Is it wisdom to give money to the homeless?

Is it wisdom to give money to the homeless?

I know I run the risk of frustrating some people by talking about this topic without going into many of the complex aspects involved. I want to say up front that my goal is not to cover everything about this topic but rather to talk about one important argument that comes up again and again in many people’s minds when faced with this situation.

Many people believe that they should be a good steward of their money, and only give where they know the money will be used well. They want to be generous but that generosity needs to be in wisdom, right?

Wrong

At least, not by that definition of wisdom.

First of all that is not how generosity works.

[Tweet “Generosity isn’t about where the money is going but how cheerfully it leaves your possession!”]

Secondly, many people don’t give money to certain individuals because they feel that the person might not use it appropriately. The truth is, that this is not their decision to make – the decision of how the money is to spent is between the person receiving the money and God.

The only decision you have to make, is will you give as you feel God leading, and will it be cheerfully or not?

Now hear me right

I’m not saying we should give all our money away to irresponsible people – by all means, please pray about how you want to give your money and do so! If you decide that you don’t want to give to the homeless and would rather give to another cause, that is entirely your choice to make.

All that I’m trying to say is that, at some point, we’ve all felt led to give money to somebody who might squander it and in the name of “wisdom” ended up not doing it. 

This is not called wisdom, it’s called judgement.

[Tweet “Withholding money from those who will misuse it doesn’t make you wise, it makes you judgmental.”]

Wisdom looks like this – if you feel God leading you to give, regardless of the recipient or how they might use it – give!

Let’s not dress up our judgment as wisdom and try to chalk up our bad choices as ones made because of great character!

I’ll leave you with this quote from Bill Johnson:

[Tweet “To not give to the poor because of a fear they will misuse the money, is a misuse of the money.”]

Question: Are you quick to give when God says give, or are you letting a false wisdom rob you of the joy of giving?

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28 Comments

  1. It’s better to give money to a homeless shelter that will help a homeless person rather than a homeless person upfront. By giving a homeless person money upfront you more than likely are helping them stay homeless by feeding their addictions. I’ve spent a lot of time with homeless people on the streets and spent my entire last summer working in a shelter.

    • Hi Zack,

      As I said, this is not an article to go into the ins and outs of how to give. But rather an article that focuses on the why we give – and often how we use “wisdom” as a reason not to obey what God is leading us to do.

      As I said however people want to give, is up to them.

      Thanks for sharing though – I’m sure that will help some people with the how who have a heart to help the homeless.

  2. Agreed with your general point (and the fact that you say it is general and not intended to address the specifics). The problem is so often we say I won’t give because they will be poor stewards–but how often do we use it as an excuse to avoid giving at all?

    As to the specifics, may I suggest the book, When Helping Hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor or yourself by Fikkert and Corbett. Excellent resource that addresses the specifics.

    Blessings!

  3. I love this. Thanks for this word man! I felt convicted of this recently after a friend gave money to someone who looked like a drug addict. Haha “looked.” I guess I made a judgment. My friend basically said he wants to be like the Father who gives freely, without fear that we’ll mess up, and wants to empower us to make good decisions. It’s like how there’s people out there misusing the gift of pprophecy. God doesn’t withold the gift just cuz they’re not the best at it yet. If he took it away then they surely wouldnt have a chance to use it right. If we withhold good things out of fear that they’ll be misused, it’s like agreeing that the devil won before it even started.

    • Hi John,

      That’s a really great point about how God gives to us without requiring us to use his gifts perfectly. Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Look at God’s generosity towards us. We’re given plenty that we don’t deserve, and I think it’s safe to say that most of us probably wouldn’t count as “good stewards” under God’s standard.

    I would argue that giving ONLY under the condition that the gift is handled/cherished/used appropriately is actually not okay because, ironically, it is being a poor steward of the gospel that has been entrusted to us. It communicates a conditional love. Giving unconditionally is a great way to convey God’s unconditional love towards us.

    I think that sometimes our attitude should be: “Despite the risk involved, despite that you haven’t proven a thing to me (or have proven the opposite), here is some money that never belonged to me in the first place.”

