“Where/how do you draw the line between helping someone and allowing someone to take advantage of you?”
Luke 6:30, 35-36 tells us to “give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.” “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” These verses and many others in the Bible teach us that Christians are to be loving, merciful, and self-sacrificing. As we see the needs of people all around us, our hearts should be full of compassion just as our Heavenly Father has compassion towards all people. “The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Psalm 145:9).
It is right to have a heart that would continually give to others, and it pleases God to see this wonderful characteristic in our lives. However, in this area of giving and helping, the Bible also teaches that we must have wise discernment (Matthew 10:16). God gives us certain standards that we must take into account when it comes to giving our time and money to others. When the Bible tells us we are to help others, the purpose is never for us to do this to the point where it becomes detrimental. It’s good to do what we’re able to do, but 2 Thessalonians 3:10 also reminds us, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” There are people who want to live an irresponsible lifestyle with absolutely no accountability. So there must be limits; we will help someone with a need, but if we see that it’s become a chronic life pattern, it’s wrong for us to continue to encourage that. It’s very harmful to others to contribute to their indolence, laziness, and lack of effort. The old saying “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime” is very true. As long as we see that someone is sincerely making an effort, we should be there to support him in whatever way God leads.
Often, a much more effective way to help others is to come alongside them to give biblical council, principles and encouragement. If they are willing to listen and try, they should be able, through the power of the Holy Spirit within them, to reverse this pattern of dependency on others. This begins, of course, with a clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, without whose empowerment, lifestyle changes of this magnitude are not possible.
We are also to take into consideration what the Bible tells us about being good stewards. As we put our trust in God and walk with Him, He promises to supply our needs (Philippians 4:19). What the Lord provides for us, we must use wisely. We are to give back to the Lord a portion of what He gives us; we are to provide for the needs of our families; and we are to pay our bills. How we spend our time is also involved in stewardship; a balance of worship, work and family is important. These are all principal aspects of stewardship and cannot be neglected, so they must be considered in the decision of how and what we can do in helping others. If, by helping someone else financially, we are unable to take care of our own debts and responsibilities, then we are not doing right in our efforts to help.
There are many ways people can take advantage of others. It’s important that we make this a matter of prayer, asking the Lord to show us what He wants us to do. He will give us wisdom to recognize genuine need and discern between an opportunity and a distraction (James 1:5). Sometimes, people are so beaten down by life’s trials and failures that they need someone who is willing to be a long-term friend to them. This can be a trying relationship, but it can also be a very rewarding one. Local churches can be a tremendous help to those with a burden for those in need. However, trying to help someone who is just not willing to take any steps towards a solution in the matter may be a hopeless cause. Again, praying for God’s wisdom and exercising the discernment He gives are crucial in these situations.