The hood was up on the dilapidated pickup truck parked across the street from our church on a Sunday morning. A sign hanging from the tailgate read: “Need food; need work; need diapers.”
A young man with a long beard stood beside the sign; a boy of about 9 played in the pickup bed. A woman with long straight hair sat in the cab holding a baby.
I arrived at church 30 minutes before time for the service and spotted the desperate family. As I started across the street to offer assistance I saw a car pull up beside them. The driver stopped just long enough to roll down his window and drop some money into the beggars hand.
I introduced myself and asked the bearded brother what kind of work he could do. He assured me he was willing to do anything. When I said he could come back the next morning to do some yard work around the church he fidgeted and mumbled something about having an appointment on Monday.
“How about Tuesday,” I offered.
More fidgeting. ”I’ll come Thursday,” he promised reluctantly. "But I might not remember because I forget things a lot.”
Next I told the man our church could help him with groceries. He hesitated to accept, saying he lived 30 miles away and the food might spoil before he could get home. Upon my insistence he took hissing down and followed me into the church.
Fortunately the director of our food and clothing pantry happened to be in. Unfortunately for the man, she recognized him. A few weeks earlier her husband, the manager of a local business, had offered this same man steady employment. He had refused because he said he could make much more money – up to $600 per day – by standing on the side of the road holding a sign: “Will Work for Food.”
We still gave the man enough groceries to last several days. He said he didn’t need any of the clothing we had to offer. As he left I reminded him that I would have work for him on the following Thursday. I promised to pay him better than average wages. Four days later I was waiting at the church office. The man who was advertising for work was right about forgetting. He never arrived.
Our church helps as many as 100 needy families every week. We have a God-given mandate to assist the poor. But God’s word also gives guidelines concerning those who should be helped.
The first thing we want to know is something about a person’s attitude toward work. Do they have a job. Are they working as many hours as they possibly can? If not, are they seriously willing to work? If they say they are disabled, do they still manage to participate in the bowling league and go dancing every Saturday night? The Bible says, “If a man will not work, he should not eat.” II Thessalonians 3:10.
The second thing we want to know from the person seeking a handout is if they might have family who could help them. That should always be the first place to seek assistance. According to I Timothy 5:8, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Third, we ask the alms seeker’s relationship to the church. A person does not have to be a member of our local congregation in order for us to help them, but they should ask their own church first. Since we are not able to help everyone in need, our first responsibility is to our spiritual family.
The Apostle Paul instructed the young pastor, Timothy, that no widow in his congregation was to receive regular financial air from the church unless she met three requirements: First, she must have no family to help her; Second, she had to be of retirement age; Third, she must have a proven record of faithful service to her family and to the church (Ii Timothy 5:9-10) Those not meeting these conditions were refused welfare from the New Testament church.
Helping the poor is a Christian responsibility. Indiscriminate giving to professional moochers, though well-intended, may be an act of irresponsibility.