When Giving to the Poor is Wrong

There’s a situation when giving to the poor is wrong. I hope I got your attention with this subject. I’m serious—the Bible lists out for us a specific circumstance when it’s wrong to give to the poor.

You might not realize that the Bible has over 2,000 references to the poor.[1] Relieving the suffering of poverty is biblical. It’s a great humanitarian effort. You should have a heart for the poor. You should be meeting their needs. But you’ll be wasting your time and resources and fooling yourself if you aren’t on guard against this danger.

It’s listed in one of the most well-known passages in the entire Bible—the love chapter. 1 Corinthians 13.3 says, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Here, Paul is referencing the spiritual gift of giving expressed through extreme acts of generosity. This would be literally taking everything you own, your car, your house, your iPhone, the food in your pantry, withdrawing your 401k, everything, just to give it to the poor or selling it to give the funds to the poor. And if that weren’t enough, then giving your life in an act of sacrificial generosity. This sounds noble on the surface. But it’s worthless if it’s not done in love.

As far as love goes, I’m not talking about romantic love or love as a feeling, but biblical love. Biblical love is desiring to do good for others—without any benefit to myself!—for the glory of God. This is the radical love God shows us and what we are to reflect to each other.

Context of the Love Chapter

The love chapter interestingly shows up in the middle of Paul writing on spiritual gifts. He was having to clarify some things because disputes in the congregation got so bad that they were dividing the Corinthian church into factions. Why? The church was elevating spiritual gifts like tongues and prophesy and looked down on other gifts. Their modus operandi wasn’t love, but pride and self-promotion.

Paul opens the love chapter with some harsh words, saying that these spiritual gifts you prize so highly are useless without love. God gave you whatever spiritual gift you have not for yourself, but to serve and care for others in the body of Christ. So don’t prophesy, and don’t give your money away or rush to be a martyr unless you love first.

Don’t use your gifts to serve without first using them to love.

How to Give with Love

Just handing over money to a homeless person or sending a quick transfer to a non-profit doesn’t guarantee your heart is in the right place. You can give out of guilt, for the tax benefits, or just to feel good. You can empty your pockets and empty your bank accounts and hand it over to the poor and then just check out and disconnect from their situation. If you don’t give in love, there’s another motive operating under the surface. If you’re giving out of guilt, obligation, or recognition, you gain nothing.

The Lord alone sees your heart, your motives. He’s not impressed with your spiritual gifts or monetary gifts if your heart doesn’t reflect his heart. So if you’re not giving out of love, what do you do?

Step 1: Acknowledge You Are Poor.

It gets me when believers I know have no interest in the poor. It gets to me because you are poor! Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5.3). Only the poor in spirit can be saved. You are sinful. You are helpless to save yourself. You are in need. You are more desperate than you realize.

Do you have any idea of the spiritual poverty Christ saved you from? Do you see yourself as poor in spirit and just as needy, just as vulnerable spiritually as the poor you give to? You are just as poverty stricken as those in destitution. You might say, “Andrew, that’s impossible.” Stay with me. You are more in need than you even realize.

Over and over in the Torah, God tells the Israelites to take care of the sojourner, the foreigner in their land. Why does he repeat this so many times? Because he says they were sojourners in the land of Egypt. It’s to remember this awful slavery that God rescued them from. Deuteronomy 10:18-19 says. “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” They were to love the sojourner as a reminder that when they were sojourners, God loved them and cared for them. It’s the same with us as believers.

Step 2: Receive God’s Love

Second, if compassionate generosity is a struggle for you, that means God’s love hasn’t taken root in your own heart. In order to give with love, you need to experience God’s love for yourself. Then you’re in the place to love your neighbor.

Look at 1 Corinthians 13.3 again: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Christ did all these things for you: He emptied himself. He gave away everything by becoming fully human and fully God at the same time. He delivered up his body so you could be saved. He loves you like this. He sold everything for you.

Care for the poor because when you had nothing in your sin, when you could not save yourself, God loved you and sent his Son to die in your place. When you truly experience this for yourself, when you recognize Christ died for your own spiritual poverty, then you can’t help but show this love to others in return.


Give sacrificially. Give often. Give generously—but don’t neglect love. When you give like this, it breaks fallow ground in the hearts of others that prepares them to hear the Gospel.

Don’t hear what I’m not saying! I’m not telling you to walk away and go, “Oh I guess I never have to give to the poor since my heart isn’t right.” No, use this as a warning to stop and get your heart right so you experience the full blessing of generosity.

Giving to the poor is a fabulous way to use your resources to spread the kingdom of God. No one will hear the truth if their stomach is growling louder than their ears can hear the Gospel you preach. We, as the body of Christ, are his hands and feet to minister to them. May we be quick to not just open our wallets, but open our hearts to those in financial need.

[1] https://www.fh.org/blog/what-the-bible-says-about-poverty/#:~:text=How%20are%20Christians%20instructed%20to,the%20Bible%20to%20the%20poor

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