Where Is The Fine Line Between Helping And Enabling?


God calls us to be generous and compassionate. But does he really want us to give money to everyone who asks or has a need?


My son is turning 6 this week. If it were up to him, he would still be wearing diapers and being spoon fed. If I were to help him out and do that, most people would agree that I was hindering his proper development and maturation. Right?


No one would argue that I should let him stay in diapers so that he doesn’t have to stop playing to use the restroom. No one would say it was unfair for me to make him wipe his own bottom. We all agree that I’m helping him grow into a mature adult and I would be hurting him not to do so.


If it’s all so clear when it comes to potty training, why do people get so confused when it comes to money? Why do so many people struggle with the difference between being a helper and an enabler?


What Is An Enabler?

An enabler is “a person who encourages or enables negative or self-destructive behavior in another.” If I allowed my son to stay in diapers, I would be an enabler, not a helper. I would be making possible a negative behavior.


When it comes to money, a lot of people seem to think giving and helping are synonymous. If you want to help someone, you give them money, right? Sometimes, yes. But sometimes that would actually hurt them instead.


I think this is an area where Christians, especially, struggle. Jesus helped people, told us to give people the shirt off our back, told us to love. So doesn’t that mean we should meet every financial need within our power?


No, because sometimes by doing so we will be enabling negative or self-destructive behavior. Don’t believe me? Let’s see what the Bible says.


What Does The Bible Say?

In I Timothy 5, Paul gives Timothy some instructions regarding taking care of widows. For those over 60 who have lived a godly life and have no family to care for them, the church should support them financially. In this case, the financial support really does help them.


However, Paul says not to do the same with the younger widows. Why not? “They get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.” (v 13) Paul says that to provide financial support to these women will only enable bad behavior. It will hurt them.


Would it be easier for these ladies to have the church meet their financial needs? Yes. Will some struggle to make ends meet on their own? Yes. Would it give the church warm fuzzy feelings to help these ladies? Probably.


But is it what God wants? No. You see, God cares more about character and relationship with him than our physical comfort. Sometimes people need to go through a tough time financially in order to build their character or deepen their relationship with him.


Distinguishing Between Help And Enablement

I think that the more we love someone, the harder it is for us to distinguish between helping and enabling. That’s where prayer and wisdom and discernment need to come in.


Most parents think they are helping when they let their adult child move back home. Are they?


If the child is a single parent going through a divorce, maybe they are helping.


If the child is there for a set, short time period in order to save up for a downpayment (and they actually are saving), they are probably helping.


If the child only works part time and has no plans to better their situation, that’s not helping them at all. That’s hindering their character growth and maturation.


Even II Thessalonians 3:10 says, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” We tend to become lazy jerks when we have everything just handed to us.


When we see someone with a financial need, we need to pause a moment before trying to meet it. Instead of asking what will make them most comfortable, we need to ask what will help them become the person God created them to be.


Sometimes God calls us to help and be generous. Sometimes God calls us to hold back and let him work in a person’s life. We need to take the time to discern his will and be willing to obey regardless of our feelings.


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