We’ve all seen the posters, videos, letters, emails, and websites pleading for our support and help. It’s no wonder. There are billions of people around the globe who lack many of the things we take for granted—food, water, shelter, legal, protection, medical attention, and more. Somehow, however, despite the desperate condition of our fellow human beings, many Christians remain ungiving and uncharitable. We lack the generosity that is expected of us. Why is this? Why don’t we give much to the poor, or do much to help alleviate the desperate poverty around the world? And, better yet, what can we do about it?

Why We Don’t Give Much to the Poor

Techniques That Simply Don’t Work

It’s a question of motivation, really. What works and what doesn’t in getting people to give their money, time, and possessions to the underprivileged, abused, or marginalized? Whether the problem exists “across the tracks” or beyond our borders, most people just aren’t motivated to help. Here are some of the most common motivational techniques—techniques that aren’t really working.

1. Guilt

The most common way to get people to give to the poor is guilt-driven motivation. Contrasting our prosperity with the poverty of the downtrodden is truly a powerful way to stir deep human emotions. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and often the guilt technique is successful in compelling people to give. Perhaps we should more often feel the conscience sting of our selfishness and stinginess. Guilt can only go so far to prompt a genuine and long-term motivation to give.

2. Evidence

Another form of motivation is the evidence approach. This comes in two varieties:  Bible evidence and data points. The Bible is replete with references, cross-references, and even more references that deal with the theme of social justice, giving to the needy, taking care of others, etc. It is not hard to construct a biblical theology of social justice and to proclaim it in such a way that is clear and logical. The Word of God is living and powerful, and its effect is indisputable. Yet even Bible proclamation doesn’t have the desired effect upon everyone. (Just ask the preaching pastor at any church.) Another form of motivation consists of giving a lot of information about the problem. E.g., such and such a number of children are dying each day, this many millions of people live with unsanitary water, this number of unwed mothers in the city are without a source of income, etc. Such information is both true and appalling, yet even with these facts staring us in the face, we are not stirred to action as much as we should be.

3. Discipline

A final form of attempt at motivation is the work-harder or discipline technique. This trait characterizes much preaching:  “You gotta give ’till it hurts! Go without meals! Don’t take family vacations!” True enough, there is most likely a need to fast more, eat less, and scale back on lavish self-spending in order to give to others. Yet work-harder preaching provides no solution to man’s natural weakness and inevitable exhaustion. We can no more summon the necessary self-discipline to give away our hard-earned income than we can staunchly resist every temptation that comes our way. Something more is desperately needed—and that something is the mind-blowing, heart-changing, soul-energizing grace of Jesus Christ.

The conventional modes of motivation—guilty feelings, Scripture references, and grit-your-teeth discipline—can compel a generous spurt now and then. But they are basically ineffective in the long run. Charity organizations are still not flush with cash. Humanitarian non-profits are not swamped by applications. Neighborhood restoration programs are still stymied by lack of cooperation, and churches still grope desperately for more support in their efforts to help the homeless.

The Heart of the Problem

To find the best form of motivation, we first need to understand the most fundamental problem. Is it that we aren’t feeling guilty enough? No. Is it that we don’t really understand the depth of the problem? Probably not. Is it that we just need to work harder and dig deeper. No.

The fundamental problem is our sin nature. We are sinful human beings. Depravity runs deep—so deep that it can be considered totally pervasive. Yes, we are made in God’s image, and thankfully there are millions of people giving millions of dollars, investing many of hours, and expending their energies to provide help to the needy. Good is being done. But more can be done. More should be done.

The problem is sin. The heart of the problem is the heart of man—ruined by the Fall.

The solution to the problem, then, is God’s saving, sanctifying grace—the grace that cleanses sin, the grace that restores the fullness and beauty of God’s image, the grace that gives us both the will and the ability to do good, to give, to do justice.

Gospel Grace: The Ultimate Motivation

Gospel grace is the good news that changes everything. It should even change the way that we view, give, and care for those who lack, who are sick, who are needy, who are marginalized, and who are abused. The gospel not only changes hearts, but it also provides a picture of God’s sense of justice. It looks like this:  Jesus Christ gave His life so that we may be saved.

Salvation produces good works, as James makes remarkably clear: “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). Tim Keller writes, “If [a person] doesn’t care about the poor, it reveals that at best he doesn’t understand the grace he has experienced, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just.”

Thus, the true motivation to help others is none other than untarnished, undiluted, amazing grace—understood and applied. Keller goes on to write, “When justice for the poor is connected not to guilt but to grace and to the gospel, this ‘pushes the button’ down deep in believers’ souls, and they begin to wake up.”

In Christ, we find the entire reason and motivation for good works and justice. There is no simple motivational trick that will get Christians to give up their swanky retirements, lavish vacations, fine dining, or bigger Vizios. There is, however, a life-changing gospel that can turn the world upside down. The atomic power of the gospel can blast away stony hearts, and obliterate obstacles.

