Feeding Hungry People
What does the Bible say about feeding the hungry? What did Jesus do? There seem to be some contradictions.
On one hand, Jesus is very clear... we are to love one another. That does not mean having an affection for one another, it means helping to meet the needs of other people. Hunger certainly is a need.
I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another. - John 13:34
We need to be very careful to understand the context of scripture. Who is Jesus speaking to here? His disciples. He is telling His disciples that they are to love one another. Believers are to love each other. This is not a general command to love everybody. Okay... but what about Matthew 5:44?
But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may prove yourselves to be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. - Matthew 5:44-45
Here Jesus is saying we are to love even those who would persecute us. Those cannot be believers.
Since love is an action of helping others with their needs, we have our answer. We are to give food to whoever asks for food. Is that what Jesus did? Well... no. The following takes place on the morning after Jesus fed the 5000:
So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the small boats and came to Capernaum, looking for Jesus. And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?” Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate some of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that lasts for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” - John 6:24-27
The crowd from the day before had followed Jesus, looking food. He had given them an evening meal, now they were looking for breakfast. What does Jesus do? He addresses their greatest need, the need for spiritual food. They need eternal life.
Why did He feed everyone the previous day?
Every miracle Jesus does had a purpose in addition to compassion and meeting physical needs. In most cases that purpose was to demonstrate Jesus is God and what He is saying is from God (and true). The day before He spoke about the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:11). That was His normal message. He had miraculously healed people, and to finish the day He created food to feed them. Both were supernatural miracles. Jesus did things only God could do. (What conclusion should you draw from that?)
The next morning, when the people came looking for breakfast, there was no point in doing additional miracles. They had seen Him heal people. They had been part of a huge crowd whom Jesus had miraculously fed. Yet, they still did not believe Him. Jesus told them what they needed, "Believe in Him whom He has sent." (John 6:29) In response, they again demand breakfast, phrasing it as a request for a sign,
"What then are You doing as a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work are You performing? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’”
They had heard Jesus teaching about the kingdom the previous day. They had seen the signs (miracles) that proved He was God. And they did not believe. Creating food again would accomplish nothing, so Jesus does not feed them. They were focused on the physical, when their real need was spiritual.
We see from Jesus' example that our focus needs to be on loving people... meeting their real needs, the greatest of which is their spiritual need... they need the gospel. They need to believe in Jesus.
What Else Does Scripture Say About Feeding People?
If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. - 2 Thessalonians 3:10
When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the Lord your God. - Leviticus 23:22
That's very straightforward. If you are not willing to work, you have no right to food. The principle is that, we should not be providing food to everyone who wants free food. That means our government run food banks are a sin. Seems harsh. On the other hand scripture defines the role of government as to fight evil and praise that which is good. That's it. That's everything government is to do. The government doing something that God has not designed government to do, such as charity, can only result in an unbiblical, and harmful result.
It is important to note the requirement is that people must be WILLING to work. There are times when work may not be available. In those cases, we are to help those in need.
The second part of this is that we should provide ways for those who are hungry to work, in a non-exploitive way, and obtain the food they need. We don't live in a first century agrarian society in which we can leave parts of our fields unharvested. However, there are other things we can do. I know some Christian business owners who set aside simple tasks, that require little or no training, for people in need. I've hired neighbors who were in need, to help me with tasks around the house. We can find ways so those who are willing to work, can work.
Although not from the Bible, this Biblical principle can be summarized as, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish [work] and you feed him for a lifetime."
Finally, we must never forget those who cannot help themselves. The Bible frequently talks about helping widows and orphans. In the first century these were the people who were unable to help themselves. Our policy today seems to be to dump them on the streets. The government does a terrible job of taking care of people in need, and in many ways enables drug addiction and homelessness. On top of that, government policies, regulations and laws restrict the ways churches and individuals can help people in need. The problem is that we are looking to government to do something that, based on the Bible, government was never designed to do. The government is not supposed to be the source of charity. We are. The church is.
What we see in scripture is that we are not to indiscriminately feed the "hungry." The Bible does not command: "If someone is hungry, give them food." Instead, based on Jesus' example and 2 Thessalonians, we need to evaluate the situation before providing food (or other forms of assistance), and we should be providing ways for people to work to meet their needs. In addition, because we have not been following Biblical principles for helping people, government "help," regulations and laws are doing more harm than good. Where do we turn for the answers? ALWAYS JESUS.