eMite Series - Give to Those Who Beg

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In what might be the most quoted sermon ever documented is this command, “Give to the one who begs from you”.  The command is found in chapter 5 and verse 42 of the book of Matthew in the Bible, and the sermon in which it is included is commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount.  

Jesus Christ, who spoke these words, begins this very memorable teaching with kingdom of heaven truths that are most contrary to the standards of our world today.  Things like the “poor in spirit” inheriting the kingdom of heaven and “the meek inheriting the earth”. He goes on to talk about the believer being the “salt” and “light” of the earth and how these attributes are to be used within the believer’s life.  The sermon continues with the proclamation of the fulfillment of the law through Jesus himself, followed by a discussion of new standards on such matters as anger, lust, divorce and oaths. Then Jesus gets to the part we want to focus on for this entry.  

Some Bibles title this area of the chapter “Retaliation”.  From verses 38 through 42, the passage talks about how one should interact with a person who “slaps you” or takes your possessions or uses you maliciously. This is the passage from where that famous “turn the other cheek” quote comes.  But right here in that same area is the aforementioned command of giving to the one who begs from you. Why? Loving your enemies follows this section and completes the sermon but why is the begging reference in there?

Here’s our thoughts on it:

Since in this “Retaliation” section the teaching is focused on instances where one is used and even abused by others, it is likely that the begging reference is related to a person being solicited by one who is not in need.  Notably, there is no qualification of the beggar. Is he poor or in need? There is no indication of repayment or of some benefit you may receive. There are benefits of being kind and charitable specified in scripture elsewhere in the Bible and in writings outside of the Bible, but there is no reference to benefit or recompense here in this passage.  What is understood is the action of the beggar and to whom it is directed. It is also clear that the command instructs us to give to the beggar. But what is the reference to “the one”. The “one” reference leaves open the possibility that while the person is begging, they may not be what we traditionally consider a beggar. They may not be poor or in need at all.  But if the one is not in need why the command to give? Isn’t giving to a person who begs without reason really just a con job, a shakedown or fraud?

Almost a decade ago Jon Bloom of desiringGod.org wrote on the subject of this very passage. In his writing he wrestles with the command in a manner understandable to any thinking individual.  How are we to follow such a command when the outcome is obviously NOT meeting true need? Mr. Bloom summarizes his findings on the instruction by directing our attention to the true purpose behind the command.  It is not the action of the beggar that is to be considered but rather the actions and, more importantly, the attitude of the giver. In other words, Jesus’ intention behind the instruction to give to the one who begs is not focused on answering the reason for the begging, but rather it is focused on the motive of the giver.

In every charitable transaction there will be motives behind the asking and behind the action of giving.  What matters most is the heart of the individuals involved in the transaction. We as givers cannot always understand or even know the true nature of need causing the ask.  But in this sermon Jesus’ instruction to the giver is to give, frankly, regardless of apparent need. If we are to overlook the need in the ask and instead focus on our own intention in charitable giving, then we must understand the act of giving is greater than simply answering an evident need.

At eMite we are all about making sure that every project we present to our giving community is based on a defined, apparent and real need.  We work, through due diligence, research and planning, to ensure that the proposed project will provide a solution to that need. We also believe that the greatest consideration in giving is always the heart of the giver.  It is through willing and joyful giving that the wondrous benefits of charity are realized - to both the donor and the donee.

However, we also know that there are times when we as givers are presented with a situation where the need is not evident.  Maybe on the sidewalk or at the gas station or even at a luncheon, the ask comes and there is not time to vet the need or understand everything behind the begging.  It is times like this, when we cannot know for sure if we are answering a true need, that we must search our hearts and understand the reason why we give. These instances test our hearts, giving us the opportunity to decipher whether what we have in our pockets is more important than what we know in our hearts to be true.  It is better to give.  

Scott Toal1 Comment