Since I've been back in Vegas, I have been approached ten different times by people who were supposedly in need. Now, having lived in Chicago for sometime, I have heard a lot of stories and can usually spot them pretty well.
For instance, when someone says they have been abandoned by their boyfriend or car broke down and they are from out of state, that's almost a sure sign that you're getting a bogus story. The reason why many approach you this way, as opposed to asking for food or saying they live locally, is because you can't just offer them food or give them a ride. It's highly unlikely someone is going to give you a ride from Las Vegas to California (unless the guy is really in need of something to do or is a serial killer), so the prospect of getting some cash out of people is really good.
Others might be homeless because they want to be. For instance, take this story about the homeless man who was recently given boots by the officer.
Many are homeless due to drug and alcohol addiction. Still, others are homeless because they had a hard hand dealt to them.
But even when you do bump into those who are homeless for legitimate reasons, or are propositioned by a charity, or just want to give to some organization, Christians need to be aware of something that I don't think most realize, and that is this: the Christian practice of giving to the poor needs to be directed to poor Christians. In other words, Christians need to give to Christians. By this, they will know that you are His disciples: when you love one another (i.e., fellow Christians).
So I'm going to challenge you to think about something you may not have thought about before today. Search the New Testament and show me one passage anywhere that either commands or praises, or even describes, Christians giving to unbelievers. You're not going to find it. Christians are too busy taking care of other Christians, precisely because those other Christians represent Christ. Their love for Christ compels them to take care of one another, as opposed to just wanting to feel good about themselves in giving to just anyone.
In other words, the reason why Christians are to give is different than that of much the world. We give out of love for Christ first. The world does not give because it loves and wants to care for Christ through His children, but that is why Christians give. Hence, their love for one another displays their love for Christ and shows the world that they are His disciples.
There are a couple problems with giving to people who are not children of Christ. The first is that when you give to one person, you inevitably take away from another. This is a necessary result of having limited resources, but what it means is that we have to be considerate to whom it is we are giving those resources. I could imagine myself a great man for giving to the children of my poor neighbors, but if I let my own children starve to death in order to do so then I should be considered a pretty evil guy who shuns his responsibility to those who have been given by God to him for the purpose of his taking care of them.
Likewise, if I give to an unbeliever, I am really taking away from a believer who is in need (and there are many in need). This can mean that the very act of giving, the act that our society considers to be the greatest act of love and godliness, can be an evil that robs the children of God from life-sustaining resources. We are not, therefore, commanded to love the world by giving them tangible resources so that they can survive another day before hell, but instead to give them the gospel and make disciples out of them--disciples who take care of other disciples in their love for Christ.
Second, a genuine Christian is more likely to use the money toward living rather than drinking and drugs. He's unlikely to scam you. Now, of course, anyone can claim to be a Christian off the street, so Paul set up instructions for churches to only support widows who have a history of seeking Christ in godliness/good works (1 Tim 5). In fact, he directs that the church's funds be used to support only those Christian widows who are really in need and have no other familial resources and to elders who are to be supported by the church. This same line of thinking can be applied to the poor in general (i.e., only give to those Christians who have proven to be Christians by their pursuit of Christ in godliness and to those who are truly in need and without any other familial resources).
The reason for this is because, again, to give to one with limited resources automatically entails the taking away from others. But it also gives us an understanding that early Christians, under apostolic instruction, did not give to the poor indiscriminately, but rather gave to fellow Christians who were truly in need: Christians who were widows and orphans (i.e., a family that has lost the husband/father), Christians who were sick, Christians out proclaiming the gospel or devoted their lives to prayer and preaching the word, and therefore, had no other means to survive, etc.
Thirdly, it muddies the witness that Christians are Christ's disciples by caring for Him through His people, because it muddies the waters as to the identity of His people. We may, in fact, be giving the impression that everyone is saved, because everyone is cared for by Christ's people as though they were Christ's people. This hurts, rather than helps, the witness of charity to the exclusiveness of Christ's salvation being in Christ. It may help people think you're a nice people, but it doesn't witness toward the need to become a Christian.
Now, in an ideal world, we would be able to give to everyone without exception. Who wants to see a child starving, Christian or otherwise? But the truth is that Christians need to get a reign on irrational emotion and realize that giving to that child means you are letting a child of Christ die instead. As I have said before, we can love everyone, but not in the same way. We have to give preference to one and not the other in numerous scenarios. Love is not without direction, but takes care of its responsibilities first (family, the larger family of fellow Christians, the larger family of humanity) and then reaches out beyond that if it can. The problem is that there are so many in need that, in reality, there never is a time that one can reach beyond the realm of family and Christian family without taking away from them in order to give to those who are currently hostile toward God.
As such, I think we need to consider the giving of resources that God has given us to take care of His children to unbelievers as a betrayal of those other Christians, and therefore, of Christ Himself. Notice, again, that judgment of believers surrounds loving and taking care of other believers or the lack thereof in the great judgment of Matthew 25. It characterizes those who are truly saved versus those who are not in John's first epistle. Paul praises certain churches for digging deep and helping other churches. Christians don't just go out and throw money to the wind because it makes them feel good about giving to others. They give to the Master who bought them, precisely because they love Him and want to take care of Him more than anything and anyone else. The poor you always have with you, so Christ said, but I with you only for a short while. Christ, in that statement, shows that the love of Christ is to be considered greater, and hence, the giving to Christ greater, than that of giving to the poor. To take away from giving to Him in order to give to the poor who are not identified with Him would be wrong.
So I am not merely saying today that we really should try and help out other Christians too. I'm saying that the Bible seems to indicate that we are only to help out other Christians with our limited resources. With infinite resources, like the truth of the gospel, we are able to help unbelievers too, and are commanded to do so by seeking to unite them with Christ; but limited resources are to go to those to whom God has given us as our family (biological and extended within the Church), and in this way, our love will actually give us the ability to care for Christ more thoroughly through His people. The Bible seems to set up government and society itself to help out those who are not His own, as a means to display His common grace upon people. It is shameful today that Christians too have to be taken care of by the state because the churches are too busy giving to all sorts of charities that do not necessarily direct their resources toward those Christians.
Of course, there are instances when Christians can only reach other Christians through those organizations, but Christians within one's own church should be taken care of first before one attempts to go through those organizations.
So pray for those who approach you on the street, but save what you would have given them for the offering, for the Christians at church you know need it, for your family members who may be in need. Don't steal from them what God has given you to take care of them. Do not waste your resources on those who have not shown themselves to be Christians, lest you end up in the wicked seat of the damned who can only say, "Be warm and filled," to other Christians because you squandered you resources on those who are not ambassadors of Christ. But be a cheerful giver in love to those who are Christ's, precisely because you are not giving to men, but to Christ Himself.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matt 25:31-46)