In light of this, then, believe the gospel, preach the gospel, and live the gospel. The gospel is the life-changing reality that will allow us to live a life of giving to others, loving others, and making a difference.

About The Author

Daniel Threlfall

Daniel Threlfall has been writing church ministry articles for more than 10 years. With his background and training (M.A., M.Div.), Daniel is passionate about inspiring pastors and volunteers in their service to the King. Daniel is devoted to his family, nerdy about SEO, and drinks coffee with no cream or sugar. Learn more about Daniel at his blog and twitter.

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One Response

  1. Joseph Triplett

    Gospel for Asia has reported for the past two years that Americans spend an estimated 460 billion dollars on Christmas. That is enough money to feed the entire world for a whole year; and yet, an estimated 26,000 children die worldwide each day from starvation and preventable diseases.

    I loved the point you made about grace. Truly those who have received the grace of God have the greatest motivation to give. Yet I truly don’t believe that the church of Jesus Christ in America has even begun to feel the shame of our woeful neglect of the poor and unreached. Most people that I share such statistics with are completely ignorant of the appalling gap between our excess and the world’s need. They seem to think that someone somewhere must be addressing these problems and that they don’t have much power to do anything about it.

    To take things a step further, I believe the problem lies beyond just our individual hearts but that it also is tied to our modern approach to Christian ministry. In the book, “The Great Commission Resurgence”, which came out last summer, the SBC reported at only 3 cents out of every dollar went to missions work. They admitted that this was horrible and that changes needed to be made. While I am happy to hear that they are reevaluating their approach to missions, nowhere did they mention any giving to the poor. I have personally served as a church bookkeeper and read reports from the Church Business Administrators Association and I have also examined the missions giving of numerous independent and SBC churches. What I have found is that out of the small sliver of money given to missions, almost half of it still stays here in the US. Another large portion of the missions dollars are devoted to funding the personal missions trips of pastoral staff. So of the 3 cents out of every dollar that goes to missions in the SBC, at the most, only 1.5 cents goes to actual foreign missions and once again no mention is ever made of any money going to the poor.

    While I might be inclined to simply think that our missions giving needs a shot in the arm and better fiscal oversight, I am instead given over to an entirely different idea. You see, 90% of all money given to US churches (a.k.a. the work of God) goes to staff salaries, mortgages, facility maintenance and various insurances. Very little money actually goes to real ministry, and once again, forget even mentioning the poor in foreign countries. They are the last consideration of most churches.

    What I believe needs to happen in America, the land where 100 billion dollars was spent nationwide in 2009 on religious facility maintenance alone, is a large-scale deconstruction of institutionalism.

    The early church survived for the first three hundred years of Christian history all while meeting in houses and public meeting places. It wasn’t until a pagan emperor converted to Christianity that churches began to gain power, money, land and dedicated facilities. Once we got a taste of power and privilege, there was no way that we were ever going back to simple living and house churches. We needed grand cathedrals and fancy robes for our ministers.

    Would it be so bad if we sold half of our church buildings and began breaking up into house church networks planted in neighborhoods all across America? Would it be so bad if we keep giving just like we are currently giving but the money actually got spend on real ministry, missions, and the poor?

    Whenever I mention this idea to anybody, they have one of two responses. First, they (mainly pastors) say, “Well, we have to reach our own people first.” Secondly, they say, “That just wouldn’t work. People wouldn’t come and/or give to a house church.” So the main issues are self-centered ministers and people that lack the ability to dream and/or work through logistical issues.

    American’s make up 5% of the world’s population but have 25% of the world’s wealth. One to two billion people in the world have still yet to hear of Jesus Christ. God has given us more than ample resources to accomplish the mission of reaching the world with his gospel, yet we feel content to spend our money on buildings, programs, staff, and a/v equipment in order to enhance our worship experiences. Personally, I think we are going to have to answer one day for our horrible selfishness and our lack of commitment to kingdom expansion.

    I could go on and on about this issue and share more and more statistics and talk more and more about church waste, but honestly, I don’t think anyone cares to listen. Why? Why don’t more Christians want to help the poor? Sure, it could be because they don’t have a proper view of grace or maybe because they are unaware of the needs or maybe even because they have just gotten too complacent and need to be woken up; but ultimately, I think it comes down to one issue…Jesus. No one really wants to truly live like Jesus. To live a life of complete sacrifice and devotion is just not all that appealing. We say that we are committed to the cause, but we hold so much back in the name of religion.

    Is this too idealistic? Is it crazy to think that the church of Jesus Christ could really turn the world upside down once again? Maybe…but for now, I’m gonna keep on dreaming about a world where Christian really live like Jesus and care more about souls than worship facilities.

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