References “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

One of the marks of true faith is generosity. Every believer knows the story of the widow who put all she had into the offering plate. But how do we tell the difference between generosity and obligation? When is it OK not to give? In their book, “Boundaries” Cloud and Townsend draw a distinction between benevolence and obligation.

The difference between love and fear

Too many Christians give out of fear. They have been convinced it is sinful to ever refuse someone else’s request. Christians are encouraged to give out of their available resources, but they are also discouraged from enabling sin. Understanding what is and is not appropriating giving helps with that.

Signs you are giving out of love

  • You feel no resentment
  • You are repaid with that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with doing good
  • You do not expect this act to secure you a future favor

Signs you are giving out of obligation

  • You are motivated by what they will do to you if you do not agree (they won’t like you anymore, or they will become angry and punish you)
  • All you can think about is how much you would rather put that resource toward something else

In one of her “Little House on the Prairie” books, Laura Ingalls Wilder gives us the perfect example of someone giving out of obligation because she thought it was the Christian thing to do. When she and her husband were first married, they had a neighbor who loved to borrow, but wasn’t so eager about returning the items. When they did get their belongings back, they were often worn or broken. Come hog slaughtering time, he borrowed their tools to kill and clean the hog and the barrel to scald him in. When he came walking up the path again, Laura gritted her teeth and vowed to give him their hog if he asked for it.

While this may seem like a paragon of Christlike generosity, Laura is unintentionally enabling her neighbor’s sinful behavior. This man is an adult of means, but rather than provide for himself, he takes advantage of the Wilders’ generosity. It is one thing to occasionally borrow from your friends. It is something else entirely to expect constant access to things you should provide for yourself.

It is biblical to say ‘no’

Here, Laura gives out of fear. She is afraid it would be sinful to deny her neighbor’s requests. While her desire to obey God is commendable, she is actually interfering with the results of irresponsibility. Want is a natural consequence of sloth. We disrupt that learning process when we protect someone from what they have coming to them.

This is why it is important to examine your motivation for giving. Are you giving because your contribution will strengthen the fellowship of believers? Or are you giving because you are afraid to do otherwise? People give out of fear because they want to avoid punishment. Laura wanted to avoid the punishment of guilt. Others want to avoid the punishment of rejection. They fear if they refuse, the seeker will say they are mean, and so withhold affection.

Know when you are being manipulated

Image-2 (1)Giving out of fear does not encourage benevolence; it turns you into an emotional hostage. Giving out of fear allows people to take advantage of you because they reinforce their request with the threat of withdrawing their respect or affection for you if you deny them. Scripture does not sanction this kind of giving. Rather, it condemns those who would manipulate others. I Cor. 13, the “Love Chapter” reminds us that true love respects others, is not self-seeking, and does not hold grudges.

Compulsive giving encourages this behavior in both parties. It empowers the seeker to take advantage of others to further their own interests, and it causes the giver to be resentful because of the strain of granting the request.

When to say ‘yes’ 

  • You are helping them with something they cannot do on their own
  • It is something you would want help with
  • You have adequate resources to do so

When to say ‘no’

  • You are helping them avoid consequences that will teach a valuable life lesson
  • You only want to say yes because you fear they will respond to rejection by withholding love or hurting you
  • It is something they need to learn to do on their own

Christian counseling about biblical giving

If you, like Laura, think refusing a request is liable to bring a lightning bolt down on your head, consider meeting with a professional Christian counselor. They can help you understand why you feel so compelled to agree to everything. A professional Christian counselor will help you gain a better understand of how to develop healthier exchanges with others. They will use therapeutic techniques, supported by biblical principles to help you give out of love instead of fear.


Is-it-OK-to-say-no user Pressmaster; Biblical-giving-Christian-counseling user Yuri_arcurs


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