While thinking about the principles of stewardship, the giving to the needy (especially today as we have so many friends, family and church members out of work), I came across the following from John Calvin,
[L]et this be the rule we observe when we seek to do good and to act compassionately: we are stewards of all that the Lord has given us, and which make it possible for us to help our neighbour. ...Now there is no better or more appropriate way of exercising stewardship than that prescribed by the rule of love. Accordingly, not only will we combine concern for our neighbour's interests with concern for our own, we will also subordinate our interests to those of others (A Guide to Christian Living by John Calvin, translated by Robert White, Banner of Truth Trust, pgs. 36-37).
So there is the rule, but to who does this apply?
The Lord requires us to do good to all. He makes no exception, even though most people are unworthy if we judge them on their merits. Scripture, however, forstalls us, warning us to pay no attention to human worth in itself, but rather to consider the image of god which is in all of us, which deserves all our respect and affection. Especially should we acknowledge it among God's servants in the faith (gal. 6:10), because it is being renewed and restored in them by the Spirit of Christ (pg.38).
What's behind all of this? Calvin explains,
Christians must first have empathy for the person who needs help: they should pity his misfortune as if they themselves were feeling and experiencing it; they should be moved to aid him by the same compassion which they would have for themselves. ...We should recognize that whatever we have and are capable of doing is owed to a neighbour. There is no limit to our obligation to do good, except our lack of capacity; however far our capacity may extend, it should always answer to the rule of love (pgs. 41 & 43).
The rule of love always comes first but how often does the rule of self actually comes first? Calvin perfectly lays out the basic principle in all of our dealings and especially with the Brethren. Let's not forsake our calling to do good to all.
Is there a flip side to this? Is there a time when we should not give? Here we can turn to Tim Keller,
We must let mercy limit mercy. ...We may cut off our aid only if it is unmerciful to continue it. It is unmerciful to bail out a person who needs to feel the full consequences of his own irresponsible behavior. Sometimes we may have to say: "Friend we are not withdrawing our mercy, just changing its form. We will continue to pray for you and visit you, and the minute you are willing to cooperate with us and make the changes that we believe are needed, we will resume our aid. Please realize that it is only out of love that we are doing this!" (Ministries of Mercy by Timothy Keller, P&R Publishing, pg. 98)
To that, when the situation calls for it, we add a hearty, Amen! But better to err on the side of pity and mercy until the facts can be fully obtained. Investigate thoroughly and let Scriptures be the guide. It may take more than one instance of help to see a family through a crisis. It may take several and it may take other forms of assistance, but always let us remember Calvin's admonition, ...There is no better or more appropriate way of exercising stewardship than that prescribed by the rule of love.