Usually, when I think of Jesus in dealing with people and their problems my thoughts go immediately to his saying “yes” to their request. When a blind man pleaded for help Jesus asked, what he wanted and when he said, he wanted his sight Jesus caused the blind man to see. Even when the request was unspoken in cases like the woman who had a problem with hemorrhaging he healed her and when she came forward he blessed her by encouraging her instead of rebuking her. I think of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount declaring that we should “Give to the one who begs from you and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” This raises an extremely important question. Did Jesus literally mean that we should give to every person who ask us for help and that we should loan money to anyone who wants to borrow it? That is a tough standard. We live in a time when there are people almost every place we go asking for money. Just about every grocery store I go to there is someone standing outside asking for money. If you go to Mardels book store they ask you on checkout to give an extra $5.00 to give a Bible to a women’s shelter. When we come to church there is seldom a Sunday that someone doesn’t stop me to ask for money, food or a place to stay. Truthfully, if I give to everyone that asked, I would have an extremely difficult time still providing for the needs of my own family. So, how am I to take this statement from Jesus? I recently heard a speaker say that if we tried to fudge on this passage and find a way around giving to everyone that asked us for money or some other help, we were being hypocrites like the Pharisees. Is that true?
In studying anything that Jesus said, the best way to determine what he meant and how to apply a passage is by looking at his life and deeds while he was among us as a man. Since he is the Word made flesh, what he did is as much the word of God and the message of God as what he said. Anytime we interpret anything Jesus said in a way that isn’t in harmony with what he did, we have misinterpreted what he said. For example, if I took the strong statements Jesus made on the subject of immorality and that if we find ourselves lusting for someone we should pluck out our eyes or cut off our hands since it would be better to enter the kingdom with one eye or one hand than to have both and be thrown into hell, to mean that we should literally cut off hands or gouge out eyes, I would be misinterpreting his statements. One of Jesus strongest statements was about how hard it is for a rich person to be saved. In Luke 18 we read the story of the rich young ruler running up to Jesus asking what he needed to do to have eternal life. Jesus told him eventually to go sell all he had and give it to the poor and he would have great treasures in heaven and then come follow him. He went away in sorrow because he had great wealth. Jesus responded about how hard it was for the rich person to be saved and said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to be saved. Luke 18 closed with the discussion of what the disciples who had left all to follow him would receive. Then chapter 19 opens with the story of another rich man, named Zacchaeus, being saved. He returned money he had taken in wrong ways and gave half his goods to take care of the poor, but Jesus declared “Salvation had come to his house.” So, rich people can be saved. According to his statement at the end of the story of the rich farmer in Luke 12 one can be rich in this world and rich toward God.
So, back to the statement we are focusing on. “Give to the one who ask and don’t refuse to loan to anyone that wants to borrow.” Jesus certainly made a practice of saying “Yes” to people. But in Mark one after he healed many who came to the home of Peter after he had healed Peter’s mother-in-law, the next morning he arose early, a long while before daylight and went out into a deserted area. When the people arose they began to come again to be healed but Jesus was no where to be found. When the disciples found him, praying they told him that all the people were looking for him. They wanted him to come back and heal more. But he said, “Let’s go on to the other villages to preach the gospel for this is the reason I was sent.” He said “No” to their request because his purpose led him to something more important. In John 6 Jesus fed the multitudes with the little boys lunch. There were over 5,000 men there so it was quite a miracle. Afterward he went up on the mountain to pray and sent the twelve ahead of him in a boat to the other shore. Later when they were in trouble he walked on the water to them and the next morning the people came searching for him. They reminded Jesus of how Moses had given their father’s manna in the wilderness and ask him to keep providing them with bread. Jesus said of them that they weren’t seeking him to learn God’s will but to get more food and he refused to give them their request. They had wrong motives and wanted the wrong thing. But he didn’t give to the ones asking because their ask was wrong.
In Mark 14 Jesus and the apostles were on their way to Jerusalem where he would be crucified for the sins of the world. In Bethany that night as he ate in the home of Simon the Leper, Martha was serving and Mary came with an alabaster box filled with very precious perfume or ointment. She broke open the flask and poured the entire contents on Jesus. No sooner had she completed the blessing of Jesus for his burial than, Judas and the others began to criticize her for what she had done. “You could have sold that for a year’s wages and given it to the poor.” They called her actions a waste. But Jesus, rebuked them saying, “Let her alone. She has anointed me for my burial ahead of time. You have the poor with you always and you can help them anytime you please. But you don’t always have me. She did a good deed. She has done what she could. I tell you that wherever the gospel is preached through the whole world this deed she has done will be told of her as a memorial.” I suspect they wanted to refer Jesus back to his statement on the Sermon on the mount. But he pointed out somethings were more important for the moment than helping the poor.
Add to this two things Paul wrote later by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In 2 Thessalonians 2 when Christians weren’t working because they thought the Lord’s coming was right around the corner and they wanted the church to provide for them, Paul said “If a man won’t work, neither let him eat.” Now I know this can be abused and used as an excuse not to help anyone. But it is still there and demands I look before just helping everyone who asked. The second is in I Timothy 5 when Paul told Timothy that the first thing to do when there were widows needing help was to teach their family that they were to take care of their own. “If a man does not provide for his family, especially those of his own house, he has denied the faith and become worse than an unbeliever.” He said if a widow was under 60 not to put her on the roll for special help. Instead he encouraged them to marry, bear children and guide their house. In verse 16 he said if a widow has family, let them take care of them and let not the church be charged so the church can help those who are truly widows and have no one to help them.
We need to be generous and helpful to the poor and needy. This is pure and undefiled religion before God. But it wouldn’t be right to take the money I needed to feed my family to buy food for someone else and leave my family hungry. There are always priorities in the use of our money or property. My first obligation is to provide for my wife and children. Then I can go from there in helping others. I mustn’t try to be like the religious leaders whom Jesus condemned because they tried to find a way around honoring their parents in providing for them when they were old by saying I’ve pledged it to the temple or for us, the church. I need to help widows and orphans but if my mother is widowed I should start there. I shouldn’t neglect my own children to care for someone else’s.
There is a time to say “No” and not feel bad about it. Now if I find myself always saying “No” I’ve got a problem. But say “yes” to God and “Yes” to the family I’m responsible for first, then to others.