Should the poor be helped if it makes our life harder?


I have a penchant for helping the poor. But I came across an article titled "Lifeboat Ethics: the Case Against Helping the Poor" and it was really interesting. Here is an excerpt:

"If we divide the world crudely into rich nations and poor nations, two thirds of them are desperately poor, and only one third comparatively rich, with the United States the wealthiest of all. Metaphorically each rich nation can be seen as a lifeboat full of comparatively rich people. In the ocean outside each lifeboat swim the poor of the world, who would like to get in, or at least to share some of the wealth. What should the lifeboat passengers do? First, we must recognize the limited capacity of any lifeboat. For example, a nation's land has a limited capacity to support a population and as the current energy crisis has shown us, in some ways we have already exceeded the carrying capacity of our land."

This hit me hard too from the article:

Some say they feel guilty about their good luck. My reply is simple: "Get out and yield your place to others."

It goes directly against the Bible's teachings, and this article's reasoning makes some sense too. Two examples are Matthew 25:37-46 and I John 3:16-20.


The philosophy being taught is called situational ethics. It is a belief that right and wrong changes based on the situation a person finds himself in. Thus, instead of examining whether someone in need ought to be helped, the focus is shifted to the capacity to help. Helping the poor becomes "right" if a person decides he can do it with no impact on himself but "wrong" if it might potentially harm his own situation.

The flaw is that moral decisions are being based on a selfish outlook and greed. It hurts me, then I shouldn't do it. How unlike Christ!

"Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:3-8).

Yes, each person has limited resources. But it doesn't mean we don't do the best with what we have.

"Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need" (Ephesians 4:28).

"And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:9-10).

We do what we can when we can. We put priorities on our brethren, but don't neglect others.

"Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard" (Isaiah 58:6-8).

The goal is not to wipe out poverty. Such a task can never be accomplished (Mark 14:7). But what you and I can do is ease a fellow traveler's burden for a moment as we journey through life.

Right and wrong stand independent of situations. It isn't based on our personal view of its impact on our personal life.


Thank you so much, Mr. Hamilton! Each question was answered so clearly and lengthy, with the perfect Bible verses backing it up. These answers have helped me tremendously. Thanks again and God bless!


You're welcome. Write at any time.

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