Without exception, from Genesis to Revelation, a spirit of generosity and empathy is enjoined while greed, materialism, injustice, and covetousness is unequivocally condemned.
“He that oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker: But he that honors Him hath mercy upon the poor” (Prov.14:31). “He that has pity upon the poor lends unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again” (Prov.19:17). “The rich and the poor meets together: and the Lord is the maker of them all. He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he gives of his bread to the poor” (Prov.22:2,9).
There is a definite attitude among those who have in the “land of opportunity,” that if a man is poor, or destitute, or in need, that his condition is a moral failing. The poor are held in contempt. This self indulgent, wicked generation falsely accuse the poor by saying “They could help themselves if only they weren’t so lazy.” Brethren mock the poor by joking about “Welfare Cadillacs” and noting that “shanty town” has cable TV and Internet. At the check out counters of the supermarket as we wheel our loaded shopping carts up behind the poor soul who is buying “junk food” with a food stamp card, we silently tell our self in derision, “I wish I could sit back and quit work, and munch chocolates living off of other people’s labor.” We boldly say, “We work for a living,” forgetting it was God who gave us the health, strength, and opportunity to do so, testing us what we will do with it. I think that people with such attitudes should quit their jobs for a few months, and then make application for welfare and food stamps. If they would try living on the level such support provides, they would not be as contemptuous of those that do. It is easy to call those in poverty as “lazy” when we are in comfort.
Since a high percentage of those who live in poverty are African American, Hispanic, or non-white, there is often a racial slur attached to poverty. Racial discrimination causes many non-whites to be uneducated, work at the lowest paying jobs, and suffer much higher unemployment than whites. Many of these poor suffer mental, social, and physical damage due to extreme poverty.
The poor are invisible to those who are comfortable. The inadequate housing of the poor are often concentrated in a section of town that the comfortable never visit. These neighborhoods are not in areas where the rich may go to shop, visit, or frequent for entertainment. Because the comfortable do not have to see poverty, they delude themselves into thinking that it is not a very great problem.
Many think, “Because I have all my needs met, everyone else must be in the same situation. If they are not, then it is their fault, not mine.” This is a human reaction and an old one. The poor are embarrassing, and we do not like to be made uncomfortable in our affluence. “All the brethren of the poor do hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him? He pursues them with entreaties, yet they are wanting to him” (Prov. 19:7).
Jesus was poor, do you hate and despise him? Was Jesus lazy? He was readily accepted by the poor, the unskilled, the beggars, the menial workers, the socially unacceptable. He ate his meals with “publicans and sinners” in his effort to help them. He had no place to call his own, no home, no apartment, no walk-up flat, no rented room, not even a bed to call his own (Matt. 8:20). He had everything when he was with the Father, but became poor for our sakes (2 Cor.8:9). He depended upon others for his support, food, and lodging (Luke 10:38-42 cf; 19:1-10). Jesus gave us an example. He told us that the manner in which we treat the poor, the hungry, the lonely, the man in trouble, this was to be as we cared for Him. If we neglected our opportunities then we had neglected Him. I wonder what our reaction would be today if a good man came to our assembly in ragged, vile clothing and said that he was a preacher of righteousness. The way we treat “the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:35 f; Jam 2:1-10).
Our hospitality is to be a freely offered thing, with no strings attached. It is not to be offered with a superior attitude of charity, but in a spirit of love and dignity (1 Cor. 13:3). God is concerned as to motives and attitudes displayed in our hospitality. “When you make a dinner or a supper, call not your friends, neither your kinsmen, nor your rich neighbors; lest they also bid you again and a recompense be made unto you. But, when you make a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you shall be blessed; for they cannot repay you: For you shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just” (Lk 14:12-14). When so much of our social life is directed towards selfserving ends, the words of our Lord need attention sorely. Social meals for self-advancement or complements are unworthy of those who serve Jesus.
We may think that God has given us responsibility to work for only one purpose: to provide for the needs of ourselves and our families. However, the scriptures give a second reason for labor, and a primary reason for the Christian. “I have showed you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak and to remember the words of our Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:35). “But rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good that he may have to give to him that needs” (Eph. 4:28).
Jesus taught that the test of our discipleship is our willingness to support those who are without with what we have. “Who so has this world’s goods, and sees his brother has need, and shuts up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwells the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him” (1 Jn. 3:17-19).
We forget, all wealth belongs to God, and no make can take it with him when he dies (Hag 2:8). In a moment the wealthy are called to the grave to give an account of their deeds (Job 21:13). “And I will say to my soul,”Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:19-21).
The church has a definite responsibility, clearly taught in the word of God, to care for the needs of the saints wherever they may be throughout the world. There ought not to be one saint among us that should go without while others have so much. The collections of the churches are for the needs of the brethren. Today those collections go primarily to support church meeting places, provide for the evangelism of the church and in support of Gospel preaching. Within bounds of propriety, expedience, and conscience this is a lawful, proper, and godly use of the collection. Yet, the primary use of our weekly collection is to be the same as it was for the first century church: “The daily ministration” (Acts 6:1); “Relief unto the brethren… who dwelt in Judaea” (11:29); “…to minister unto the saints …the poor saints who are at Jerusalem” (Rom.15:25; “The collection for the saints” (1 Cor. 16;1); “The fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (2 Cor. 8:4; 9:12,1 f; Heb. 6:10). I wonder how many churches would petition for benevolence from other churches to enable them to care for their own today? I wonder how many of them would question the scriptural proof of giving such support on a regular basis to another church, until the need was met?
I have seen that “church benevolence” often is a case of several brethren “chipping in,” to meet an immediate need on a one time basis. These special collections are unscriptural. The reason we “lay by in store” is that there be “no gatherings” of a special nature that will be necessitated by need (1 Cor. 16:1-3). The primary use of our treasury is for “distribution unto every man as he has need.”
I have known “church treasurers” who refused to write checks for needy saints, on the grounds that “Our money is the Lord’s money, and we are going to use it to preach the gospel, not waste it on the poor.” I have known brethren who have said, “Why not let them go on welfare. That is why we pay taxes. Let them go on welfare that the church be not charged.” There should be no brother ‘who is on welfare. The true church cares for its own!
I have known churches who “loaned” money to brethren who were in need and expected that the benevolence be paid back. Some even charge interest! Our benevolence is without usury; it is a gift, not a loan.
The church which is of Christ has only one budget: “As every man has need.” To meet that budget the church of the first century raised its funds when brethren “sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men as every man had need”(Acts 2:45). “…having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostle’s feet” (Acts 4:37). “How that in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality …beyond their power they were willing of themselves; praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering of the saints” (2 Cor. 8:1-4). Those brethren first gave themselves to God. They did not count their substance as their own. They did not set arbitrary “budgets”. They served the Lord and made whatever sacrifices were necessary to see that the needs of the church and the gospel were met.
Conclusion: Individually we are to seek opportunity to help whoever we can (Ga1.6:10 f; Jam.1:27). As a people, a church, a congregation we minister to the needs of the saints. God is concerned with the needs of his children and their suffering. God cares when people are hungry, poorly, and hopeless. Whatever stunts a person’s potential is of concern to God and should also concern all of His people.
The church is no greater than its weakest member, both spiritually and physically. James truly said, “What goes it profit, my brethren, though a man say he has faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled; notwithstanding you give them not those things which are needful to the body; what does it profit? Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone. Yes, a man may say, You have faith, and I have works: show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (Jam 2:14-18). “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Has not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to them that love him? But you have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which you are called? If you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, you do well: But if ye have respect to persons, you commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors” (Jam 2:5-9).