Helping the Needy in Our Community
by Matthew Allen
"My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm" (John 18:36).
I am convinced that the verse you have just read is one of the most important and fundamental passages in the entire Bible. Since Jesus’ kingdom is spiritual, His mission on earth had a spiritual purpose. Peter spoke of the church as a "spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (I Peter 2:5). In shedding His blood, Jesus paid the price for the establishment of the church which is a spiritual institution. The primary purpose of God’s church is to save souls (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16).
Over the last two thousand years, some have sought to shift the primary mission of the church from the spiritual to the physical, especially in the realm of benevolent help for the needy. This has happened so much, that there are numbers of people who now, often at the first hint of financial discomfort, turn to churches to help them with rent payments, groceries, gas, and other items. Many walk in and expect to walk out with cash on hand. Some churches keep a food pantry well stocked and stand ready to distribute food at a moment’s notice. The needy in communities get used to this and thus expect the same thing when they ask us for assistance. Some are very shocked when we tell them there is no cash on hand and that we do not keep a food pantry. A few individuals leave angrily expressing, “I thought you guys were supposed to be Christians and help the needy!” While we sympathize with persons who are experiencing financial difficulty, it is important to realize that the New Testament pattern suggests local churches are limited in whom they give benevolent help to.
Did you know that the only examples in the New Testament where the church assisted those who were in financial need were faithful Christians? James has written, "If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled, and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that" (James 2:15-16). Romans 15:26 is a great example of where funds were gathered for the needy saints in Jerusalem. Christians have a responsibility to be there for one another, especially in times of great need. Since we see no example in the New Testament where churches contributed to the needy of their communities from the church treasury, out of respect to God’s authority we abstain from this practice.
What are God’s expectations for a person meeting their own financial needs? One expectation revolves around work. One of the quickest and most effective cures for money problems is to go to work. Families must learn to take responsibility and provide for themselves. The apostle Paul established this principle when he wrote, "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (I Timothy 5:8). Another passage that establishes this principle is found in II Thessalonians 3:10. We read, "if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either." Al Sandlin has written, “When able-bodied people could work but won’t work, it is clearly taught that they are to go without their needs being met. Thus to aid those who simply choose not to work when they could is to violate God’s decree regarding the work ethic” (The Mentor, Jan. 6, 2002).
God also gave expectations to individual Christians to help persons in time of need. Unlike the local church, whose actions on benevolence are limited, the individual has the right to give assistance to anyone he/she sees fit. For example,"we are to do good to all men, and especially the household of the faith" (Galatians 6:10). In Matthew 25:35-40, Jesus connects a person’s outcome on the Judgment day with the basis of their moral treatment of the needy (Matthew 25:35-40). When needy individuals from the community approach us for financial assistance, then individuals within the church have an opportunity to help out if they have the ability. While this method is different from the way many churches conduct benevolence in today’s religious world, we feel that it is a practice that respects the authority of the New Testament and encourages individual Christians to take part in their spiritual responsibilities. Many Christians look forward to the opportunity to help others. Paul wrote, "We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people" (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15).