“God helps those who help themselves.”
A biblical principle? Nope. It’s not found in the Bible at all, though some people think it is. It’s actually an old adage popularized by Benjamin Franklin, who seemed to have been paraphrasing the Greek thinker, Aesop.
A close examination of the Gospels reveals that Jesus never really made a distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor (those meriting or not meriting help because of their behaviors or attitudes). Jesus simply talked about the poor—no qualifiers attached. His love and care for each person in need was abundantly evident. Jesus instructed His followers to care for “the least of these” for, in so doing, they were offering worship to God (Matthew 25:40).
Throughout redemptive history, God has consistently revealed to His people that it is important to care for the poor. Today we read of the kindness and generosity that Boaz shows to Ruth and her family, and we also see the specific charge God gives to the Israelites in Deuteronomy.
In Scripture, and in our daily living, we can observe two postures common to giving and charitable work. I know I’ve personally adopted one or the other at different times.
The first posture of giving presupposes ownership. When we give from a place of ownership and possession, we tend to think like this: “I work really hard, and I try to do the right thing; therefore, I deserve nice things. Poor people don’t work as hard as me, and they don’t make good choices. They’re lucky I choose to give from time to time.”
The second posture of giving looks like thanksgiving. When we give from a place of humble gratitude to God, we tend to think like this: “Man, I don’t deserve any of these nice things. God’s image rests on all humanity. That some should suffer while I thrive is a complete mystery. I get to give because God has given me these resources to steward and offer as a means of His love.”
God knows that giving is good for us, even though it can seem so counterintuitive and countercultural. But it’s part of His nature.
God helps those who cannot help themselves. He helps them precisely because they are stuck. He delights in caring for us. That has been the story from the very beginning. God chose a people not for their might or magnificence, but because of His mercy.
We are called to give wisely and lovingly. We are called to give caringly and compassionately. We are called to give because, in so doing, we imitate God. Somehow by giving away more and more, we become more whole. This is a mystery indeed, but as we empty our pockets, our hearts and lives are filled in ways we would have never thought possible.
Written By Andrew Stoddard