Christians aren't the only ones for whom this question is important, of course. But it's especially critical for us.
Why? Because Jesus' great commandment, a summation of the two sections of the Ten Commandments in which Jesus cited passages from the Old Testament books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, says that we are to love God completely and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
The love Jesus commands is not about sentiment. It's a command to actively and practically help others. In His parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus says that a man who provided assistance to a stranger, was the truest neighbor, the one fulfilling the great commandment.
But there are some people who count on Christian compassion to incite Christians to provide assistance that doesn't really help, instead enabling their destructive habits and behaviors. Help is something we're called to provide others; enabling isn't. Compassion may be the primary motive for both helper and enabler, but helping is constructive and enabling is destructive.
How can we tell the difference? Here are a few observations based on my reading of Scripture and my twenty-seven years as a pastor:
- Helping meets a need. Enabling addresses wants.
- Helping lifts people toward maturity. Enabling encourages ongoing immaturity.
- Helping is a bridge to the other person's self-sufficiency. Enabling is an open-ended commitment to co-dependence.
- Helping eliminates the other's distress. Enabling can be as much about eliminating our own distress as that of the other person. Enabling can be a selfish, rather than a selfless, act.
- Helping is always about the other person. Enabling can be about massaging one's own ego or self-righteousness.