    • I absolutely agree Tim, the world needs a lot more representation of unconditional love. And the church are sometimes some of the most unconditional people in the world. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Hey, thanks for this! It was very needed.
    I recall a situation in London a while ago. It was an evening in a suburb. I wanted to buy a snack before I got on a tube. I had a little cash on me, just under two ponds or so, and I was looking for my snack. Probably, a homeless woman came in. She did look poorly- dirty, scruffy. She wanted to buy something but the shopkeeper refused since he had already helped her that day. Just seeing her I felt deep compassion for her, and I wanted to help. Well, she disapeared quickly. I got my snack and left the shop, but I hovered near hoping to find that woman. She had gone into another shop nearby, and as she walked out, I approached her and asked if I could help her. She said yes- she needed cigaretes.. Erm.. I quickly changed my mind. Whatever coins I had, I said sorry, I can’t help.. She said kindly- thanks for asking, it’s ok. And we went our ways.
    But I felt there was something more about this situation, yet I didn’t see it. There was some divine reason for it. I did feel like I had missed the opportunity to spread the gospel. Erm.. You know Jesus loves you.. Yet it just didn’t seem appropriate. Now I feel I could just give that money with love and squeeze it in her hand and say- use it for whatever you want!

    • Thanks for sharing Andrejs, that’s cool that God spoke to you through it. I think we’ve all experienced the situations, and there might not necessarily be a right and wrong, it all comes down to listen to His voice and acting on what we feel him saying.

  6. This is in an Australian context of this question.

    Yes it is wise and right to give the homeless, who are we to “judge” how they will spend it? It is taking away their God-given human dignity to refuse them the right to spend money how they choose. Is making your own choices about your life only for the rich? If the homeless are treated with dignity, they will feel better. Show where the Bible says anything about this judgmental treatment of the poor, especially when we just assume the worst about them.

    Just read today about more jobs being cut and sent overseas and yesterday Mike Baird the NSW Treasurer was smiling all over his face about cutting more public service jobs. These are all people, some might just be hanging on by their fingernails especially if they are single and older, maybe renting, lose their job, can’t pay the rent on New Start, homeless. Happens as easy as that, but people just think they are drunks and don’t want to work. Lots are mentally ill, did they lose their job because of their illness, or did they become mentall ill because of being thrown on the scrap heap? Give them money without strings!

    • Thanks for sharing Lydia, that’s a really good point as well, we are so quick to judge when often we have no idea who this person is, what their circumstances are or how they got there.

  7. Generosity is a virtue by itself; this is a point you’re making, yes. But I still think you should be educated or have some sense of where and what your money is going towards. You wrote “Wisdom looks like this – if you feel God leading you to give, regardless of the recipient or how they might use it – give!” That is not wisdom. This, in fact, is the very opposite of what wisdom is, the definition being “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of such experience, knowledge, and good judgment.”
    If your post was about pointing out people using ‘excuses’ not to donate when they supposedly want to help, then that’s a different story.
    People should still make informed decisions with their money for it to have more of a beneficial effect, hopefully one that could really help someone or that looks at the bigger picture.

    • Hi Grace, I’m not sure you read what I wrote carefully enough. You quoted me saying: “Wisdom looks like this – if you feel God leading you to give, regardless of the recipient or how they might use it – give!”

      And then said “That is not wisdom.”

      I have to disagree, listening to God and doing what he says is the very definition of a wise choice.

      I’m not saying giving to every person you meet every second of every day is wise. I’m saying every time God says to give money doing it would be wise.

      All that to say I’m not sure we disagree, I just think you misread what I wrote.

  8. Great topic. I vividly recall the first time this issue smacked me in the face about six years ago…. shortly after spending a month in NYC feeding the homeless with New York City Relief.

