To Give or Not To Give

Blog Article – 1/16/24

“To give or not to give,” that is the question I put before you today.

If a person comes up to you on the street and asks for help, do you even consider giving them any assistance?

I think the most common reason people answer no is they think the person may use it to buy alcohol or drugs instead of what they claim to need.  Sadly, this is true in some cases.  Sometimes they tell a tall tale and it is easy to recognize they are lying.  In those cases, we see ourselves justified in not giving them financial assistance.  I started to type “in not helping them” but I changed my mind because there is a way that even if we know for certain they are lying that we should help them.  We should pray for them.  We pray that they come to speak the truth.  We pray that they realize what it is that they truly need (they may think they need the drugs, alcohol, etc.).  We pray that they get the help they truly need.  We pray they come to know Jesus in their hearts.

What about the rest of the people who seek help?  A few may tell tall tales while planning to use whatever they are given for bad purposes.  We shouldn’t let that discourage from helping those who truly need financial help for good purposes.  I believe the saying is “Don’t let a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch.”

Still, we might feel we lack the ability to tell if the person is telling the truth.  I know.  I often feel that way.  In such cases, I think the question isn’t so much if we are to help them but how best to help.  If you want to help them, you might choose to give them money for what they say they need.  An alternative to giving them cash, if possible, is to buy them what they need.  For example, if they say they need money for a bus ticket, could you go with them to buy the bus ticket for them.  Then, you don’t have to worry about them using cash for something else. 

Another option, the option I follow myself, is that I give to local charities that offer assistance in ways I think are Christian.  Then, when someone asks for help, I direct them to the charity that I have given to.  One should not see this approach as taking the easy way out.  Before I give to any charity, I find out about them.  What types of assistance do they offer?  Are they a new charity or do they have a proven record?  Who will they provide assistance to?  How available is the assistance?  This last question is the downfall in this approach.  If they aren’t open much, how can the person get to them to get the assistance they need?  If someone legitimately runs out of food Saturday morning and the food pantry isn’t open till Monday, what do you do then?

In considering what charities you give to, I want to encourage you to check out the charity.  Does it share your values?  Some charities are easy to give to.  It can be easy as “rounding up” your total at the grocery store register with the amount going to charity.  Do you know what charity it goes to?

When considering how the charity uses the money, I am not thinking of terms of assistance to a group of people you don’t like.  All are God’s children even if they don’t know it.  All deserve to have their basic needs fulfilled.  I am thinking more in terms of something like some charities are specifically designed to help women or families with young children.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  You just need to know it so you don’t send a person to them that they won’t help.

Another thing to consider in determining which charities to support is what assistance they give beyond their immediate need.  When possible, I like to give to charities that provide for the immediate need but then can help the person/family get further assistance to find a job, a place to live, etc.  The saying is “Give a man a fish and you feed a man for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you find him for a lifetime.”  The first is good.  All charity starts here.  The second is better.

So far, my comments focus on local community needs.  When one has the means, I think it is also important to give to charities that help people in other parts of the world.  Again, all are God’s children and deserve help.  We still want to know how our donation would be used.  Here, we should also ask where in the world it will be used.  It is for you to discern how much God calls you to give locally and/or across the world.

It is for you to consider how much you can give, “each according to his means.”  In Mark 12:41-44, Jesus tells us how the poor widow was more generously in giving two coins than the rich who put in more.

Now, I would like to offer a few words about why we give.

Do you give out of obligation or do you make a free choice to give?

One could give seeking a place in Heaven for themselves.  In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells us we will be judged by how we help others with corporal works of mercy.  However, our motivation should be rooted in something more than saving our own soul. 

It should be rooted in love.

Here we should think about the word “charity.”  In the context I have used the word “charity/charities” above, it refers to groups who exist to help other people.  Charity also describes our giving to them.

The question is what is the motivation of the groups and what is our motivation in our charity.  The answer should be love.  We have been loved by God and in turn we love our neighbor.  In prayer we ask God to help us.  We are to do what we can to help others.

There is another type of organization that I would like to offer for your consideration.  It is churches. 

How do you see your giving to your church?  Do you see it as a membership fee?  Do you see it as paying the electric and gas bill so you can have lights and heat when you are in church?  These questions look at your giving in somewhat selfish terms.  We need to look at our giving to our church as something more than just what we get out of it in temporal ways.  Our giving to our church should be seen as our desire to give to support the work of the church, to save souls.  This too should be motivated by our love for others.

So, I end with an invitation to you to prayerfully examine your charitable giving.  Ask God how much you should give and how to give, to individuals or to charitable organizations.  And from time to time to reexamine your giving to make sure it is always in accord with God’s Will.


Fr. Jeff