Help others to help themselves

“You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.” – Abraham Lincoln



It has become popular to see the church’s job in the world to act as, primarily, a force for feeding the hungry, and caring for the poor in general. This is a noble task, if done in the name of Jesus, but it is not the Gospel.

The Gospel is news, that is something that we proclaim, not something we accomplish, it has been finished (cf. John 19:30).

Though we certainly should care for our neighbors who need the help (cf. “The Good Samaritan” Luke 10″), it is also clear, from a New Testament perspective, we should not render aid to those who have the ability to work for themselves and choose not to (cf. 2Thess 3:10).

For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.

-Mark 14:7 (cf. Matt 26:11; John 12:8)

Jesus’ attitude towards the poor can be summarized as “help them, sure, but that’s not why I (we) are here…”

Most of us are aware of the proverb* “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” While I think there is great wisdom in this saying, that is to say, it is more worthwhile to teach someone to do something, than to do it for them, there is a more permanent need than food and shelter.

…give a man the Gospel, and he will fish for men

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

-Matt 4:19


*Originally coined by Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie in Mrs. Dymond (1885) “if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour. If you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.”

About John Harris

I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

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