A young mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, age 5 and Ryan, age 4. As they sat at the kitchen table waiting, the boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake.
Their mother, seeing an opportunity for a moral lesson, reminded them, “If Jesus was sitting at our table, He would say, ‘Mom, please let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait.'”
Kevin then turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus!”
That mindset seems to sometimes stay with us as adults. That is, we expect others to be Jesus while we give ourselves a pass.
Let me give you one example (of which I’ve been guilty). How many times have Christians, when considering hiring a Christian tradesman to install a new kitchen floor, for example, say something like, “Hey Joe, since we’re both Christians, I was hoping you might discount your regular price.” In other words, “Joe, you be Jesus. You make a sacrifice for me.”
I wonder what would be the reaction if Joe said, “Hey, Bob, since we’re both Christians, I was hoping that you’d offer to pay me more than my regular price”?
Again, why should Bob expect Joe to give him free labor because Joe is a Christian? What if Joe expected Bob to overpay him because Bob is a Christian? (Of course, it is different if Joe offers Bob a discount, without being asked, out of kindness.)
As one who directs a Christian charity that works around the world, we’ve certainly run into our share of professing believers who expect us to be Jesus while they have no such expectation of themselves. They want something for nothing. They have no qualms about being a burden to others. It doesn’t bother them that other people have to make sacrifices to meet their needs. In fact, some of them believe that those with more have an obligation to take care of them because that is what God requires.
The reality is, those kinds of professing Christians need to read their Bibles.
Paul addressed some folks like I’ve been talking about in his letter to the Thessalonians. There were some in the church who were “leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies” (2 Thes. 3:11). Paul went on to say, “Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread” (2 Thes. 3:12). They were freeloaders, eating other people’s bread—bread that other people gained by working for it.
Freeloading is a transgression against God’s second greatest commandment, to love one’s neighbor as oneself. If I love my neighbor as myself, I will not expect him to work to supply my needs while I do nothing, because that is not how I would want to be treated if our roles were reversed. If I love someone, I do not want to burden him.
When Paul was with the Thessalonians, he taught them these very truths, and not just in word, but in deed:
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either (2 Thes. 3:6-10, emphasis added).
Not only are we not to help or feed “undisciplined” Christians, we are to keep away from them (a concept Paul reiterated in 2 Thes. 3:14-15)!
A Better Way
It is because of these truths that I love giving micro-loans for starting small businesses to the poor (and it’s because people misunderstand these truths that they sometimes criticize giving micro-loans to the poor). When you give a micro-loan, you give someone an opportunity to instantly break free from being a burden and a freeloader. Not only are you “being Jesus,” but you are giving your borrower a chance to “be Jesus,” as he now isn’t expecting others to work and make sacrifices while he benefits without any work or sacrifice. He must labor in order to provide for himself, as well as repay his loan. And he gains a chance to love the lender as himself by providing a benefit—namely, a fair interest payment—to the lender.
In the case of the thousands of business-startup loans that Heaven’s Family has made to the poor in developing nations, we most often use the interest we gain (as well as the repaid principle) to fund more loans to the poor. So we are able to tell our borrowers: “By repaying your loan, the interest you pay will help us lift others from poverty. So you are getting a chance to be Jesus to other poor people.”
Truly, we should question the wisdom of helping people who have no desire to bless others. Yet it has been my experience that many poor professing Christians fit that description. They expect us to love our neighbor as ourselves, but they are somehow exempt from the second-greatest commandment.
Thankfully we have also worked with many professing Christians who, although very poor, use much of the profits from their new startup-loan businesses to serve widows and orphans (and others like them who can’t support themselves).
Let me tell you something biblical that may shock you: It is OK in God’s eyes to loan money to someone so poor that his coat is his only collateral. Here’s the proof:
If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest. If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious (Ex. 22:25-27).
When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not enter his house to take his pledge. You shall remain outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you. If he is a poor man, you shall not sleep with his pledge. When the sun goes down you shall surely return the pledge to him, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you; and it will be righteousness for you before the Lord your God (Deut. 24:10-13).
God placed restrictions on charging interest from very poor people and against keeping beyond sunset certain collateral that belonged to those very poor people, but He clearly did not prohibit making loans to such people.
