What’s the Difference Between Helping Someone and Enabling Someone?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

We’re all called to help our brothers and sisters (Matt 25:35-36), but what’s the difference between helping someone and enabling them to depend on you?

A Call for Help

Almost everyone I know has had a friend or family member call them late at night or early in the morning and asking for help. That’s where you find out who your true friends are. Essentially, we’re all called to help our brothers and sisters in need (Matt 25:35-36) as doing this unto Christ Himself (Matt 25:4), but what’s the difference between helping someone and enabling them to depend on you? How can we know we’re not actually helping them but enabling? How do we know if we’re simply enabling them to keep on doing what they’re doing (right or wrong) and to keep them dependent upon you to bail them out? There is such a fine line between giving them a helping hand and giving them a hand out. It’s not always easy to tell the difference.


If you are enabling someone by paying their bills, giving them food, or whatever, and they are not working but are able to work, and not even looking for work, you are enabling that person to keep doing what they’re not doing (working) and keep depending on you every time they need help. It’s not always easy to discern whether someone is sincere in their efforts to find work. They might refuse lower paying work and wait for a better job, but if that job never comes, they have to do what we all must do, and that is work and support ourselves. God says 6 days we shall work and on the Lord’s Day, we rest, so that means we are to be working and not waiting.


When you sense you have been enabling a person, you have to be firm with them and break the tie. Tell them face to face what the Bible teaches. I know it sounds harsh, but a hungry stomach motivates people in ways that they’re not motivated otherwise. We’re all commanded to work. Otherwise, we don’t eat. There is no plan B for this. Naturally, those who are disabled and are not able to work are in a different category. For a variety of reasons, they’ve reached a state (or born into such) that they cannot work in a tradition job and justly qualify for benefits. For those who can work, they must work, unless you feel generous enough to work for both of you. But of course, we all know that is wrong.

Reliance on God

The ultimate goal of our helping should be for them to learn to depend on God and not us. I’m not saying don’t help them, but they should first turn to God and ask for His divine intervention. We can easily burn out those who have been helping us by coming to them time and again asking for help, when it might be a result of our own sins. If we help someone out too much, we make them dependent upon us and not dependent upon God. That’s who they should depend upon in the first place. Of course, God does use others as a means to answer their prayers for help, but to be a “911” call for every problem they have is sending them the wrong message. They’ve got to learn to lean on God and not on others.

No Work, No Eat

The Bible says, if a man (or woman) doesn’t work, they should not eat. The Apostle Paul writes in a circumstance where believers were quitting their jobs, expecting Jesus’ return at any moment, but the problem was, they were relying on other Christians who were working and having to support, not only their own family, but others who were becoming slothful (2 Thess 3). Paul never taught them to do this. They came up with the excuse, “Well, Jesus is coming soon and be here any moment, so what’s the point in working?” I’ll tell what the point is! We’re commanded to work by God Himself. That order wasn’t only given to Adam in the Garden. Paul sternly warned them that “even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess 3:10). Do not enable those who are able. Paul is not writing about disabled people, but people who were able to work but refused to do so, agreeing to “wait on Jesus,” but by doing so, they placed an unnecessary burden on their brothers and sisters. If we’re going to rely on anyone, it must be God first and foremost


I hope you’ve helped someone in life. If I were to guess, I believe many of you have done a lot of good things, however, if you are thinking you’re going to heaven by the “good life” you’ve led, don’t be deceived (Eph 2). God will not accept your works anyway. He will only accept the righteousness of Christ, but that’s what those who trust in Him receive. Scripture says it was “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). I pray you have been brought to repentance and faith in Christ (Mark 1:15), for if not, your troubles are only beginning (Rev 20:12-15), and no one can help you then; not your family, your friends, or even Jesus. That’s because after death your judgment comes (Heb 9:27), or at His appearance (Rev 20). That’s why I plead with you today, come to the Savior and put your trust in Him. Do so before the sun sets, because tomorrow may be too late.

Here is some related reading for you: How Christians Might be Hurting Someone by Helping Someone

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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