cocaine and actually do more damage than good?

Charity can be complicated, and even more so with the inventions of modern drugs and welfare systems. The ethic of sacrifice says we should give to the beggars around us, but to do so could be enabling and therefore, foolish. We face a conundrum. What do we do?

Despite our tendencies, there’s no simple rule to memorize. When it comes to loving beggars in a society plagued with drug addiction (and many other things) there’s no simple Bible verse that to tell us what to do. That’s just too reductionist. Charity isn’t that black and white. What we need is wisdom.

Christ said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12). This is a rule. It’s the golden rule, the grandest of them all. It commands us to love and sets a guideline by which our charity can be measured. But apart from wisdom, it doesn’t solve our dilemma.

We want to love well. But without wisdom, charity is shallow, and even the most self-sacrificing service can be not just futile, but harmful. Wisdom can make the difference between investing in flourishing and enabling self-destruction. It allows us to see the true value of our actions. Therefore, the search for wisdom is the beginning of charity. If you want to love your homeless neighbors well, get wisdom.

-Part 1 of 5 in Wisdom for Charity