Matthew 5:42—Should believers literally give anything to anyone who asks?
Problem: Here Jesus clearly said, “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away” (cf. Luke 6:30). But, if we took this literally we would have nothing to provide for our own families. Also, Paul says that those who do not provide for their own families are worse than infidels (1 Tim. 5:8).
Solution: A text out of its context is a pretext. We must understand the context in which Jesus said “give to him who asks you.” First of all, as we know from other things Jesus said and did, this does not mean to give to people what will harm them. As Jesus said, no good father would give a serpent to his child (Matt. 7:10). Furthermore, it does not mean give to those who can work, but refuse to. Paul said emphatically, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thes. 3:10). Finally, the whole context of Jesus’ statements here are to reaffirm the spirit of the law which He came to fulfill (Matt. 5:17–18), as opposed to what they “heard” (cf. Matt. 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43)—what had been said by oral tradition and misinterpretation (cf. Matt. 15:3–6).
Here Jesus is explicitly addressing the legalistic misinterpretation of the OT that says take revenge on your enemy with “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Matt. 5:38). By contrast Jesus says, don’t retaliate against your enemy. Love him, and give to help him (cf. v. 44). But Jesus no more expected His listeners to take, without qualification, the command to “give to him who asks you” than He intended them to literally cut off their hands and pluck out their eyes if they offended them (vv. 29–30)!
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.