My heart tugged with compassion when I saw the young man on the side of the road staring blankly under the hood of his truck. Having driven enough junk vehicles in my life to know a little about auto repair, I figured I could help him get the machine running again. He did not know what was wrong, so I told him to try starting it while I peeked under the hood to see what might not be working. Zzzinnggg, the engine whined and slung a streak of oil onto my tan jacket, my new hat, and my face.
Good deeds can backfire
I heard a lady say, “I don’t think I will ever help another person. Every time I help someone, something goes wrong.” However, we do not do good to make life easier for ourselves. This raises the question of why we help others. I have found three reasons people give to the poor:
1) Giving for your own sake
Jesus said, “Do not give to be seen by others” (Matthew 6:1). People who give to get their names on brass plaques and paving stones already have their rewards. Some people give out of peer pressure—they want to fit in and look good to their friends or church. Others give out of guilty consciences. Still more give to show off their wealth or to get accolades from others. None of these motives satisfy God’s plans for our giving. You will not make yourself happy if you give to make yourself happy.
2) Giving to help the poor
A friend of mine caught a horrible virus while trying to help some people whose car had gone off the road into a nasty pond. Wading around in that water got him so sick, he missed three days of work and eventually lost his job. Sometimes giving does not give us the return we would like. Sometimes you have a flat tire when helping give someone a ride to work. Sometimes heroes die. Good deeds do not provide insurance against the norms of life.
Most philanthropists work out a philosophy of giving to make the world a better place. They hope to eliminate poverty with generosity. I remember as a teenager, our church helped a needy family with a bunch of groceries. They never came back. Later, we found out they had gone to the next church and leaned on their charity, then the next, and the next, and so on. Once my wife felt moved to serve a meal to a pregnant woman who had come to us for counseling and prayer. We were barely scraping by at the time and had no fancy food to offer. My wife made her the best meal she could from our resources, and the woman looked at it and asked, “Oh, I was wondering if you might have some steak and mushrooms.” What a downer. After this, the Lord showed me I cannot give for the sake of the needy.
3) Giving to Jesus
Jesus said, “Give to Me.” When I give to those in need, I am giving to Jesus Christ. When I help the man on the side of the road, I am giving Jesus a hand (even if I have to change my clothes afterwards). When I serve a meal or buy groceries, I am blessing Jesus. I do not help the poor to eliminate poverty; I do it for Jesus (John 12:8). I do not give to missions for the needs of the missionary or the heathen; I give for Jesus. I do not visit the jail for the sake of the inmates for most do not appreciate it; I go to minister to Jesus. I do not donate money for new pews at church so I can have a brass plaque; I buy the pew for Jesus. I have never been disappointed since I started giving to Jesus.
I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me. (Mathew 25:35-36, Good News Bible)