A great many believers are beginning to understand the proper view of biblical economics, and the faithful are continuing to speak out against improper views such as socialism. What frightens me, however, is that while many understand, few are willing to be a part of change other than passing information.
A lack of sympathy and understanding
I hear all the time that welfare or charity is not the government’s duty but the church’s, which I agree. Many Christians, however, think dependency upon the government is their only option because the church is not doing the job they themselves claim belongs to it. Some argue they cannot give as much as they desire because of taxes. This may be true; however, it still does not remove the church’s obligation to bear the burdens of those who are truly in need.
It helps first to get a little perspective. It is easier for those who grew up in a household where Food Stamps and WIC were not even thought of to condemn those who partake in the system. Likewise, it is easy for those who grew up struggling financially, but have now overcome poverty, to quickly forget where they have come from. It is easy to tell someone they should stop drinking dirty water, but if that is all they have, then how will their thirst be quenched unless we somehow provide them clean water and show them how to get it on their own? The answer is obviously not to justify dependency upon the government, just as much as being poor does not justify a single woman who is pregnant to get an abortion. The answer is not one sided, but twofold. We comprehend the responsibility well for those who are dependent upon government assistance, but we have not spent enough time dealing with our own responsibility to the poor.
I do not to deny the need for a hard work ethic, or justify laziness or unwillingness to sacrifice. We know that those who are unwilling to work should not be encouraged to continue in idleness by our giving.
2 Thessalonians 3:6–12 says, “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
In the community in which I live and serve, there are more single mothers than married mothers. In many cases this is due to sin by both the mother and the father, but in some cases it is due to abandonment. Nevertheless, when a single mother becomes a follower of Christ and begins to come to a church, her financial problems do not magically go away. If she is on Section 8 and Food Stamps, the answer cannot just be to tell her to “get off welfare” because she is participating in theft, nor is it helpful at this point to condemn her as a “welfare queen.” There must be at least a transition period, and there must be brothers and sisters who are willing to come along side of her to help her get there. In most cases, she is not a widow, so she does not meet the qualifications for church support in 1 Timothy 5. Also in most cases, just because she is on government assistance does not mean she does not have a job. Often her income simply will not allow her to afford being off the system.
Many people who end up on the system, end up getting stuck. While they originally saw it as only a temporary solution, then soon realize that if they increase their income, they still will lose their assistance and not be able to support their family at all. So, many come to the conclusion that it is best to remain in the same position they are in.
As Joel McDurmon says, “Don’t take the cheese.” The system is a trap. This is not only true for single mothers but also many married couples with children. Some wives may even have sacrificed to stay home to homeschool their children, in which case there is only one income. They face the dilemma of being wrong for sending their children to public school while both parents work or for getting Food Stamps so the wife can homeschool.
Of course, there are ways around all of this, and different options that may not have even been considered in some families, but this is the reality that many who are seeking to honor the Lord face. Unfortunately, Christians look at these realities and use scriptures like Leviticus 19:9–10 to justify wealth redistribution, when clearly the offering of gleaning was commanded by God but not enforced by the government. It was up to the owner of the property to obey God and receive either curses or blessings. On the other hand, many don’t even consider these realities and as a result also consider no transitioning solutions for those in these situations. I know many people who are striving to get off of the system and would love to be off today, yet they are stuck at a crossroads of feeding their family and walking on water. Many will say it is a simple decision since theft is never right and we are called to trust the Lord. They are correct: theft is never right. But this means the body really ought to get busy helping our brothers and sisters stuck beneath these burdens.
Deuteronomy 15:11 says, “There will never cease to be some poor people in the land; therefore, I am commanding you to make sure you open your hand to your fellow Israelites who are needy and poor in your land.” Jesus echoes this in Matthew 26:11: “The poor will always be here, so therefore we will always have a duty.” The early church took up the issue as well: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).
Family and church responsibility
There is a way to help that actually hurts. We have to use discernment and not allow the church to become a safe place for leeches. Yet we must make the church a refuge for believers truly in need. This ideally would not even need to happen as a corporate function, but from individual giving. I believe that the family has the first duty in welfare, and only then the church. We see this concept in 1 Timothy 5, which speaks largely of widows. Ideally, fathers and mothers should be setting up their children for success financially even if they are not wealthy themselves. We see this principle throughout the book of Proverbs. Parents should be raising children to be prepared for adulthood early, but parents should not be quick to throw their children out at 18 if they are not ready financially. Sometimes, it may be beneficial for family members to live with one another for longer while wealth is built or a business is started. In many cases, people do not have family members who are able to help. Sometimes, the relationship is severed because truth has divided them. Individuals in the church should therefore work to help one another (we are an eternal family anyway). Again, note 1 Timothy 5:8: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Notice it says “for his relatives, and especially for members of his household.” It is not only members of his own household, but other blood relatives are considered here. When families function the way God designed them, there is less of a burden on the church. Nevertheless, this does not excuse the church from helping when we see someone who is not our blood relative in need. The Scriptures contain several such admonitions:
Hebrews 13:15–16: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
James 2:14–16: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”
2 Corinthians 9:7: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Solving the problem
We see the concept of giving all throughout the Scripture as something that is very serious to God. God is not pleased with stingy Christians. All throughout the Scripture you see God blessing those who give cheerfully and cursing those who withhold welfare. In Deuteronomy 15, we see God making provision for the poor through lending, impelling the Israelites not to harden their hearts and not to give grudgingly. He not only tells the Israelites to give, but to give what is sufficient for their brothers need. Even when God instructs the Israelites about when someone sold themselves to them, God made it like an apprenticeship. And once the servitude was over the servant did not leave empty handed, but was to be equipped to make a living on their own. This private arrangement provided a discipleship and personal accountability which the government cannot. It also allowed the one who is giving to have an insight into aspects of the person’s individual situation which government programs usually do not even consider. The result is that the need does not turn into a never-ending cycle, and factors like sin or lack of stewardship—also, which the government could care less about—get singled out a dealt with accordingly.
So what would happen if brothers and sisters would open their hands in such a way not just to meet emergency needs, but with the goal to pull people out of the cycle of poverty? What if more brothers and sisters came alongside families to help them homeschool so they would not have to subject their children to public schools? What if more families got together and created small private schools for single mothers who were still working? What if more brothers and sisters opened their homes so a sister in Christ would not have to live on Section 8? What if those in the church with businesses came alongside brothers trying to support a family on minimum wage, and helped them develop skills and entrepreneurship so they could support their own family and then, in turn, help others as well. This is not to say this is not happening, but if it is, it is not on a large scale. Maybe these specific examples are not what your local church is faced with, but it many places, it is a serious need and the questions apply.
It is true that if government assistance did not exist, many people would not be in the position they are in, because they would not have the government option as a crutch and their motivation would then be different. In such a case, however, many more people would be homeless, and crime rates would be higher, if the apathy of the church remained the same as it is now. Further, we must understand that the body of Christ is universal, therefore giving need not be limited to who congregates with you locally every week. We need to think both locally and globally. If we want to talk about biblical economics, we must also talk about a biblical ecclesia as well. If we want to see change, the whole body will have to sacrifice and bear one another’s burdens. Toward these ends, God gives us both promises and commands in Scripture:
Psalm 37:25: “I was young, and now I am old, but I have never seen good people left with no one to help them; I have never seen their children begging for food.”
Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Isaiah 58:10–11: “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”