The issue of how to respond to beggars is a challenging one for many Christians. On one hand, we are called to generosity, compassion and care for the poor and needy. However, we also need wisdom and discernment to respond in a way that truly helps and doesn’t enable harmful behavior.
Here are some key principles from the Bible on how Christians should respond to beggars:
1. See every person as made in God’s image
We must start by seeing beggars not as annoyances or objects, but as fellow human beings created and loved by God. Every person, no matter their circumstances, has inherent dignity and value (Genesis 1:27). Rather than quickly dismissing beggars, we should be willing to look them in the eye, acknowledge their humanity, and consider their needs.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. – James 1:27
2. Move with compassion
When we encounter a beggar, our first response should be one of compassion, not judgment or callousness. We are called to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). See the beggar as someone’s son or daughter. How would you want others to treat your own child in such a situation? Let your heart break at the effects of poverty, addiction, trauma, mental illness and other hardships that may have contributed to their begging.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:36
3. Pray and listen
Rather than quickly deciding how to respond, we should pray and ask God for wisdom. We can also take time to engage with the beggar, listening to their story with sensitivity. This demonstrates respect, allows us to better understand their situation, and gives us insight on the best way to help them. Of course, caution is also needed against potential manipulation or deceit.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. – James 1:5
4. Consider their true needs
While a beggar may ask for money, it’s important to prayerfully consider their deeper physical, emotional, relational and spiritual needs. For example, they may truly need food, shelter, counseling, addiction treatment, job assistance, or other forms of support beyond a quick cash handout. We need to respond not just to the surface-level request, but with discernment of what will lead to lasting life transformation.
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? – James 2:15-16
5. Set healthy boundaries
Scripture promotes generosity, but also wisdom. We need to be on guard against enabling harmful behaviors. It’s generally unwise to directly give money to panhandlers, as it can reinforce a destructive lifestyle of substance abuse or other unhealthy patterns. We can show care in ways that don’t indulge sinful choices. Setting boundaries and offering forms of assistance that truly facilitate rehabilitation is wise and compassionate.
And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth. – 2 Timothy 2:24-25
6. Work toward systemic change
While individual acts of generosity are needed, Scripture also calls us to address injustice in society that contributes to poverty. We should support leaders, organizations and policies that empower the disadvantaged, provide access to education and healthcare, create job opportunities, and overcome inequities that marginalize the poor. Both immediate relief and advocacy for long-term solutions are important.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9
7. Partner with churches and ministries
Rather than acting alone, we can make a greater impact by working with churches and Christian ministries serving the homeless and needy. These organizations provide food, shelter, counseling, job-training, addiction recovery programs, and other support. Partnering with them allows us to contribute to life transformation in a coordinated way.
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. – Galatians 6:10
8. Give generously to help the poor
While directly giving money to panhandlers has risks, Scripture consistently calls us to great generosity toward the poor, needy, oppressed and vulnerable. We should regularly and abundantly give to support effective ministries, systemic change efforts, crisis relief, and church ministry to the disadvantaged. This honors God and reflects His heart for justice and compassion.
All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along. – Galatians 2:10
9. Treat them as you want to be treated
Jesus taught us to “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). How would you hope to be treated if you were a beggar? With contempt or respect? With indifference or sincere care? With disgust or Christ-like love? Let the Golden Rule guide your response. Pray for humility, wisdom and generosity as you interact with beggars.
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. – Matthew 7:12
10. Point them to Christ
In every interaction, look for opportunities to share the Gospel message of hope and point beggars to Jesus Christ. Meeting physical needs opens the door to meeting spiritual needs. While respecting their freedom of choice, graciously offer to pray for them, invite them to church, provide information about Christian recovery groups, and communicate God’s unconditional love for them.
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. – Matthew 10:8
In summary, responding to beggars in a Christ-like manner involves moving with compassion, praying for wisdom, seeking to understand their deeper needs, partnering with churches/ministries, advocating for social justice, giving generously to help the poor, setting healthy boundaries, and pointing people to the hope found in Jesus Christ. As we encounter beggars, may God open our eyes to see them as He does.