The context of Christ's statement was that a woman had just poured a vial of expensive oil on His head. Some of His disciples were indignant at what they thought was waste, declaring, "This oil could have been sold and the money given to the poor." Christ upbraided their behavior: "Why do you trouble this woman? She has done a good work for Me." And He went on to explain that what she'd done was fitting, effectively anointing His body for burial (Matthew 26:7-12).
Was Jesus denigrating the poor? Was He saying there are more important things than helping them? What should be our attitude towards charity and helping those in such circumstances?
God's Word makes it clear we should help those truly in need, such as widows and orphans (see James 1:27). Notice 1 John 3:17: "But whosoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?"
Yet Scripture nowhere makes a case for income equality—recognizing that talents, blessings, and time and opportunity are not equally distributed. Still, there is no denying the obligation of those who are financially blessed to make a reasonable effort to help those truly in need.
When the province of Judea, home to thousands of Jewish Christians, experienced a drought, Paul called on the more prosperous Christians in other areas to come to their aid. Notice Paul's clear instructions in 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, where he directs that a collection of food and other needed goods be set aside so he could personally see to it that this aid would be sent to Jerusalem.
But the Bible also makes another clear case—that we must provide for ourselves if we are able. The same apostle Paul who gave orders for a major food drive for famine-stricken Christians in Judea gave another command to the church in Thessalonica: "For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Paul scolded those he termed "busybodies"—who spent their time spreading gossip and meddling in the affairs of others rather than working productively: "Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread" (2 Thessalonians 3:12). He also wrote that we should work as though we were working for Jesus Christ and not merely for other human beings (Colossians 3:22-23).
And it is not wrong if our work leads to wealth. God's Word gives us many examples of righteous people such as Abraham who achieved wealth through diligent effort, the use of wisdom and the blessings of God. He became quite wealthy, with vast herds of livestock and many servants. God had blessed him greatly. We know that Job possessed vast wealth before his trials (Job 1:1), and afterward God blessed him with even more (Job 42:12).
So what might be our standard as we grapple with this question? The Bible teaches that Christians should work, be productive and strive for a good standard of living. It also teaches we should help those in financial difficulties. There's no contradiction here. What's important is that we strive to find the right balance, and the Bible provides key principles to help us in doing so.
One of those keys is moderation. Notice Paul's teachings on balance and moderation: "And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things" (1 Corinthians 9:25). He refers to the physical as well as spiritual principle of moderation in everything we do, just as an athlete conditions his body through moderation in food and drink. God's Word teaches that we should balance our charitable contributions and direct help with other priorities.
Another key is discernment. A person or group of people may seem to be needy, but to borrow a scene from The Wizard of Oz, a look behind the curtain may reveal a reality very different from what the person or group presents.
Christ set the example of discernment in His many encounters with the religious leaders of His day. He had the ability to perceive their thoughts, as He did when some confronted Him on His ability and authority to forgive: "But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said unto them, ‘Why are you reasoning in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, "Your sins are forgiven you," or to say, "Rise up and walk"?'" (Luke 5:22).
When considering giving aid, consider whether the aid is truly needed or whether it is really the best way to help. Many today are truly needy, but society is full of those who masquerade as needy to prey on the benevolence of others.
The United Church of God, publisher of The Good News, recognizes the need to help others and follows up on that need through projects that teach self-reliance and "paying it forward" to help others. From helping to supply and staff a clinic that provides medical services for more than 10,000 in a poverty-stricken village in Malawi to installing concrete floors to replace dirt floors in Guatemala, to providing livestock to help plow fields and provide milk and income to needy farmers in several nations, we strive to reach out with our limited resources to help where help is needed.
No doubt about it, it is our responsibility to help those in need. Christians who are blessed financially should share with those who are truly needy. But use moderation and discernment, godly principles that, along with our generosity, will help ensure we are doing the right thing to help others.