I realize, of course, that some may claim that loving our neighbors as ourselves, the “New Testament standard,” requires that we always give and never lend, but they forget that God’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves is also “the Old Testament standard,” found in the same Law as the two passages I’ve just quoted (see Lev. 19:18). So there is no way that those two passages can be a contradiction of God’s commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.
And I would suggest that handouts are often not the best way to love our neighbors as ourselves. One reason some nations’ economies are in shambles is because they’ve been destroyed, at least in part, by a perverted love that shovels handouts to the poor while at the same time bankrupts legitimate businesses that sell to the poor and contribute to a functioning economy. When that happens, business climates are created where no one is willing to risk starting a business, lest they fail because of the next unpredictable charitable organization or “compassionate” nation that might dump some more food on their shores.
The potential negative effects of handouts are also evident on the personal level, when handouts destroy incentive while fostering laziness, deception and jealousy.
The Principles in Practice
When I was in a certain North African nation a few months ago, we set up 14 new micro-bankers, all seasoned leaders in the underground church, who have since been making business-startup loans to very poor Christians, giving them unprecedented opportunities. They will all be contributing to the already-existing functioning economy, and their prosperity will help others to prosper. When their loans are repaid in a year, we’ll start the cycle over again. Many who borrowed during the first cycle will be granted second, larger loans, by which they can expand their businesses.
Had we taken the same amount of money and just given it to the poor, they would have spent it on necessities and, very likely, non-necessities, and we would have taught them that money does not come from work, but comes from being (or looking) needy. The next time they’d see us, their hands would be out, and they would be just as poor as the first time we met them, if not poorer.
I taught those 14 micro-bankers that there are five basic ways to get money. Let me share them with you:
#1. You can steal it. Of course, if I steal from someone, I am certainly not loving my neighbor as myself, because I don’t want people to steal from me what I earn by work. For that reason, stealing is a sin, and God promises that no thief will inherit God’s kingdom (see 1 Cor. 6:9-10).
#2. You can beg. That is certainly a step above stealing, because those who respond to your begging do it voluntarily. But still, one who could work but who begs is not loving his neighbor as himself. He is expecting his neighbor to work to support him.
Just as I was writing this e-teaching, we received a phone message from a man who said he was “a brother in Christ,” and who reminded us that “the Lord blesses us to make us a blessing.” Then he asked us to pay his electric bill. He didn’t ask for a loan, which could have made him a blessing. He didn’t ask if there was something he could do to earn some money, which again, would have made him a blessing. And he owns a phone, a luxury, and he has electricity, another luxury. And he expects us to be Jesus! But not him!
#3. You can use your God-given muscle, brains, talents and opportunities to earn enough money to provide for all your own needs. That is the level every Christian should desire to attain if he or she hasn’t reached it already. That is a manifestation of loving your neighbor as yourself, because you are not being a burden to any neighbor. As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need (1 Thes. 4:11-12, emphasis added).
But there is a higher level of loving your neighbor as yourself…
#4. You can use your God-given muscle, brains, talents and opportunities to earn enough money to provide for all your needs plus the needs of others who are unable, either temporarily or permanently, to provide for their own needs, such as orphans, older widows and widowers, those who are sick or handicapped and so on. “How blessed is he who considers the poor; the Lord will deliver him in a day of trouble” (Psa. 41:1).
But there is a yet higher level of loving your neighbor as yourself…
#5. You can use your God-given muscle, brains, talents and opportunities to build a business that employs people, thus helping others to escape levels #1 and #2, and reach levels #3 and #4. What a blessing it is to be able to say to someone in need, “I can offer you a job.” Employers are running the best charities in the world (although by definition, they really shouldn’t be called “charities”). How much better it is to provide a job than give a hand out!
I was happy to tell those 14 new North African micro-bankers, “Congratulations! As a micro-banker, you’ve reached level #5! Your hard work is going to result in fellow believers lifting themselves from poverty, so that they can reach levels #3 and #4!” The lovely thing is, everyone who has sacrificed to contribute to Heaven’s Family’s Micro-Loan Fund is, by their gifts, perpetually enabling poor believers to lift themselves out of poverty, “being Jesus,” and giving borrowers the chance to also “be Jesus”!