Daily Bible Study Tips: Reader Questions Answered

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Luke 6:30 brings to mind today's huge number of solicitations by phone, TV, and mail.  I ask myself, "Is 'everyone' really every one?"

(11/10/07) This is actually a very difficult question.  At first I thought I would just send a quick note back to this reader, but the more I thought about it, the trickier it got. 
 
The New Testament has nothing specific to say about phone, TV, and mail solicitations (unless you count the demon whose name is Legion), so we are going to have to do some thinking about what this means for us.  When we try to understand and apply something that Jesus has said to a radically different situation, we need to ask several questions:
Certainly the saying is clear, especially in context.  Christians are supposed to offer overflowing love to everyone – friend and foe alike – in concrete ways, up to and including the shirt off your back.  When we look at the parallel passage in Matthew 5:38-48, it says essentially the same thing.  
 
The example that Jesus gave tends to support the idea that he meant this instruction literally, not figuratively.  The demands on his time and energy – requests for his blessing, requests for healing, requests for teaching – were enormous.  I can't recall a single time when he turned anyone away.  So I don't think we can argue that he was using hyperbole in this case.  He gave to everyone who asked him.  Presumably this is the example he intends us to follow.
 
Is it pertinent to my time?  This is the tricky one.
 
Most of what Jesus told us is timeless – it applied then, it applies now, and it will continue to apply, just as he said it.  Other sayings have to be applied in principle, not in detail.  An easy example is his question to the leaders in the synagogue, "Who among you won't untie your ox or ass to water it on the Sabbath?" (Lk. 13:15)  Well, I dare say that no one at St. John's has an ox or an ass, but the principle is that you may do good on the Sabbath, even if it looks like work.
 
Now, I don't think Jesus could have foreseen (in his human form) the telephone solicitation during the dinner hour.  So what principle is embedded in the commandment to "give to everyone who asks you," and how does it apply to telephone, TV, and mail solicitations?
 
First let's divide the solicitations into three groups:
Political Calls.   Christians are required to pay their taxes and obey the laws of their community (except when those laws contradict the law of God).  The Matthew passage adds that if anyone asks you to go one mile, you should go two.  Roman law allowed any soldier to get any civilian to carry his pack for one mile, so Jesus is also saying here that you shouldn't stand on your civil rights to the detriment of service to another person.  However, none of this seems to me to apply to political contributions.  I can't think of any other place in scripture that suggests that you contribute to political parties, and as I read Luke 6:30 and Matthew 5:42, Jesus is not requiring that, either.  You have to be polite to human callers (not to recordings!), but that's it.  You don't have to give them anything. 
 
Sales Calls.   Christians are required to be scrupulously honest in their business dealings.  The passages we are looking at say that in addition you shouldn't press too hard to get back what is borrowed, stolen, or taken away by a court order.  None of this says that you are obliged to buy anything that is offered to you.  Again, it's okay to just politely say no.
 
Charities.    That leaves the charities.  Let's take the causes first.  The Bible doesn't seem to be much into causes, except the cause of salvation.  So if you get a call about saving, say, Albuquerque High School, you can safely say no to that, too. 
 
So far we've ruled out practically all the calls we get – political calls, sales calls, and save-the-whales calls.  There's nothing wrong with giving to these callers if you feel like it, but I don't believe they are who Jesus had in mind when he said to "give to everyone who asks you."
 
Who did he have in mind, then?  There are a number of other passages in which we are told to take care of the poor, the sick, the friendless, and the otherwise needy – in short, the people that Jesus gave his time and energy to.  In Biblical times, such care was provided personally rather than by any government or organizational system.  For the most part, the person who needed help asked directly for assistance from a person who was in a position to provide it.  Not only was such begging perfectly socially acceptable, but in addition a number of OT commandments required affluent people to give money or goods to the poor.  Beginning with the early Church, however, formal institutional systems started being set up to care for widows, orphans, the elderly, and the sick.  Such systems have grown and multiplied over the centuries and have been incorporated into government and large non-government programs.  Relatively little of our alms-giving is now person-to-person.    
 
So now that the system has changed, are we obliged to give to every charity that asks us, and not just every person who asks us?  (Phone solicitations are rarely from individuals asking for something on their own behalf.) 
 
John Wesley addressed this topic in Sermon 50.  First, of course, he says to earn all you can and save all you can (by which he means, "don't spend it," not "put it in the bank.")  Then he goes on to his third instruction, “give all you can.”  I've put the main points in bold italics, but otherwise this is quoted from the sermon:
In conclusion, I don't think you can automatically say no to charities that serve the needy, given the clarity of the original teaching, the example of Jesus, the change in the way charitable giving is done, and the teachings of the UMC.  Having said that, however, three points seem to me to be important:
*Presumably Wesley means 90% of what you earn.


Copyright 2007, 2011 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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