A Charity Revival
Sometime later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 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. 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?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well (JOHN 5:1-15).
Here are some surprising facts that apply to our sweet, charming, scenic community known as Lancaster County:
10.2% live below the poverty line in our county. This stat is higher within the CV School District (10.3%). The Central PA Food Bank distributes on average over 5.5 million pounds of food each month, more than 67 million pounds per year, through 1,000 partner agencies and programs, which includes CVCCS.
With that said, you and I can’t meet the many needs around us unless a Biblical view of charity is held. Challenging times have brought a variety of situations that require intense discernment. Did you know there is a right way and a wrong way to be charitable? In our zeal to help others, believe it or not, we can do harm to those we’re trying to help.
Let’s look no further than Jesus as we’ll examine 3 key elements which will transcend your view of Charity based on John 5:1-15.
#1 Jesus used discernment.
Jesus asked the man a key question in John 5:6: DO YOU WANT TO GET WELL? Discernment when meeting someone’s need is impossible if we don’t know the context of a person’s situation. It’s ok to ask personal questions if someone comes to you for help. It they can’t or won’t answer, that is a RED FLAG. Beware of the following: Pushy and aggressive tactics, unable to provide reputable details, an inconsistent story, excessive playing on your emotions, the use of strange names, phone numbers, email addresses, and duplicate information; cash only requests, refusing to better their situation, refusing to go to a shelter if there is nowhere else to go… These are just a few examples.
In John 10:6 Jesus said, “Remember it is I who am sending you out … prove yourselves as wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves.” What does Jesus mean here? A wise person anticipates their course of action, and then plans Biblically based strategic actions accordingly. Ask yourself: Does this person need RELIEF, REHABILITATION, OR DEVELOPMENT?
RELIEF is meeting an urgent need. It’s temporary; not meant to be long term solution. Tragically, in charitable circles, most cases are treated as relief situations even if someone is not truly in need of relief. REHABILITATION is working to help them become stable and guiding them back on track. DEVELOPMENT is working with them towards ongoing, long-term change. It’s getting them to a better position than before (aka- Biblical discipleship).
Using discernment in action looks something like this: Ask questions and investigate. Asking questions about their situation helps establish healthy boundaries and accountability. For example- How long has this been going on? Why aren’t you working? Where else have you found help in the past? Etc.
Resist the urge to just jump in and solve the issue. That which is presented as a crisis RARELY IS! Don’t get swept up in urgency. Step back and get the whole picture. Back in V6 of our main text, Jesus asked the question ‘DO YOU WANT TO GET WELL’ before He did ANYTHING for the man.
#2. Jesus formed connections.
Note again the man’s response in John 5:7: “I have no one to help me.” The True Charity Initiative defines the essence of poverty this way: “Poverty is complex and is caused by a myriad of factors, but essentially comes down to broken relationships.” WOW. Think about that! You and I can introduce people to something they may have never known- love, hope, stability… a BETTER way. Like Jesus exhibited, we can be a lifeline for those starved of healthy relationships.
There was a client that went for help at a Bible believing, Christian organization. After successfully completing their development program, she commented on what made the difference for her finally getting out of the cycle of poverty and addiction. For the first time in her life she experienced unconditional love, genuine people, and real relationships. As a result of seeing the Church “act” like the Church, she surrendered her life to Christ. As a result, the Lord gave her a burden to help those headed down the destructive road she was once on. Her thriving relationship with Jesus and others set Biblical discipleship in motion which acted as a domino effect.
Dr. Marvin Olasky’s book “The Tragedy of American Compassion” establishes 2 principles of charity: CHARITY WITH TONGS and CHARITY WITHOUT TONGS. It’s imperative that we know the difference between the two. Charity with tongs means ‘no touching.’ This is contrary to how Jesus cared for those in need. We meet the need and then bow out. Often-times it’s so we feel good about ourselves for thinking we helped someone. Charity without tongs is defined in 3 parts: Reciprocity, accountability, and boundaries. Reciprocity is engaging in real, genuine conversation, taking the time to listen, trying to establish a connection, and sharing your story while they share theirs. Accountability is speaking the truth in love when trust is breached or damaged. Boundaries require setting healthy limits.
Did you know that truly showing unconditional love consists of setting and maintaining healthy boundaries? Sadly, the body of Christ and charitable organizations particularly struggle with the ‘Charity without tongs’ approach because it takes TIME. Your shoes may get dirty, your carpet may get stained. It’s uncomfortable. One more item to highlight as an addition. A key element that often gets missed in the entire process is this: Can we point the person in need back to their ‘natural’ relationships as long as it’s not an abusive or toxic situation? Believe it or not, we can weaken someone’s social connections (social capital) by our ‘good intentions’ to help meet their ‘needs.’ If possible, we should connect them back to immediate loved ones.
It’s possible that we can help them restore estranged or fractured relationships. Phil. 2:4 says, “Look out for another’s interests, not just for your own.” Jesus said in Mat. 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Ask questions and do some investigating. Such as: Where is your family? Do you have friends or neighbors who should be aware of what’s going on?
#3. Jesus gave expectations.
John 5:14 is often taken out of context, inferring that Jesus required sinless perfection from the man. The entirety of Scripture refutes this, as only Jesus was sinless. The proper context is Jesus gave the man accountability and expectations. ACCOUNTABILITY IS GOOD! It’s not ungodly to have expectations of people. However, in many charitable circles today this is not a popular view because charity is often conditioned with entitlement.
Furthermore, it’s not unloving to expect people to do their part. Just the opposite. It’s cruel to send the message that a person has nothing of worth to offer. Being needed is the ultimate affirmation of human worth. Establishing dignity is powerful! Expectation implicitly communicates worth and trust. The Himself LORD is compassionate, just, and expectant. Like everything else with God’s character, these things work in conjunction with each other, and are NOT contradictory. Here are some examples from Scripture:
- Isa. 30:18- The Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!
- Jas. 5:11b- The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
- Pro. 22:22-23- Do not exploit the poor because they are poor… for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.
- Eze. 22:29- The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice.
- Deu. 30:2-3- …when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.
Lest we forget, remember where the true struggle lies in all of what we’re talking about here. Paul notes to the Church in Ephesus in Eph. 6:12, that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood…” Our battle is not primarily physical or tangible but spiritual and unseen. The spiritual addresses the hidden root causes which is why the devil does not want anyone getting out of destructive cycles.
Rev. Jon Barrett | Director of CVCCS
True Charity Initiative, Joplin, MO. www.truecharity.us.