Mar 26, 2007

Common Objections to Helping the Poor

I came across a sermon by Jonathan Edwards entitled The Duty of Christian Charity. He preached it because his Puritan congregation kept coming up with all sorts of excuses why they didn't want to give to the poor. I find it interesting that many congregations and Christians in general still make these same excuses today.

Here is a condensed list of common objections to helping the poor, both in the 1700s and our own day...

1. They're not really poor - I only have to help those in extreme cases.
2. They don't deserve to be helped.
3. I can barely provide for myself, let alone someone else.
4. I'll wait to see how they got into this condition in the first place.
5. I won't help unless they ask.
6. He dug his own pit, so he can dig his way out.
7. Someone else will take care of them.
8. They already get enough help from the government.

Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, gives clarity to Edward's answers in his sermon "Neighbors." The answer to excuse #1 - we should relieve our neighbors in only extreme destitution. "That is not agreeable to the rule of loving our neighbors as ourselves. We get concerned and do something long before we become destitute. So you should love your neighbor as yourself."

As to excuse #2 and #6 - I don't have to help when they have brought this onto themselves...they don't deserve it. Keller paraphrases Edwards by saying, "But Christ loved you, pitied you, and greatly laid himself out to relieve you from all that want and misery that you brought on yourself. Should we not love others as Christ loved us?"

And as to excuse #5 - I can hardly make ends meet myself...I can't afford to do it. Edwards answers it with a question, "How else will 'bearing one another's burdens' be fulfilled? If we be never obliged to relieve others' burdens, except when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor's burdens, when we bear no burden at all?" Keller explains, people think that they cannot give to the poor or needy without it burdening them or hurting one's standard of living. The point is, this has to cost us something and it has to be sacrifical, otherwise we aren't bearing their burdens.

What other excuses do we have?

1 comment:

The LeRoys said...

Great, challenging stuff here. I especially like the way you are connecting the thinkers of the past with a current situation. Getting back to Wilmore anytime soon? Keep up the writing.