Helping The Needy
One of the cardinal principles of Christianity is a benevolent spirit and action by Christians. As one studies the Scriptures he learns that the work of the church falls into three main categories: (1) preaching to the lost that they might be saved, (2) edifying the saved that they might grow and remain faithful, (3) ministering to those who are in need, both to saint and sinner as opportunity affords. When any of the three are neglected, to that extent the cause and purpose of Christ is hindered and weakened. This lesson, hopefully, will motivate each reader in the responsibility of helping the needy.
The law of Moses was rather precise and strict regarding duties to those who had worldly possessions, and their responsibility toward those who were poor and needy. The law of Moses was demanding and the law of Christ is no less demanding. For instance, when brethren met in Jerusalem to discuss the relationship of the Gentiles to the law of Moses, and letters were sent teaching the truth that the Gentiles are not obligated to that law, and the gospel was for all nations, the brethren were encouraged to preach the gospel to the Gentiles and to remember the poor. Galatians 2: 10 reports on that meeting, “Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.”
First John 3: 17, 18, “But whoso hath this world's goods and seeth his brother have need and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and In truth.” Can it be possible to love God and be unconcerned for the needy of this world? Ephesians 4:28, “Let him that stole steal nomore: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.”This is a characteristic of a Christian. There is no question as to the will of God regarding this matter but disciples of Christ will be found helping the needy.
Source Of Division
Regretfully, caring for the needy has caused great disturbance and division in the church in our twentieth century. This is because some have desired to disrupt the church in the performance of this duty by imposing rules and regulations, which God has not, imposed. At the same time there have been those, under the disguise of benevolence. Who have taken the church into activities, which are not the work of the church. Both extremes have made havoc of the peace and hindered benevolence.
It is always commendable for brethren to make sure they are loyal to the teaching of Christ. But we should neither go beyond what is written nor attempt to bind what is not bound. It is just as wrong to make a law where God has not made one, as it is to loose what God has bound. While some erroneously oppose the church supporting homes for orphans, others have led the church into money and profit making adventures for housing for the elderly which in no manner could be described benevolent and charitable work with which the church is charged.
When God has authorized something to be done, but has not delivered unto us the details in expediting what He commands, we must exercise our own judgment within the framework of what is authorized and get the job done. I do not see why this is such a difficult thing for all to understand. God has not authorized building and maintaining profit-making institutions, nor has He specified every detail in providing homes for the homeless. I have yet to have anyone show me a system for providing a home for homeless people without a home, an institution separate and apart from the church. The home and the church are simply not the same organization. Why is that so hard to see?
It ought not be hard for people to see that providing housing for those who have means to provide for themselves is certainly not a charitable and benevolent work. I fail to see why this is so difficult to grasp.
James 1:27, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” These words were written to Christians who were familiar with the elaborate rituals of the Jewish faith. It was easy for them to get the wrong impression as to the real significance and true value of religion. Never has it been God's will for His people to attend merely to the outward observances and rituals and show no concern and feeling for the needs of others.
Even in the Old Testament (Micah 6) this was true. They were taught not to come before the Lord with burnt offerings and sacrifices and at the same time forget doing justly, loving, being kind, walking humbly. An emphasis is placed on the emptiness and vanity of form and ceremony without application of the faith in daily life, especially toward others.
James does not mean that caring for the fatherless and widows is all there is to having an acceptable faith and religion. But one cannot have pure and undefiled religion without practical demonstrations of it and rendering service to others, especially the unfortunate. There have been those who insist that this instruction is exclusively to the individual Christian and is not authority for the church to assist the needy. This seems so absolutely absurd that we wonder why anyone subscribes to an idea that would prohibit the church from helping the needy. The fact of the passage is that here is a definition of pure and undefiled religion. It does not matter whether you have in mind a person's individual faith or the faith practiced by the church, the definition is simple and plain. Just why anyone would prefer the church to have a religion that is not pure and undefiled I never have been able to fathom. Religion is either pure or undefiled or it is impure and defiled. Which kind should the individual have? Which kind should the church have? Can a church practice pure and undefiled religion, or must it refrain from practicing that kind of religion?
The word "visit" involves rendering aid, with sympathy, compassion and benefit. Psalm 68:5, "A father of the fatherless and a judge of widows is God in his holy habitation." The church is the habitation of God (Ephesians 2:22) and it is characteristic of God to be mindful and helpful for the fatherless and widows. To be otherwise is to be different from God. First Timothy 5: 16, “If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that It may relieve them that are widows Indeed.”This is not hard to understand. Those who have needs in their own families are the ones who have the first responsibility to provide for them. The church ought' not assume provision for those who have the capacity to provide for themselves or for their own people. The church can and should assume responsibility for the “widow indeed,” which is described as one who is desolate. There are those who have expressed such an anti-Christian attitude that they would allow a person to starve before they would spend one cent of the funds In the treasury of the church to provide for the needy if the needy person had relatives. But relatives do not always provide, as they ought. They have the duty but do not always do their duty. Shall we allow faithful women who are in need, whose relatives will not provide for them, exist in her desolation? Such a thought is legalism and law making carried to the extreme. The church does have the charge to provide for those who are in need. The duty is clear.
Galatians 6:9,10, "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season weshall reap if we faint not. As we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. " Paul encourages the churches of Galatia, the ones to whom this epistle was sent, not to grow weary and tired in doing good works. Facing an evil world day after day, often encountering persecution, there was a temptation to abandon the effort. But we cannot become slack in doing the things we should do. As opportunity presented itself these brethren were to do good to all men, with special emphasis upon doing good for brethren. Unfortunately some have evidently read that Paul said “Exclusively unto the household of faith.” But this was not exclusively for brethren that these churches could and should render service and good. To restrict the charitable and benevolent deeds of the church exclusively to brethren is a false Idea. It would eliminate almost every orphan and fatherless child since many, probably most, would not even be of an age of accountability. Little wonder that those who hold to such an erroneous view are considered to be “anti-orphan” people. Keep in mind that these words were to the churches, not just to individuals who made up the churches.
I find it strange that some who contend this is exclusively for the individual and exclusively for the brethren go up a few verses and find authority for the church to support those who preach. They do this from the treasury of the church, but inconsistently deny the support of the needy from that same treasury. There are those who have adopted such a position that they would allow money from the treasury to be spent to buy fertilizer for the preacher's lawn but would deny one cent to be spent for a needy orphan or a non-Christian from that same treasury. Can anyone seriously consider that this is the attitude and spirit of Christ?
What Jesus Taught
Matthew 25:34-40 teaches the Lord’s attitude toward doing benevolent work. There is presented in this chapter the judgment scene. Having earlier warned of the destruction of Jerusalem in chapter 24, and having taught concerning His return, the third major lesson is the judgment scene.
The parable of the ten virgins teaches the need for being ready for these things that were to come. The parable of the talents teaches us how we can get ready by using properly what we have available. Then there is the comparison of those who were saved and those who were lost.
In this particular presentation, nothing evil was mentioned as far as sins committed. The ones called goats were not charged with lying, adultery, stealing, or such like. Their problem rested in their failure to do good things for those in need. Proverbs 19: 17, “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord.” Those who heard words of acceptance had performed deeds of charitable and benevolent action on others.
These points are deserving of our most serious consideration. Living a life in service to others is a part of the Christian life as much as being faithful in the worship services. Our duty is clear and our accountability is unquestionable. May it be that the Lord's church will gain a reputation among all people as people who are compassionate, sympathetic, and helpful to those deeds of charitable and benevolent action on others, the lost by doing good as well as discharge a duty to God and others that we assumed upon becoming a child of God.