Should you give to people who beg for money?

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The One Degree Podcast



Digital library of theological trainings with guided notes

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In this episode, we’re talking about a hotly debated question- should you give to people who beg for money?

This question was posed in one of my (Nathaniel) classes (Ethics of Wealth and Poverty) for an assignment we had to do. 

When you are walking on the street or driving in your car, and you see someone asking for money, should you give it to them?

Everyone has faced a scenario similar to this. Unless you live off the grid, in which case you probably aren’t actually reading this. This is a question Christians NEED to wrestle with and need to be prepared for.

Failing to plan is planning to fail. If we don’t know how we biblically and personally want to approach these kinds of situations we will default to either not giving money or giving a little bit of change but wondering if we’re doing the right thing.

Your theology matters for everything.

We need to know where we stand and what we believe, and we need to operate out of that belief. 

Foundational Principles

Before we jump into the question, let’s establish some principles when it comes to Christians and caring for the poor.

1. Christians are called to care for the downtrodden, the oppressed, and the poor.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

James 1:27

Widows and orphans were some of the most vulnerable in society, and Christians are called to care for them.

Luke 10:25-37 tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. A Samaritan cared for a Jew who was beaten up and robbed. He spared no expense to care for him. Jesus made a point to demonstrate that the Samaritan (Samaritans were viewed as vastly inferior by Jews) was the one who cared for this man by meeting his physical needs.

“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?”

James 2:15-16

Christians are called to meet the spiritual and physical needs of those around us. Too often we focus on one or the other. “If I meet their spiritual needs that’s all that matters,” or, “Through meeting their physical needs they will see the gospel lived out.” But, people need both their physical needs and spiritual needs met. 

2) Christians are called to steward their time, talents, and treasures, recognizing that they are ENTIRELY gifts from God

Matthew 25:14-30 tells the parable of the talents. Too often we have this mentality: “I’ll give 10% to the church but the rest of my money is mine.” Or “I’ll go to church and small group, but the rest of my time is mine.” Or “I’ll volunteer to teach Sunday School or help out with an outdoor project, but the rest of my time is mine!” 

But, in reality, all of the time, talent, and treasures given to us are God’s. We are called to steward all of them faithfully. 

When everything we have is given to us by God, there is no such thing as “mine.” We are entrusted to steward everything he has entrusted to us faithfully.

Both James 1:17 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 drive this point home. We are supposed to give bountifully and out of a cheerful heart because everything has been given to us by God.

Back to the Question

There are three main views when it comes to giving money to those who beg. We recently read a helpful article from Christianity Today that walked through all three of these views (sorry for the paywall!). They are all held by faithful, Bible-believing Christians.

1. Always give to those who ask

Those who hold this view, like Gary Hoag, believe that Christians should always give freely to those who ask. 

We don’t give because we judge, we fear giving freely will diminish our resources or we value our possessions more than people.

But we aren’t responsible for what people do with it, we are merely seeking to meet their needs. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what the Good Samaritan did.

Even if someone wasted your money 9 out of 10 times, is it not worth it if one time is life-changing for someone? Think about the 10 people healed of leprosy in Luke 17. Only one came back and thanked Jesus.

2. Only as a Last Resort

Andy Bales (Chief Executive of Union Rescue Mission in LA) holds this view.

This view affirms that Scripture commands us to care for our brothers and sisters who are in need and poor.  

Bales says that experience has taught him that most people begging for money in public are not truly homeless or impoverished.

He personally knows many homeless people, most of whom never panhandle. He also knows many panhandlers that spend money on drugs and alcohol.

Instead, he believes that what impoverished people need the most is a caring community. You should only give cash as a last resort as it is the least helpful and most temporary option.

Bales would rather direct them to resources, shelters, or even himself. But, giving money may be the only option and he will sometimes provide it.

3. Never give money out

Ron Sider is an advocate of this view.

A quick donation is cheap love. A lot of people beg for the wrong reasons. Love is acting in the best interest of someone and supporting a destructive lifestyle is not loving. 

Even if people are lazy or suffering from addiction, they deserve love and support. But, this comprehensive support is best provided by a loving Christian community. 

He believes that most people give handouts for the wrong reason. It may be out of guilt or only done halfheartedly. Many rich people toss a few coins to a beggar to appease their conscience. Instead, they should live far more simply, give to effective programs, and honestly evaluate the causes and solutions of poverty so they can help. 

We should give in ways that empower, liberate, and transform. People need love more than money, so, what if we offered to buy people meals and hear their stories? 

A Common Thread

Notice that in all three of these views, regardless of where they land, the options aren’t to either give or don’t give. They take it a step further to actually care for the individuals, either by finding them resources or buying them a meal and talking to them!

Oftentimes, we use the logic of “they won’t use the money wisely” as a reason not to give. But how often do we spend our money wisely? We need to seriously self-evaluate our own spending habits.

Where we Land

After a lot of prayer and consideration, we land on the idea of always offering to meet the needs when we see someone asking. We don’t do as good a job of this as we should, but we’re trying to grow in this.

If someone says they need money for food, we offer to buy them a meal. And if they need money for gas, we offer to fill up their tank. If they need money for grocery shopping, we offer to take them grocery shopping.

All three of these situations have actually happened (among other examples). The grocery and meal people took us up on our offers, while the gas person got mad we wouldn’t just give him money. (In that case, we didn’t give him anything).

If there is a stated need, we are going to offer to meet that need.

Also, we will occasionally give money when there is no express need being asked for. We believe we want to be wise stewards, but ultimately we aren’t responsible for what other people do with the money unless we absolutely know they will spend it unwisely. We don’t want to judge, because we can never know for sure. 

Room for Improvement

We also have some areas where we want to get better. We’ve talked about having homeless bags with blankets, socks, gift cards, our contact info, etc… But, we haven’t done that yet. That’s something we need to do.

Also, we want to do better at maintaining contact with people who do take up our offers. For the most recent person I bought food for a couple of months ago, I should have given the stipulation that if I bought him food he had to eat with us. But, I was tired and didn’t want to so I didn’t. I haven’t seen or heard from him again. That’s definitely an area we can grow. 

We hold our opinion open-handedly and want to be transparent about the ways we can grow and live this out.

One Final Thought

All three views we examined talked about the need to help the homeless, the poor, and the needy.

Too often, we hear wealthy people (if you live in a modern country with running water, food, bed, clothing, etc… you are wealthy) justify their lack of giving by comforting themselves with the idea that people would just spend it on drugs and alcohol. But then they don’t actually try to help those people. They justify their lack of giving and try to not think of the problem.

This is not what we are called to do as believers.

We are also admittedly guilty of this at times. 

Go back to the Good Samaritan. He didn’t just give the dude money. Instead, he took time out of his schedule, dropped him off at the inn, gave the innkeeper money to care for him, and said he would come back later to check in and pay for any extra costs. 

Truly helping people takes our time, our money, and our willingness/ability. 

Too often in our western culture, we aren’t willing to give up our time to try to genuinely meet the needs of others. We could take the extra step by offering to have lunch, take them grocery shopping, drive them to a Christian pregnancy center, or whatever it may be. Are you willing to give up your time?

One Degree Shift

Decide where you stand on this issue and come up with a plan for how you will handle it when it comes up in the future. Seek to implement it!

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