Should Christians Give Money to Panhandlers?

November 6, 2013 — 11 Comments

Last week I encountered a panhandler.

Like most people, I ignored him.

Panhandlerphoto credit: wd9hot via photopin cc

My wife asked me to pick up dinner on my way home from work. I swung by one of our favorite places, a Mexican restaurant about 10 minutes from our house.

While driving home I noticed a panhandler standing on the corner by the stop light.

His cardboard sign was simple and to the point:

“Homeless and hungry, please help.”

I looked at him for about 3 seconds until the light turned green.

Then I drove off.

For the remainder of my commute I thought about our brief encounter:

“Maybe you should have given him some money.”

“Or possibly the coat on the floorboard of your car.”

“Or better yet, that Bible sitting in your backseat.”

“Maybe he needs some encouragement and a simple prayer.”

“Turn around.”

I don’t know if I was supposed to give to that panhandler that day, but I didn’t.

I kept driving.

I’ve thought a lot this past week about him. I keep asking myself these particular questions:

How should Christians respond to poverty? What exactly is our role?

Here’s a list of some thoughts that have come to mind this week.

It’s time for you and I step up and start loving people to the cross.

When you have apathy towards the needy, you demonstrate that you have not been truly transformed by the grace of the Savior.

There’s a great passage of Scripture in Matthew 25 that says this:

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 

35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 

36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.

One of the most profound things we can do as Christians is show love to those who have nothing to offer in return.

It’s in those moments that we are most like Christ.

QUESTIONS: What can you do differently TODAY to be the hands and feet of Christ?

Pastor, how can your church more effectively love on the hurting within your community?

  • Jessica Nelson Norem

    Amen!

  • http://tcavey.blogspot.com/ TCAvey

    My dad was BIG on giving to the homeless and he passed that on to me (to some extent). I remember driving past a man one day holding a similar sign, my heart plagued me as I passed a Taco Bell. I turned around, order him some food and took it to him. However, another time I fell for a great story. I gave a man ALL the money I had in my car- every last penny I could find on my floor board. A few weeks later I saw him in a different parking lot, holding the same sign and telling the same sad story about a fire, loosing his job, and needing to get to his daughter in another state ASAP. I wanted to confront him but God settled my spirit and told me He was handing it.

    As I’ve gotten older I still give but I try and let God tell me who to give to, when and how much.

    • http://www.larrypoolespeaks.com/ Larry Poole

      @TCAvey:disqus, I always enjoy when you stop by. I love hearing your perspective.

      I think part of being a great steward is using discretion and being prayerful with our giving.

      I have a similar story to yours. When I was a teen and on vacation, a panhandler told me a story about needing to get to another state to see his daughter who was in the hospital. I gave him $20, which at the time was a lot to me.

      Four days later, the same panhandler approached me and pitched me with the same story. It was then that I realized I had been duped.

      • http://tcavey.blogspot.com/ TCAvey

        Thanks for your kind words, Larry. I enjoy reading your passion, wisdom and heart for God.

        I think we’ve all been duped a time or two, it’s good learning experiences.

        God bless.

  • http://sukofamily.org/ Caleb

    Great questions Larry! These things can be difficult to deal with because there are a number of factors to consider. One reason people often don’t give to the poor is because they assume that those who are asking for a handout are either being dishonest or lazy.

    In Ukraine we often encounter Gypsies who are asking for money. As a general rule we don’t give money to people we don’t have a personal relationship with. However shortly after we moved to Ukraine these Gypsies kept coming to our door asking for money. Instead of money we gave them some bread or fruit. Then we came up with the idea of asking them to do a little work and paying them for it. Usually we would ask them to sweep the stairwell in our 9 story building. To our surprise they never said “no”. We were happy because our stairwell got swept and they were happy to get a dollar or two.

    • http://www.larrypoolespeaks.com/ Larry Poole

      Hey @disqus_PczE90NBqk:disqus
      , most of the time, when I feel compelled to give, I do. I try my best to use wisdom though. I hate to think that my giving actually enables someone to engage in “not-so-wholesome” activity.

      When I visited Greece, I had some colorful encounters with Gypsies. They were an extremely persistent people :-)

      P.S. I’ve listened to 2 of your podcast so far. I’ve really enjoyed them so far! Keep up the great work.

      • http://sukofamily.org/ Caleb

        Yes, the Gypsies can be persistent. Unfortunately money given to the beggars they send out usually doesn’t stay with the poor kids who are doing the begging, that’s why we prefer to give food and if we do give money then we ask them to do a little work so that they can learn the value of work.

        Thanks for the encouragement on the podcasts Larry, I appreciate it.

  • http://www.reflectionsfromthealley.org/ Dave Arnold

    Good thoughts Larry. I was an inner city pastor in Chicago for 7 years and we constantly dealt with these issues. We had homeless people and people who worked the streets come to our church all the time asking for money (not to mention meeting people on the streets). My wife and I (and others in our ministry) decided rather than giving money, we gave something tangible – canned soup, a food ticket, etc. Great post.

    • http://www.larrypoolespeaks.com/ Larry Poole

      @DaveArnold16:disqus, I lived in Chicago before moving to Raleigh 5 years ago. I lived right off the Red Line stop at Grand & State…a great city with a thriving homeless population.

      Where was your church located? Was it in Chicago or a suburb?

  • http://danblackonleadership.com/ Dan Black

    Great thoughts, Larry. I think we have to be wise about giving to the poor. Yes, we should give and care but we should be careful about what we give. Giving money to someone who will buy drugs or alcohol (Then saying God bless) is not going to help them any. But to provide shelter and/or food can be beneficial. Just my initial thoughts:)

    • http://www.larrypoolespeaks.com/ Larry Poole

      Dan, I often struggle with the giving to people I don’t know because I don’t want my money to enable someone to engage in sinful activity.

      That’s why it’s so important to use a spirit of discretion. That being said, I think you can seldom go wrong when you practice generosity. And when you do, you get better at it.