An improper response to the beggar
I don't live in a major metropolitan area, and my hometown would certainly not be characterized as a refuge for the homeless; however, more days than not I see someone on the corner of a busy street, at the bottom of a highway exit, or making a bed up underneath an overpass, all of whom usually have a sign asking for help.
Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned (Matt. 25:35-36). Jesus calls us to act, for whatever we do for "one of the least of these," we do it for him (Matt. 25:40). It is utterly impossible to argue Jesus' point in Matthew 25. Many things Jesus said were difficult to understand; this is not one of those statements. Our call is to care for the beggar, the homeless, the marginalized.
As if it were possible, however, I'd like to set this command aside just temporarily and focus on a deeper epidemic I see plaguing the church.
I often hear Christians admit that the frequency with which they encounter the beggar is similar to what I've already described. Yet, alarmingly, they do not obey Jesus' command. Why is this? I've heard a wide array of rationales that almost always find a root in either the sloth or addiction problems of the one asking for help. But what is the common denominator in these responses?
Their actions have produced this outcome.
How is it possible that the people of God, the holy people he has set aside to spread his gospel on earth, could have such a lack of compassion toward the hurting? How is it possible that a people saved by grace through no merit of their own could be so withholding of the same gift that sprung them from the fire of hell?
Getting to the heart of the matter.
I am not advocating that Christians should give money to the poor, and my intent isn't even to condemn those who do not act when they see someone in need. Moreover, I claim to be no expert on the homeless, far from it. The point of this article is to help the reader transcend the behavior and the thoughts and better understand the heart issue.
Those who do not act, at least for the reasons outlined above, have a seriously mistaken understanding of both grace and mercy. If you believe that the poor became poor through their own actions, then you necessarily (i.e., logically) believe the converse is true: you became rich (in comparison) because of your own actions. This line of thinking effectively removes the Lord from the situation and assumes human actions are the only cause of either misfortune or fortune. Indeed, how dangerous a theology it would be to take this thought process to its logical conclusion: I am saved by my own merit; he is not because of his lack.
Surely you cannot see the broken as brother unless you can first see yourself as broken.
Every human being is created in the image of God and therefore deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Imagine for a moment how you might feel if we assume the beggar you drove by looked at you through the driver's side window and assumed, "He obviously cheated his business partner. That's how he got that car. And those clothes must be stolen." This sounds ridiculous to you because you know that you worked for what you have.
But is that all?
By no means! God blessed you immensely that you might experience prosperity in this life through no work or righteousness of your own. The financial circumstances in which you find yourself is indeed akin to your right standing with God: both acquired through the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Simply put, I mean to implore you, brothers and sisters, to adopt a different attitude toward the needy, the hurting, the marginalized. Surely you cannot see the broken as brother unless you can first see yourself as broken. Humble yourselves, that you may be exulted (1 Peter 5:6; Matthew 23:12; James 4:6).
If you read this and struggle with the concept of giving money to the poor, then don't. God calls each of us to give cheerfully, as we have decided in our hearts (2 Corinthians 9:7). However, this does not excuse you. Take Jesus's words literally if you must: literally give clothes to the needy; literally feed the hungry; literally give water to the thirsty. In doing so be encouraged by this: you will soon reap what you now sow (2 Corinthians 9:6).