What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?
In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
(James 2: 14-18)
It happens so often. Someone approaches you with a request for “spare change.” This sets up a conflict with many of us. On the one hand, they may very well be “frauds,” seeking out some cash to buy booze or drugs. They may not even be “homeless” or down on their luck at all!
But on the other hand, they may very well be in earnest; homeless, broke, and in great despair. Maybe they haven’t eaten a good clean meal in some time. Perhaps they do have a wife or baby who is starving. You just can’t be certain.
Some people use the “food instead” rule. They offer to buy the person a drink or meal, and if they say “no thanks,” then you feel better about refusing them altogether.
But what if that person is just too embarrassed to be seen with someone who is buying them a meal. After all, their situation isn’t exactly their proudest moment! Think how you might feel if you were in their shoes…(if they have shoes to wear!) It’s almost impossible to know any facts with any certainty.
So, having contemplated this through the guidance of scripture, why not do what you feel is right in the eyes of the Lord. Give such a person the benefit of the doubt and hand him some change. If he or she takes the money and spends it on alcohol, that’s “on them,” not you. You gave from your heart, they just made an unwise choice with your gift. But you tried to practice charity just as Jesus may well have.
Finally, sometimes you really don’t have any spare change to give. In which case you don’t have a way to help with their immediate need. It just happens, and in that case, don’t feel bad. Just remember the spirit of the scripture and, when you can do so, let that guide your decisions in all matters of generosity…
~Central Church of Christ