If there is a poor man among your brothers within any of the gates in the land that the LORD your God is giving you, then you are not to harden your heart or shut your hand from your poor brother. Instead, you are to open your hand to him and freely loan him whatever he needs.Deuteronomy 15:7-8
The concept of giving to those in need is all through the biblical writings. This has come down to us through the ages as giving “alms.” This ideas stems primarily from a passage in Acts 3 where the Greek phrase was interpreted as giving alms or giving charity to a beggar at the temple.
One afternoon Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.a And a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those entering the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.Acts 3:1-3
But the term in its wider use really means any act of compassionate giving of all types.
Acts 9:36 There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor.
Acts 10:1-2 There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment. He was a devout man and feared God along with his whole household. He did many charitable deeds for the Jewish people and always prayed to God.
Acts 24:17-18 “After many years, I came to bring charitable gifts and offerings to my people. “While I was doing this, some Jews from Asia found me ritually purified in the temple, without a crowd and without any uproar.
However when it comes to giving to those in need as mentioned in our passage in Deuteronomy above, the idea of helping the poor is depicted as lending to them, not outright giving. Why make this distinction?
Well it has more to do with the receiver than the giver. If you encounter someone who is need, whether a friend or relative, to provide them assistance with the idea that they can pay you back whenever they are able to allows for a sense of dignity in providing that assistance. Many times, people will struggle to accept outright handouts because of their pride. They don’t want to be made to feel they are unable to do meet their needs on their own. This is actually an emotionally good and healthy response for anyone who is otherwise able to provide for themselves but may have just fallen on hard times. It happens.
Those who would beg for handouts were those who had no other means of income: the lame or blind who could not work, widows and orphans (who had lost their husband/father as the provider). In the Hebraic culture, these were considered legitimate reasons for true charity, and helping and giving donations to these individuals is highly commended.
However, for those who had the ability to work but had simply gotten into financial straits, the Bible conveys the idea of loans from family and friends as legitimate assistance until they could get back on their feet. In our passage above, Moses is urging that the Israelites would open their hearts to those who were poor, and lend freely. This was because many times people would take these loans and never repay them, and it would cause bitterness between family members and friends.
Now, having that background, the words of Yeshua have even more meaning when he relates how believers should be viewing acts of giving and loaning to others:
“But love [even] your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil.Luke 6:35
Even if our intent is to genuinely help others by providing them a loan of some sort, Yeshua says if you are doing so, don’t expect anything in return. This accomplishes two purposes: it maintains the dignity of the receiver, and it removes any chance of hard feelings for not being repaid in the future. If you are “loaning” to someone in need, you should treat that loan as a donation and any repayment as a bonus.
All types of giving is highly recommended in the Bible, as we know that “God loves a cheerful giver,” (2 Cor. 9:7). Giving freely is a required dynamic within the economy of the kingdom of God.
Having a larger understanding of the context and social dynamic of biblical giving can make us more responsible givers. In outwardly loaning to those who have need, we can allow them dignity. Inwardly considering these helper loans as outright donations, not expecting anything in return, we free ourselves from any negative ties to those relationships if the money is never repaid in the future.
God is honored when we honor and respect him in all things, including how we manage our finances and our relationships with others. By being willing to give and loan freely, we demonstrate we are his children by operating by the same principles he provides to us.
If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.