- “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” (Matt. 5:42)
From this passage it is argued that as Christians we must unconditionally give to anyone who asks regardless of circumstances or consequences. When strangers ask for money we are told Matthew 5:42 requires we reach into our pockets and give them what we have, without asking questions or passing judgment, lest we find ourselves violating Jesus’ command. Is Jesus teaching we must give to every beggar who asks of us without using any discretion or wisdom? What say the Scriptures?
Since Scripture cannot contradict Scripture, what appears to be a general statement may be limited by either the immediate or distant context. For example, when Paul later states “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10), we understand that the words of Christ must only apply to men who are willing to work yet are still in need. There is apparently at least one exception to the broad statement of Christ in Matthew 5:42. If there is one exception, could there be more? Indeed, there are. If a man becomes a false teacher, Christians are not to provide him with hospitality, even if he asks (2 John 9-11). If a brother is a thief, he is not to be fellowshipped by either a congregation or individuals (1 Cor. 5:9-13) even if he asks. Also, if a man borrows and then never returns, one should not feel obligated to lend unto him again for there is a difference between borrowing and theft (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
The Lord’s teaching in Matthew 5:42 is clearly not a passage to be held up to the exclusion of all other New Testament teaching on the subject of giving. In fact, when closely considered, Matthew 5:42 has little (if anything) to do with giving aid to random beggars (random being the key word).
The verse under consideration (Matt. 5:42) falls right in the midst of Jesus’ contrastive teaching wherein He compares the Old Law with His New. Over and over in the Sermon on the Mt. Jesus repeats, “You have heard that it was said… but I say to you.” (Matt. 5: 21, 27, 31, 38, 43). In the immediate context of verse 42 Jesus is contrasting the Old Law’s teaching on local justice (vs. 38) and national defense (vs. 43) with His own teaching on the same subjects. What does giving aid to random beggars have to do with local justice (or the law of retaliation) and national defense? Nothing. Christ did not merely sandwich a completely unrelated matter in between two topics that are related.
Rather than teaching His disciples on how to relate to random beggars on this occasion, Christ rather gives instruction regarding how His disciples are to react to those who persecute them. For example, if a man slaps them on the cheek, they must turn the other also. Jesus uses one form of bodily injury to demonstrate how His disciples must react to all bodily injury rather than meeting out an eye-for-an-eye justice as the Old Law allowed. When the disciples suffer loss of property (their tunic), they are not justified in going out and taking it back through means of force. When their personal freedom is taken from them (being conscribed to go a mile) they must bear up with a Christian attitude that triumphs over persecution. After receiving physical, personal, and unjust persecution, they must still offer aid when those who have persecuted them fall on hard times of need (Matt. 5:42).
It would be easy for a Christian to suffer through persecution and then be tempted to withhold the gospel, or forgiveness, or charity to those who had persecuted them when the shoe arrived on the other foot.
A somewhat modern illustration of the Lord’s teaching that stands out is the example of Corrie ten Boom. Having survived the Nazi holocaust of WWII, Ms. Ten Boom returned to the concentration camp where she had been imprisoned and saw again some of the very men who had treated her shamefully and caused the death of her own sister. How easy it would have been for her to wish them ill or to refuse to help them. Yet instead of hating and refusing to help them, she spent much of remaining life trying to help those men learn of Jesus. Though Ms. Ten Boom was not a member of the Lord’s church, her example did emulate the teaching of Christ in Matthew 5:42.
May the Lord’s people always be willing to aid those truly in need, even if those in need have spitefully used and mistreated them. Yet may God’s children also honor all of God’s word and not aid men in their wickedness.