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The subject often comes up of whether or not to literally give whatever is requested to whoever asks for it. It is one of the teachings of Jesus which I do not take quite as literally as some of the others, and I will explain why.

Actually, the principles with regard to this are similar to those with regard to other teachings of Jesus (e.g. forsaking all), that is, that we need to get the spirit of the command more than we need to get the literal interpretation of it. It doesn't mean that there isn't a place for interpreting such teachings literally as well.

I am writing about the spirit of giving to those who ask, because distortions of this one come up more often than do distortions of the other literal commands of Jesus.

I believe that Jesus wanted us to be literally prepared to give anything to anyone; and doing that literally is a good exercise for people who are constantly making excuses for not helping people. But often when I have been asked for something by someone who is obviously greedy, I have given to them out of duty alone, and the "fruit" of it has not been good in my spirit. I did not feel blessed for having done so. I just felt "used".

Often it is the person making the request who puts emotional pressure onto us, even quoting Jesus with regard to giving to those who ask. One idea is to ask the person making the request to give something that you think they would have to make a genuine sacrifice to give. When they admit that they are not prepared to obey Jesus, then you point out that it is not their job to interpret the teachings of Jesus for us in a way that they are not prepared to practise themselves. Rather, it is the job of those of us who are genuinely trying to follow Jesus to interpret his teachings, and we don't necessarily interpret the passage the same way they do.

So how do we interpret it? Well, first there is a "technicality". It doesn't say what we are supposed to give to the people that ask for something from us. Perhaps we are supposed to give them a big serve of the truth! I admit that it may be a technicality to argue from that position.

However, there is a stronger argument in the fact that Jesus himself did not always give bread to the people who came to him asking for bread, and he occasionally did not give miracles to those who came asking for miracles. He said that their motive was wrong, and they would not receive what they were asking for. So after we are willing to give to anyone, then it seems that God wants us to develop some Christian responsibility in choosing exactly who we are going to give to.

I find that I do feel blessed about things like the meal tokens, and other COs to beggars, etc. that we initiate ourselves. And then, there are times when I feel convicted about my tendency to treat all requests for help suspiciously, and so I give to someone who asks. When I do this out of such conviction, I feel blessed at those times even when the recipient is not deserving. But I do not feel blessed when I have been blackmailed into giving.

So my suggestion is that we beat the greedy people to the punch, by giving away whatever it is that we are going to give away early (i.e. as soon as possible after we have received it), and then we don't have anything (that we own personally) left to give. Like James and John at the temple, we can say, "Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, give I thee." (Acts 3:6) And then give them the truth!

(See also 'Conscience' Issues.)

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