    While I certainly understand that obeying God’s lead to give to any individual/organization is ALWAYS the right thing to do, I have also realized that there are often many unintended consequences of giving money to much of the homeless population. Now if God prompts you to give, then you better give! However, I believe that too many Christians give out of emotion or guilt when they do not really understand the problem they are trying to cure, which generally does not produce good results (at least in the context of poverty in the U.S.). If Christians would STOP giving money to homeless people, many of them would soon find that panhandling no longer pays and they would have to find a way to make an honest living. Of course, this not to say that all homeless people are simply con-artists, but many of them are and Christians simply enable them to live lifestyles that are not healthy (generally Alcoholism). The unintended consequences of misguided charity is to ENCOURAGE dependency – making the problem worse.

    Although I would consider myself a relatively generous person, I generally look them right in the eye and say “no thank you” to anyone who asks me for money on the street. I don’t ignore them – which is what most people do if they choose not to give because they feel guilty. I just do not believe it is actually going to do any positive good, and more than likely it will do some harm, so I confidently say “no thanks” and smile. There have been exceptions, but it seems to me that able-bodied men should not need to be begging on the street’s of downtown Atlanta (where I used to work) – they could be earning an honest living if they chose to, but they choose to exploit the ignorance and guilt of others. I have no problem helping people who are actually in need, but it seems to me that most panhandling in America is not much more than boondoggle. Giving should be intentional and reflect prudent choices – like investing in stocks, business, or a home. If you really believe that giving a homeless person $2 is a good idea, why stop there? Why not give $100? If I am not comfortable giving a lot, I will not be giving anything.

    I found the below video very instructive on the concept of misguided charity:

    • Thanks for sharing Aaron :) You have clearly spent a lot of time thinking about this and researching it. Appreciate your input!

  9. Hi Phil,
    It’s only been in the last few weeks (post-Hillsong Conference, Sydney AU) that I’ve actually become alot more relaxed about giving. I had previously thought of myself as being generous but the reality was that I wasn’t – if anything I tended to hold tightly onto my money, and would allocate it across XYZ ministries that I support. Ie. no money for elsewhere, including the homeless. What you said about generosity above is spot on, as I leaned towards the ‘how is this person going to use XYZ’-camp of thinking.

    The truth is that when I reflected upon my life I had many reasons to be thankful, both financially and otherwise. And that the resources and abilities that I had weren’t really for my exclusive use to build my own kingdom but ultimately for God’s Kingdom and purposes. By releasing my grip it’s allowed God to pour new revelation and brought a new level of intimacy and joy overflowing to my relationship with Him – something that I don’t think would have happened had I chosen to remain tight-fisted (I should also add that I still discern how I best manage the resources under my control – it’s just that I’m willing to be more flexible in giving outside of the usual).

    • Thanks so much for sharing that Mark! Really blessed to hear that God has been speaking some of the same things to you and that it in turn has caused you to be more generous!

      Thanks for being faithful to His voice, walking in discernment and being a cheerful giver!

  10. Phil,

    What do you suggest for a situation in which a person that you have helped continues to come around and ask for more (money, bus fares, food, rides, money for prescriptions, etc.)? I am currently in one of those situations, and I know of a number of others at our church that are dealing with the same things. I have continued to give generously – and do it cheerfully :) – and have encouraged others to as well. At the same time, as my family has continued to grow it puts us in a tough spot when week in and week out we are continually asked to help others that make no effort to change their situation, and seem content to live off of us. Just an honest question about an issue I am facing with increased regularity lately. I appreciate any feedback you can give! Thanks so much!

    • Hey Andrew – great question. I think the key here is relying on the Lord.

      Like I said earlier – I don’t recommend always giving money, I just recommend never hesitating when I feel the Lord leading me to do so.

      So in this situation I would talk to the Lord about it, He may well say to you that you need to sit down and talk with the person, perhaps even explain that you can’t afford to give to him in the same ways you have before and need to prioritise your family.

      There is nothing more virtuous in giving to the poor that making sure your family are blessed and in a position to be a blessing themselves!

      Sorry that’s probably not the exact answer you would like and I know “ask God” is a total cop-out answer, but it’s the one I give you none-the-less :)

      Love you bro!

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