I’m always very proud of the people at our church for the way they are so generous and so quick to help people in need. Not only are we active in the community with service events like road cleanup’s, feeding the hungry, doing yard cleanups, repairing homes and much more, but we have also helped people individually. We have, on occasion, paid someone’s rent when they’re in a jam. We have bought gas for people who weren’t able to afford it. We’ve given away food and bought meals for people in need. But for all that, there are many times that I have said no to helping people, at least in the way that they want.

As a church, it’s not an infrequent occurrence for someone to walk in to the office and ask for money. These are people who we do not know and who have no connection to our church. They have never worshiped with us, served with us or even set foot on the property before.  All they have is a story that is usually impossible to verify and a stated need. I often try to find a way to help these people that does not involve simply handing them cash. Sometimes I will offer them food or other material help.  Sometimes I will refer them to organizations our church supports that offer financial assistance after careful screening.  I find that, most of the time, the ones in genuine need will accept that help. The people who will not accept that help instead offer reason after reason (sometimes very long and convoluted) why only cash will solve their problem. 9 times out of 10 I do not give it to them.

There are some who would condemn me for not helping those people. In fact, I have been condemned, usually by the person whom I am turning down. I’ve been called unchristian, cold-hearted and a string of other invectives.  However, even friends and family who look upon me much more kindly may find themselves asking if I’m doing the right thing. They may apply the adage, “what would Jesus do?”  Believe it or not, so do I!

Jesus, being in very nature God (Philippians 2:6), could always see right to the heart of things. In fact, he could literally read what was in people’s hearts. And so, he had a remarkable way of cutting through people’s nonsense. We see this in the example of the woman at the well. He immediately called her out on the poor life choices she had made when she hides the truth regarding her “husbands.” (John 4:17) We see it also when Jesus confronts the lame man and boldly ask him if he even really wants to be healed because he had opportunity to be healed before and yet wasn’t.

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. [4] 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

John 5:2-6

Unfortunately, we are not able to see into people’s hearts like the Son of God can. So the answer to the question, “what would Jesus do” is not always something that we ourselves actually CAN do. However, I am also reminded of something else Jesus said. He told his followers to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” I believe that teaching, as well as the example that Jesus himself set when it came to helping people, provides us with the answers we are looking for.

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Matthew 10:16 (ESV)

Jesus does indeed set us the example of helping and healing people out of love. In fact this was most often applied to those that the rest of society found unlovable and unworthy of help. So when it comes to helping people we must be “innocent as doves” and help those who truly need it in spite of whatever social stigmas may be attached to them. However, Jesus also sets us the example of looking into people’s hearts and finding out their true motives and the true story behind how they ended up where they are in life. While we cannot see directly into people’s hearts, through conversation and questions we can dig deeper into the stories of the people that we meet so that we can help to identify their real needs, and not just their stated need. I believe this is being “wise as serpents.”

I do not believe Jesus ever refused to help someone who truly wanted and needed the help. Neither do I believe we should refuse to help those who need it. What I believe is that we should seek to give them the help they actually need. Unfortunately, what people want from us is often not the help they actually need. Furthermore if we were undiscerning about the help that we give, it would hamper our ability to give help to those who need it.  For example, if I gave cash to everyone who stopped by the church and asked for money, we would not be able to support other organizations in the community that give more help to more people with our dollars.  In fact, as word got out, we would soon run out of money altogether!  In other words, by attempting to give everyone what they want or think they need, we would end up helping fewer people.

So yes, we are a church that helps many people both directly with cash and material donations and indirectly through supporting other organizations that give help. But we are also a church that sometimes says no to stated needs because that may not be the help they really need. I believe that is what Jesus would do.