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© 1999 Michael S. Hyatt
One of the questions I get asked the most these days is this: “if I prepare and my neighbors don’t, what do I do when they come knocking at my door?” All of us, of course, would probably like to think of ourselves as neighborly and helpful. We try to “do unto others as we would like them to do unto us.” Some of us are specifically stocking up on extra supplies, so that we can do exactly this.
But we need to understand from the beginning that, while we would like to help everyone, it simply isn’t possible. Unless you live in a very remote area, you will likely have to choose whom you will help and under what conditions. I would suggest that you figure this out now, rather than trying to sort it out in a crisis.
It is critical that we have a clear-cut set of priorities. We don’t have the same duty to everyone, and we need to know whom to help first, second, third, etc. Be forewarned: I am a Christian, and my values come from the Bible. If you may be offended by this, you can stop reading now. Here’s my list.
- My family. This is the easy one. 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” In addition to our immediate families, this probably includes our extended families, and it may even refer to anyone who resides with us or is under our care. We have a responsibility to look after the needs of our family — even when the needs are in the future (i.e., Y2K). If everyone would make sure their own family is taken care of, the other items on this list would shrink or go away all together.
- Other Christians. We also have a responsibility to care for other Christians. Christians make up the Body of Christ, and as St. Paul says, one member of the body cannot presume to be sufficient without the others. And it is no good to ask, when we are put to the test, whether it is so unjustifiable to cut off one’s pinkie in order to save one’s heart; anyone who comes up with such a defense of selfishness is probably living at the extremities of the Body anyway and is in danger of lopping off the digit by which he is hanging on. Galatians 6:10 says, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are the household of faith.” This means other Christians. Furthermore, by helping other Christians, we have an opportunity to witness to the world. The generosity and selflessness exhibited by first-century Christians was one of the things that impressed the people around them.
- Those Who Ask. We also have a duty to those who ask for our help, whether they are Christians or not. Christ says in Matthew 5:42, “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” In Luke 6:30, our Lord goes into much more detail:
Give to anyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High because He is kind to the ungrateful and to the wicked. Be merciful just as your Father in heaven is merciful.
- Those We Encounter. We have a duty to care for those whom we encounter on the road of life whether they ask for our help or not. This is the message of the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Apparently the man wanted to save face by pretending the second great commandment bore some subtlety he simply could not fathom. But to Jesus, the answer was a matter of common sense and unconditional compassion. The Lord continued by telling a story:
- A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man he passed by on the other side. So too a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was, and when he saw him he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return I will reimburse you for any extra expense which you may have had.” Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?
You and I have heard this story so many times that we can easily miss the point. Often we condemn in our minds the “bad guys” in the Bible — the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the priests, the Levites — but fail utterly to realize that we act just like them. When was the last time we like a Pharisee judged someone for his sins or passed by someone in need without lending a hand? The expert in the law got the point and to the Lord’s question replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” The truth is so self-evident that even this teacher who was trying to get around the issue could not avoid being illuminated. And Jesus issued the second great commandment once more, though in a more personal form: “Go and do likewise.”
You and I can be just like the priest and the Levite: so spiritually minded that we are of no earthly good. In this story, it is not the churchman who fulfills the great law; it is someone who does not have the legitimacy of being a full Israelite, someone who has a spurious ancestry, someone from whom it might even have been an embarrassment to receive help. The “legitimate” sons missed their chance, but the Samaritan, without even being asked, reached out and took care of the man on the road to Jericho. And he not only bound his wounds, he took him to an inn, paid for a room, and gave the innkeeper his credit card number in case his charity incurred any further expense. He was willing to invest long-term and even make a sacrifice in order to help his neighbor. We should be willing to do likewise, especially for those who are sick, poor, or elderly.
It should also be clear that these priorities are hierarchical. In other words, you must meet the needs of your own family first. You have no business helping others until you have provided your own kit and kin. Then you move on from there as you have the opportunity and the resources. If all you can do is take care of your own family, that is sufficient. You don’t need to feel guilty about what you can’t do. You take responsibility for what you can do and leave the rest with God.
Finally, no where in Scripture are you required to offer others a hand-out. If you want to do this, you are free to do so, but it is not an obligation. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says, “if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” The purpose of this principle, as articulated by St. Paul, is precisely to keep the lazy from trafficking on our diligence and mercy.(Obviously, this does not apply to those who are sick, handicapped, or cannot otherwise work.)
The Patriarch Joseph is often cited regarding Y2K as an example of prudence and charity. He stored up grain during seven years of prosperity. Because of his foresight and obedience, his kinsmen and the entire nation of Egypt were spared from the impact of a seven-year famine. But notice one important point: he didn’t give away the grain he had stored; he sold it. Genesis 41:53 — 57 states,
Then the seven years of plenty which were in the land ended, and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. The famine was in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. So when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Then Pharaoh said to the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph; whatever he says to you, do.”
The famine was over all the face of the earth, and Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians. And the famine became very severe in the land of Egypt. So all countries came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine was severe in all lands. (Emphasis mine.)
I realize that requiring people to work for what they are given is politically incorrect. In contemporary society, people feel that they are entitled to everyone else’s stuff. This has created a generation of people who spend more than they earn, refuse to plan for the future, and expect someone else to bail them out if they get in trouble.
This is not the way charity was historically administered. During the Great Depression, for example, Americans were quick to help their neighbors. But those receiving charity were expected to do something in return for it. They were often given odd jobs and expected to do them before they received a handout. This had two benefits: 1) it separated the merely lazy from the truly needy and 2) it protected the dignity of the poor.
My intention here is not to write a treatise on welfare reform, but simply to point out that you do not have an obligation to give away the supplies you worked so hard to save. You are free to sell them or exchange them for labor. And, quite frankly, it would probably be better for everyone concerned if you did.