The woman had received everything our mentorship program had to offer when she chose life over abortion. The list of resources offered and received was impressive: a caring mentor, a baby shower, help paying bills, parenting help and childcare in a wonderful residential program, help securing a safe apartment, help with gas cards, grocery cards, and phone bills, discipleship and spiritual counseling. She had a good job and a new chance at life. A seemingly sincere and firm commitment to the Lord had been made.
And then the same patterns, terrible choices, sinful lifestyle re-emerged and she was back at square one. Her world crumbled. Again. She cried and repented. She requested more help. She said all the right things, as she had when we first met her. However, once again, her actions belied the encouraging words.
This pattern continued every time we offered assistance. All of us involved in helping this woman felt the same burden. We wanted to love her as Jesus would have us love her, and help as generously as we could. However, were we helping compassionately or enabling her to continue a destructive life?
If the prolife ministry you are involved in offers ongoing help to women, there will undoubtedly arise a time when you face this issue. The decision to cut back or remove assistance is never an easy one. There is no doubt that the Bible commands us to share sacrificially with those in need.
“And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” – Hebrews13:16
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? – 1 John 3:17
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. – Luke 15:20
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. – Proverbs 19:17
“Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands? ” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”” – Luke 10:30-37
All these verses and many others proclaim the duty of every believer to help others and show compassion to the less fortunate and needy. It is more difficult to find passages that guide us in when or how or even IF we should cease offering help. However, many of us have faced this dilemma with those we help who struggle with addictions, or use willful manipulation, or refuse to quit destructive behavior. We know that there is a point at which it is harmful rather than loving to continue to offer help.
One of the most famous passages regarding love is in 1 Corinthians 13. What does Christian love require of us? A LOT.
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians13:4-7
It is significant that in this list of enduring, hopeful, patient kindness, God reminds us that love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. This is an important key that love is not properly expressed if it promotes unrighteousness. Love must always rejoice in righteousness and truth. If it is producing unrighteousness and false behavior to God, is it loving? It is more likely that at that point, it is enabling destructive choices.
The Bible does have examples of enablers and a misapplication of love. One of these examples is in the story of Rebekah and how she deals with the blessings her dying husband, Isaac, wishes to give his firstborn son. In this passage, Rebekah is not showing loving provision, but enabling sin in her son Jacob when she overhears Isaac talking to her other son Esau. The passage is below.
“Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game to bring home, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Behold, I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, saying, ‘Bring me some game and prepare a savory dish for me, that I may eat, and bless you in the presence of the LORD before my death.’ Now therefore, my son, listen to me as I command you. Go now to the flock and bring me two choice young goats from there, that I may prepare them as a savory dish for your father, such as he loves. Then you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death.” Jacob answered his mother Rebekah, “Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me, then I will be as a deceiver in his sight, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing.” But his mother said to him, “Your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, get them for me.”” – Genesis 27:5-13
Jacob does what his mother tells him to, deceives his father and cheats his brother successfully out of his blessing. However, what follows is a fractured family and years of division and fear for what Jacob is sure will be Esau seeking revenge. (The interesting background story is that Jacob himself used deception to gain his father-in-law’s healthiest sheep. The sins of the parents are often transmitted and copied by the children.)
In another Bible passage, Jesus feeds 5,000 people who have followed Him to a remote place. In an act of great compassion, Jesus provides for their needs. After that, they are eager to remain with Him…but not because they know He is God. He rightly discerns they are following Him because He fed them! He doesn’t wish to enable them in that need, necessary as it is. It is not what is of most value, and He sternly rebukes them.
“Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.”” – John 6:26-27
Jesus is demonstrating the most important goal of compassion. It must be used to draw others to Him in a true and sincere faith.
Sometimes love does NOT mean giving what someone wants or thinks she needs. Scripture repeatedly reminds us that discipline, which may be sorrowful, is sometimes an expression of true compassion. In the end, discipline is often necessary to lead to the fruit of righteousness.
“FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES He DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”
For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” – Hebrews12:6, 10-11
An excellent article on this subject lists five questions we can ask ourselves to biblically guide us in whether we are being loving or enabling in how we are helping others. These questions are good ones to help discern if we have reached a point where it is most loving to stop our assistance.
(Practicing Boundaries: Love vs. Enabling by John Townsend)
#1. Are they unable?
…carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. — Galatians 6:2
Be sure to determine if they are unable to help themselves, or unwilling. If unable, we are called to help them carry their burden. If unwilling, we may be enabling destructive behavior.
#2. Are you resourced?
If the burden of helping someone results in an inability to care for your own family, then you are probably not called to help at least to the degree you are doing so. This concept could be applied to ministries with limited resources as well. If one person is swallowing a huge chunk of resources necessary to help many, it may not be loving to continue helping that one person to that extent.
Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. — I Timothy 5:8
Sacrificial giving is a Biblical call, as when the woman gave her last two coins (Mark 12:41-44). But be certain through prayer and consultation with trusted believers that the situation is one in which sacrificial giving is what God is calling you to do.
#3. Do they have skin in the game?
Is the person willing to be a part of the solution, doing her best to contribute to a Godly and successful outcome? If you are doing all the work while she has refused to be involved in helping herself, assisting her is likely promoting “learned helplessness.” When someone has learned to let others take over without offering any help for themselves, they can become passive and give up. All of us grow stronger when we are self-responsible and challenged to do the right thing and make right choices to provide for ourselves and our family.
The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat. — 2 Thessalonians 3:10
#4. Will you feel cheerful or will you feel reluctant or under compulsion?
This question is based on Paul’s words about giving:
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. — 2 Corinthians 9:7
Our emotions can be a sign of whether we are helping or hindering someone in compassionate giving of ourselves and resources. If we are bitter, or reluctant, that could indicate our giving is not leading to the sanctifying goal we desire. Of course, it could also reflect the state of our heart. As in all these issues, prayer and council of strong spiritual advisors are valuable.
#5. Is the outcome gratitude and autonomy, or entitlement and dependency?
This last question is probably the most important. If the person is not grateful and comes to look for help as her due, that is not healthy. Additionally, if she becomes passive or dependent on the help and falls into destructive choices, the help being offered has become a source of enablement.
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. — Matthew 7:18
In closing, the Biblical passage in Acts 3 of Peter healing the man who had been lame from birth illustrates very important principles of the ultimate goals of compassion and loving help to others.
“Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!” And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.
and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. While he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement. But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.
Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;” – Acts 3:1-8, 10-16, 19
Notice that Peter does not have money to give the lame man. That is what the lame man believes he needs and wants, but Peter gives him something MUCH more valuable. He first heals the man, but then points him to Jesus as the source not only of physical but of spiritual healing. He did NOT give money which would only have enabled the man to continue as a lame beggar. He identified the need to be healed, made sure the man wanted to be healed, and then followed the physical healing with spiritual direction to the source of all hope—Jesus. Finally, helping the lame man was used as a lesson to others of the truth of who Jesus is. Ultimately, Peter used that compassionate act as a springboard to teach about salvation.
There are several important principles of compassion vs. enabling in this passage.
- Give what you are able to give.
- Determine what are the desires of the one you intend to help and discern what are the true critical needs.
- Sometimes what is asked for is NOT healthy and should not be indulged.
- All love and compassion should ultimately result in the person turning not to YOU, but to God.
- You should give all glory to God for anything offered to others.
- Your compassion should be a testimony to others of the power, love, and hope of God.