Biblical Charity: Personal Care

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, April 26, 2017 0 comments

by David Odegard

One of the failings of state welfare is that it treats everyone the same without any qualifications. I know we don’t want the state to treat people differently (even though they do it every day), but each case is different. People are not static number charts of income, demographics, number of children divided by the zip code, and the causes of destitution or need are vastly different.

Should the drug addict who uses her welfare money for drugs rather than to feed her kids be treated the same as the single mother who works two jobs to provide for her kids? The elders of the church are able to make those distinctions and many more. They know the people, their stories, and their needs.

Here is a scenario. A man attends church faithfully for 40 years, raises his family there, and tithes his entire working life. Then he is diagnosed with cancer and has to undergo treatments and cannot work because he is so sick from the cancer treatment. He is off for 3 months. His family is going to do everything they can to help, but he will still have financial needs. Does his church have a responsibility? 1 Timothy 5 would suggest they do.

This passage of Scripture teaches when the church must step in to help widows. It has the accountability section included that I wrote about last week, but all those qualifications being met, the church has the responsibility. Moreover, it is able to assess and meet the need on a case by case basis.

In the case of this hypothetical man, the state may be unwilling to help him because he makes too much money “on paper.” They may tell him to come back when he gets a few payments behind on his mortgage. But the leaders of the church know this guy and his situation. They step in and set up meals for him and his family. After a couple months, the elders ask about the mortgage, finding out that he is completely stretched, and they decide that the church will pay 3 months to see him through until he is back to work. Someone from the church comes by and mows the lawn, and on it goes.

What happens to the church? They deepen in their love and service for one another. Everyone is strengthened as a result, both the one who gives and the one who receives. This is the opposite of the morally corrosive effect of state welfare, which in many cases keeps people in poverty because of the disincentive to work.

Here is another scenario. A church has a food bank. One day a single mom stops in and gets a few things. Later, the lady on duty notices that this same mom is at the free clothing closet. She strikes up a conversation with the lady and learns of the situation that she has fled her abusive boyfriend and is on the run with their two kids. Suddenly, the ministry of food and clothing has turned into an all-out rescue mission. This is the church providing help, service, and the love of Christ to all as Galatians 6:10 tells us to do.

Another scenario: a man comes to the church asking for money to buy food for his kids. The man is a notorious gambler. His wife comes to church faithfully and it is well known that she doesn’t see a dime of his paycheck; the family lives off her earnings from her part time job. The pastor tells this man that he needs financial counseling. The man leaves angry, slamming the door behind him, but shows up the next day willing to get some help with his gambling problem. The pastor shares the claims of Christ and the man hears and considers them. Over the course of the counseling sessions, the man’s trust in Christ grows and he becomes a born-again Christian. He goes home to his wife a new man, and life changes completely for her and the kids. He is in church every Sunday after that. This would have never happened had the pastor just handed him some food, or worse yet, money for food.

You may be thinking that these situations are a little idealistic, but the truth is I have seen these scenarios in real life in ministry. I have changed some details, but they are real life situations. God does enter into people’s lives; they do get set free from addictions; they do get born again.

One church I served with provided several homes, all expenses paid, for burned out pastors and their families, and a few of these provisions lasted several years. These pastors and their families are some of my close friends to this day, and they are in ministry in churches all over the United States because a small group of Christians were called to minister to their physical and spiritual needs. All the of this was provided completely by free will offerings; the state could never do that.

I am weary of the accusation that conservatives are greedy or that Christians who don’t agree with state redistribution are against charity. No, we just believe that there is a far superior way, a way that restores people without making them dependent, a way that gives personal care and accountability.

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