Most of us are used to being approached by old, hunchbacked elderly selling tissue packets, but I was once approached by a young man who asked for some money for lunch.
Although I typically walk away when such people approach me, my heart was softened that day.
“Sure, shall we go to the Kopitiam?” I offered.
I accompanied the man there and bought him a plate of mixed rice. On his part, he was careful not to exceed the budget he’d asked for, carefully deliberating his choice of vegetables.
As I watched him gratefully tuck into his meal, I wondered if I would do this again. I still feel like I did the right thing that day. Why?
GENEROSITY TOWARDS THE NEEDY
The call to be generous towards the needy is found in both the Old and New Testament.
In Deuteronomy 15, Moses teaches the Israelites God’s Law on the year of the Sabbath. In view of Israel’s inability to keep the Law perfectly, Moses tells the Israelites, “there will never cease to be poor in the land”, therefore they are to open wide their hands to their brother, to the needy and to the poor in their land (Deuteronomy 15:11).
In trusting God to meet our needs, we look away from our sufficiency to God’s sufficiency.
This commandment is echoed in the New Testament in Luke 14:7, where Jesus teaches that believers are to aim to do good for the poor without expecting to eradicate poverty in this age.
As we heed this commandment, we may be questioning the value of being generous with those in need. Proverbs 19:17 makes this clear: graciously lending to the needy is akin to lending to the Lord.
As we meet the needs of others, we demonstrate reliance on God to provide for our own needs. In trusting God to meet our needs, we look away from our sufficiency to God’s sufficiency.
NEED GENEROSITY BE FINANCIAL?
Cynics will argue that peddling tissue has become a profitable income-earner, where peddlers are scamming their buyers at rip-off prices. Yet, I choose to ask myself: Would I rather be in their position, where I have to make ends meet by hook or by crook?
Of course, I cannot be certain how the money will be used – if it will be used in the way the person claims. Hence, I admit I tend to err on the side of caution as I don’t want my generosity to be taken for granted. I don’t want to risk having my money being used on feeding a harmful habit, such as the consumption of cigarettes or alcohol.
But I also remember this: In showing love to someone else, I do him no harm (Romans 13:10). So, taking this all into consideration, I’m willing to be generous in kind rather than in cash.
In showing love to someone else, I do him no harm.
In personal experience, I have had the privilege of sharing time and energy with a family who is less well-to-do, by reading with their preschool children. They have been directed to the appropriate platforms for financial assistance; nonetheless, I am repeatedly reminded not to give them money, were they to ask for it.
As I give my time and energy, I believe the family is no less blessed – my presence is an opportunity for their caregiver to take a momentary pause in caring for them. I know she appreciates my presence – in the midst of caring for young children, she treasures conversation with other adults.
Likewise, the children anticipate my visits – being read to is a treat their caregiver cannot afford time for, as her time is spent on taking care of their basic needs.
TRUE GENEROUS GIVING
As we seek to be generous both in cash and kind, it is worth remembering we are not always able to give to every person we meet. Hence, we give as we are able, bearing in mind their greatest need is not physical, but spiritual.
The New Testament speaks of spiritual hunger and thirst in the gospel of John.
When Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, He offers her some water, telling her that whoever drinks of the water that Jesus will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that Jesus will give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14).
This water Jesus professes to give refers to the Holy Spirit dwelling within a believer (John 7:38-39).
Later, Jesus tells the crowds He is the Bread of Life (John 6:35) – which is superior to the manna provided in Moses’ day. He says this to tell the crowds He gives essential and eternal spiritual nourishment, instead of meeting only physical needs.
Hence, while we are called to give generously to the needy, we do so with discernment – in order that we don’t run the risk of doing more harm than good for the needy person. We also should be looking out for opportunities to meet their spiritual needs, not just their financial ones, as God avails.
At the end of the day, we cannot guarantee they’ll always get helped, but we can ensure they’ll always get loved.
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)