As I stopped my car at a red light, I saw the same man standing beside the road again. He held a cardboard sign: Need money for food. Anything helps. I looked away and sighed. Was I the kind of person who ignored the needy?
Some people pretend to have needs but are actually con artists. Others have legitimate needs but face difficulties overcoming destructive habits. Social workers tell us it’s better to give money to the aid ministries in our city. I swallowed hard and drove past. I felt bad, but I may have acted wisely.
God commands us to “warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). To do this well we must know who belongs in which category. If we warn a weak or disheartened person, we may break her spirit; if we help an idle person, we may encourage laziness. Consequently, we help best from up close, when we know the person well enough to know what he needs.
Has God burdened your heart to help someone? Great! Now the work begins. Don’t assume you know what that person needs. Ask her to share her story, and listen. Prayerfully give as seems wise and not merely to feel better. When we truly aim “to do what is good for each other,” we will more readily “be patient with everyone,” even when they stumble (vv. 14–15).
When have others most helped you? What did you learn about how best to help others?
Most scholars agree Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians early in his eighteen-month stay in Corinth (around AD 49–51) during his second missionary journey (see Acts 18:1–18). Paul, Timothy, and Silas taught in the synagogue in Thessalonica over the course of three Sabbaths. During that time a number of Jews and God-fearing gentiles became believers in Jesus (Acts 17:4). But then rioters forced the trio to leave the city (vv. 9–10). Not long after, Paul sent Timothy back to check on the new church. When Timothy caught up with Paul in Corinth, he gave Paul a report that prompted him to write this letter. The book’s main theme is the second coming of Christ. Today’s passage outlines how to live in the meantime until He returns.