A while back, I was asked for help from someone who had extended family members living with them and things weren’t going well. This person felt like they were being taken advantage of and lied to, even though they were trying to help out. Here are four principles I encouraged this person to consider. This isn’t the final answer to this question, but these are important biblical truths to keep in mind.
Before we even consider those principles, however, the first question to ask is- do these people know the Gospel? Have they heard the good news of salvation? Do they know that their fundamental problem isn’t housing or a job, it’s hell and judgment for their sins? Everything we do as Christians need to point to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Your loving patience, your gentleness, and perhaps even your firmness in refusing to enable irresponsible behavior should all clearly point to what our Lord and Savior calls us to do, and calls them to do as well. If they are living in sin, they need Christ more than anything else.
You don’t ask family members to leave just because they’re driving you crazy. You don’t respond in anger or bitterness. First, you ought to pray and examine your own heart. Are your desires and motivations in this situation pure? Are you willing to do what is needed to put Christ and the Gospel on display? With that as our foundation, let’s consider these principles:
1. I think the Bible is clear: adults who are able to work and could reasonably be expected to pay for their own housing should be doing that, or at the least they ought to be clearly working towards being in a position to do that. I’ve found that people are going to take things for free as long as they can get them, but that’s not God’s design for us. Paul seems very clear in 2 Thessalonians 3:10.
“For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
From what Paul said there, I don’t think it’s loving to encourage irresponsible living, and its certainly not loving to encourage sinful living. I think Paul knows exactly what will happen to a person if they don’t eat when he makes this statement to the Thessalonians. I also think Paul is wise enough to understand that most people will actually begin to work and do what’s necessary if it means a choice between eating or not. If a person is simply unwilling to be responsible when they could be, you are not called to be responsible for them. People who try and guilt you into being responsible for them when they could be responsible for themselves are not acting like Christians in any way.
Many people find themselves in situations where relationships are being strained, even ruined, because they didn’t make the hard decisions earlier to encourage people to be responsible.
2. We must be loving and generous to those in genuine need, especially in our family (Deut. 15:7-11). By genuine need, I mean that they really can’t do anything for themselves. In that case you ought to do everything you can to help them, and do it joyfully. That might be letting them live with you, or it might be helping them get into a job and place of their own. But remember: love is an unmitigated and joyful yes for those in genuine, helpless need. Don’t allow bitterness, impatience, or frustration to mar your joy in genuinely helping and serving someone else. You may have to ask what is causing you to be frustrated and impatient, and whether it is a legitimate concern or just an unwillingness to serve and love others that needs to be repented of.
However, depending on the circumstances, love sometimes needs to be a firm and gentle “no.” It’s still love though, whether it’s seen that way by the recipient or not. You actually can love a person by making them grow and become more mature and responsible. Hopefully they will come to realize they stand responsible before God for themselves. They might get mad and upset, but there are some people who won’t realize that they have to stand responsible for themselves unless they are forced to. And if we are ever going to understand our personal responsibility for our own sin before a holy God, then the principle of personal responsibility has to be clear in other areas of our life as well.
3. Protect your own heart from bitterness and sin. (Eph. 4:31-32). First, be sure to remember that their greatest need is Jesus Christ and salvation and you are in a position to point them to Christ. If they’re not Christians, they’re not going to act like it. You need to be very clear when you explain why you are doing what you are doing so that the non Christian understands your desire is to show love to them in a Christ-like way. That’s true whether you are asking someone to leave, or encouraging someone to stay. You want to clearly explain that you are trying to honor God’s design for humanity, as he revealed it in Scripture. They may or may not understand that, but you have the opportunity to show them a glimpse of why they need Christ, and what it means to honor the God who made us all. Added to that, we need to be willing to forgive and show mercy to someone who has acted in a fit of anger and passion. (Luke 6:32-43). Our goal isn’t to protect ourselves, but to honor God by being faithful to his principles.
4. If it’s a Christian taking advantage of someone, then the loving thing to do is remind them that they are not honoring God as long as they refuse to take responsibility for themselves (think about Ruth getting up and going out to gather grain for her and Naomi, or 2 Thess. 3:10). Counsel them to trust that the Lord will provide for their needs if they are faithful to be good stewards (Phillipians 4:19). Maybe they’re afraid they can’t make it on their own and they need strong encouragement to be faithful and trust the Lord to provide. And along with that encouragement, if you are enabling them to take advantage of others, or even allowing them to take advantage of yourself, you should stop. That’s not loving. That’s the point of Galatians 6:5. Sometimes you do have to help people bear their loads when there are real handicaps that plague them, but there are definitely other times when people must bear their loads for themselves if they are going to honor God. Even in this point alone, there’s so many Scriptures you can point to with a Christian and show them they need to consider how they’re responding to God.
A final point: Putting clear expectations on the relationship is vital. When things are open-ended, people make assumptions and begin to take advantage of each other. Asking questions is helpful: “How long do you need before you can get a place of your own? “Why can’t you afford your own place?” “What are you spending your time and money on?” (That’s fair to ask, by the way, if someone is taking advantage of your time and money). “Are you willing to pay to be here?” If they’re lying to you, that could be a clue that they are unwilling to take responsibility and would rather make you take responsibility for them. Being clear with your expectations is also vital. “I’m willing to do this, and I won’t do anything more than this.”
Sin makes all this so difficult and messy sometimes. Be as clear as you can, always. Understand how human nature works, and seek to do everything to honor God and his design for his people. There’s an opportunity here to put the Gospel on display.
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