How to Help Family Members Without Hurting Them

If a family member calls and is in need, you know you must help, right? Well, sometimes our intended help actually hurts the receiver and the relationship.

When offering help, consider how your help will affect their character. Character is important to God. Laziness and greed are signs of poor character and not something to encourage. As stewards of God’s resources, we need to be sure our help doesn’t hurt.

Some needs are acute and clear. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan? But some needs are ongoing and self-perpetuated.

Joseph faced this dilemma during the great famine in Egypt. This week we’ll look at how he dealt with his family. Next week we’ll see how he dealt with the Egyptians.

Joseph tested his brothers

At the end of the first year of a devastating famine, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy grain. He knew their need was genuine. God had given him the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream— seven-years of crippling famine. That meant six more years to go.

The last time Joseph had seen his brothers was when they sold him into slavery. They believed he was dead. Joseph needed to test his brothers to see if their hearts had changed.

Joseph didn’t immediately roll out the red carpet and offer to see them through the famine. The tests spread out over a whole year. What he learned guided him on how to proceed. The tests showed Joseph that his brothers had developed the following traits:

  • Industry, they came to buy food not to ask for a handout.
  • Respect for God, shown in their conversation.
  • Honesty, they returned the extra money in their pouches.
  • Compassion, they protected their youngest brother.

In light of this, Joseph used his influence, knowledge of Egyptian culture, and relationship with Pharaoh to secure fertile pasture land for his family to succeed in their shepherding occupation (Gen. 46:31). He coached his brothers on what to say to Pharaoh. Joseph also provided food for them “according to the number of their children,” (Gen. 47:12, NIV).

Joseph offered relief by providing assistance. But he understood, that even when dealing with close family, real help fosters industry, not dependence on others.

The Bible says: ‘Don’t you remember the rule we had when we lived with you? ‘If you don’t work, you don’t eat.’ And now we’re getting reports that a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings are taking advantage of you. This must not be tolerated. We command them to get to work immediately—no excuses, no arguments—and earn their own keep. Friends, don’t slack off in doing your duty,” (2 Thes. 3:10-13, The Message).

Joseph’s family received help and kept their dignity and character. They gave back where they could.

  • Jacob’s family used the pasture to continue raising livestock.
  • Pharaoh gained master shepherds to tend his flocks. (Egyptians didn’t like to tend flocks.)
  • Jacob blessed Pharaoh.
  • Joseph enjoyed having his family nearby.

We are to help those who are in need, especially those in our family and the household of faith. But we must be sure our helping doesn’t hurt in the long run.

Question: What do you think about how Joseph tested his brothers before inviting them to Egypt? Click here to comment.


Debbie Wilson

Deborah W. Wilson

Photo by: marc falardeau

Special Event:

Ladies, invite your friends and come to Making a Difference in Your Corner of the World Conference February 28-March 1, 2014.

Register under “Lighthouse” and save.

womens-conference-2013Put “Lighthouse” under the group name, and the conference will refund $5 to each one who registers with this group code—after fifteen have signed up. We need fifteen to count as a group, so invite your friends to join you and the Lighthouse group. I’ll be doing two workshops and would love to see you!

Click here to here Jen Barrick’s inspiring story. She’s the daughter of the mother-daughter keynote team.


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  1. Ann

    Love this Debbie. What a great example for dealing with family in general and especially with our children – particularly as they become young adults. All our children are paying for their own college educations. They took out loans and while we help with interest while they’re in school, the responsibility to make the most of their opportunity and to work, budget and pay them off is theirs. While we felt badly not being able to pay their way, I believe they are all smarter, more responsible and better for it.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Ann, my husband worked his way through college. He felt it was a good education in itself. There can be a lot of pressure from within and without to do more than is really good for our children.

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