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 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 5000 men, plus their wives, and other women, and children, possibly about 15,000 people all together:
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 for 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. Their real need was 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 was saying was from God (and was 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 demanded 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 encourage people to focus on the wrong need, 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... lost people need the gospel. They need to believe in Jesus.
Jesus speaking to the woman at the well: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never be thirsty; but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.” - John 4:13-14
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. Seems harsh. On the other hand scripture defines the role of government as: fighting evil and praising 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 that people who can work, must be WILLING to work. However, there can be times when work may not be available. In those cases, we are to help those in need.
This brings us to our obligation described in Leviticus 23:22 (above). Instead of giving away food, we are to provide ways for those who are hungry to work to earn 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 in need, to help with tasks around the house. Some of the people coming to a food bank could be helping to stock the shelves, set up tables, and sweep the floors. We can find ways so those who are willing to work, can work.
What about people who are working, but not making enough money to buy the food they need? This is a situation in which knowing the person and their circumstances is important. Tab here to learn more about true compassion.
The Biblical Principal
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. The church is called to help them. However, today we have mostly turned that responsibility over to the government. Unfortunately 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.
Summary: Providing Food for Unbelievers
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 2nd Thessalonians, we need to evaluate the situation before providing food (or other forms of assistance). Once we know there is a true need, we next should be looking for ways people can work to meet their needs. Finally, if they are unable to work, or no work is available, we should do what we are able to do to help them in their needs.
If you are unable to work, living on food stamps and what you get from the county food bank, have government subsidized housing, and are receiving other government benefits, what should you do? Move out? Stop going to the food bank? No. What needs to happen is a fundamental change in the system. However, before that, you need to do 2 Corinthians 13:5... "test yourselves to see if you are in the faith." Then become a part of a good, Biblical church, and participate in making it a Biblical church, and work (and vote) for those who will govern based on Biblical principals.