With Christmas around the corner, it’s more than appropriate to think about helping the poor. It was, after all, a very important part of the message of the man for whom the holiday is named. Here’s my take:
Christians are commanded in Scripture to love, to pray, to be kind, to serve, to forgive, to be truthful, to worship the one God, to learn and grow in both spirit and character. All of those things are to be very personal. They must come from the heart. They require no politicians, police, bureaucrats, or political parties and programs.
“The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want,” says Jesus in Matthew 26:11 and Mark 14:7. The key words there are you can help and want to help. He didn’t say, “We’re going to make you help whether you like it or not.”
Christianity is not about passing the buck to government when it comes to relieving the plight of the poor. Caring for them—which means helping them overcome it, not paying them to stay poor or making them dependent upon the state—has been an essential fact in the life of a true Christian for 2,000 years.
What Does the Bible Say?
But don’t take my word for it. Consider what the apostle Paul says in II Corinthians 9:7: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Throughout his extensive journeys, Paul practiced what he preached, pitching in to assist the deserving needy. He never endorsed compulsory redistribution as a legitimate means to that end. He drew a contrast between those who personally help and those who give charity mere lip service or try to impose it on others.
A person’s willingness to spend other people’s money is not evidence that the person is himself compassionate.
It’s worth noting that the most philanthropic societies in the world are also the economically freest. That stands to reason when you realize that you can’t give stuff away if somebody doesn’t create it in the first place. And for producing goods and services, no other “system” comes remotely close to freedom and free markets. So if you really want to help the poor, you should support freedom and free markets and the groups like FEE that are educating people in those ideas.
Jesus clearly held that compassion is a wholesome value to possess, but I know of no passage anywhere in the New Testament that suggests it’s a value he would impose by force or gunpoint (in other words, by politics).
Some of what is labeled “compassionate” is the genuine article, and it does a world of good; but a whole lot of what is labeled “compassionate” is nothing of the sort, and it does a world of harm. The former tends to be very personal in nature, while the latter foists an involuntary burden on someone else.
True compassion is people helping people out of a genuine sense of caring and brotherhood. It is not asking your legislator or congressman to do it for you. And a person’s willingness to spend other people’s money is not evidence that the person is himself compassionate; usually it’s just the opposite.
If you want to determine how compassionate an individual is, you are wasting your time if you ask for whom he plans to vote; instead, you should ask what charitable contributions he has made and whether he has done any volunteer work lately.
I salute the many people and organizations who put their own time and money where their mouths are instead of somebody else’s.
What made the famous Good Samaritan good was that he personally helped. If he had simply advised the helpless chap to hang on until a check from the government arrived, no one to this day would have the gall to call him anything but a Good-for-Nothing Samaritan.
The late US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia opined, “The transformation of charity into legal entitlement has produced donors without love and recipients without gratitude.” Amen. He was precisely right, which is a sad commentary on our times and attitudes.
So as the Christmas holiday approaches, I salute the many people and organizations who put their own time and money where their mouths are instead of somebody else’s.
For additional reading, see:
- From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State by David T. Beito
- Lodge Doctors and the Poor by David J. Beito
- The Wonderful Life of Private Charity by Seamus Coughlin
- Americans are More Charitable than “Socially Conscious” Europeans by Dan Mitchell
- Presidents and Poverty by Lawrence W. Reed
- Helping the Needy: What’s the Christian Thing to Do? by Lawrence W. Reed
- This Presbyterian Night Shelter is Waging a War on Poverty that is Actually Working by Benjamin R. Dierker
- What You Should Know About Poverty in America by James R. Harrigan and Antony Davies
- Free Enterprise is the World’s Only Successful Strategy for Reducing Poverty by Daniel J. Mitchell
- Ten Solutions to Intergenerational Poverty by Sean W. Malone