Most of us have been confronted at one time or another by a person asking us for a hand-out. These request come in various forms. Sometimes it’s a homeless person on the street. Sometimes it’s a woman in the parking lot of the grocery store. We often see panhandlers standing at busy intersections seeking money from those waiting for the light to turn green. If you love your neighbor as you love yourself, it seems to me finding some way to help each and every time you encounter a request like this would be mandatory. When Jesus was asked by a lawyer to define what “neighbor” means, he told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) essentially letting the lawyer know that anyone you encounter that you have the ability to help is in fact your neighbor. So then, are we obligated to give money to every panhandler we see?
Galatians 5:13-14 (NIV)
“Serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
It’s impossible for us to know what’s really going on in a panhandler’s life. You can find videos online of panhandlers pretending to be homeless leaving at the end of the day in a nice car and driving to a nice home. Certainly we’re not obligated to give our money away to a scam artist. How are we to know if we’re being scammed or not? If someone standing in front of me is honestly in need I truly want to help, but I don’t want to simply fuel a drug addiction or alcohol addiction.
James 4:3 (NASB)
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
Giving money to panhandlers does not always help. Feeding an addiction is not helpful. Helping a scammer increase their profit encourages criminal behavior. Walking away from someone who is hungry when you have the ability to help is wrong. If you love Your Neighbor as you love yourself, you will want to do something.
Proverbs 3:27 (NASB)
“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”
Realistically, anyone who is panhandling needs help. Unfortunately, money is not always the help they need. Most of us don’t have the time or resources to intervene in the life of every panhandler we come across. We don’t have the ability to investigate their motives to make sure they are legitimately in need; we can’t provide counseling for their addiction, there’s no way to be certain money will help. Does that make it okay to walk away and do nothing?
Proverbs 14:20 (NASB)
“The poor is hated even by his neighbor, but those who love the rich are many.”
No matter what their motive is, all panhandlers are poor. Some are poor by lack of income, some are poor in spirit and have become criminals, and others are poor in self-control and have become addicted. God doesn’t want us to hate them because they are poor. He wants us to help.
Maybe we’re not responsible for every panhandler we come into contact with. Perhaps those interactions are meant to push us toward supporting a larger effort to solve the problem. Giving money to, or volunteering at a local homeless shelter or food pantry might be one way to help. Organizing an outreach program specific to your neighborhood through your church may be another way to help. We each have to manage our own finances carefully so as not to become debtors ourselves. A good steward will be certain that their money is put to good use. In the case of the panhandler, the best way to love your neighbor as you love yourself may be to seek out a program that is a trusted sound investment.
Romans 13:8 (NASB)
“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”
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