Sunday, March 10, 2013

Why give to the poor?

Every church I have been affiliated with over the last 30 years has had some sort of benevolence program. It is quite the popular thing today to give to the poor. Unfortunately, the modern church has been affected more by the socialist ideologies of our government rather than the word of God in establishing their giving practices.

My question is: Why are we giving to the poor? If you are giving money to someone, wouldn't it be prudent to have a reason? If your congregation is collecting food and clothing to distribute to others, wouldn't it be proper to know why? Has society's message of tolerance driven all common sense from our heads? What's wrong with asking why? If your church gives something to someone, give me a Biblical reason for why you do what you do. Don't say, “That's what Jesus would do.” Show me that's what Jesus did. Explain to me why Jesus did what He did, and how what He did is grounds for applying His behavior to yourself.

Yes, in Matthew 19:21, Jesus told the rich young ruler, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But His conversation wasn't about all the poor people in the world, it was about the one man. You, sir, have a problem with wealth? That's your obstacle to righteousness? Get rid of it! Jesus' point wasn't society's redistribution of wealth.

But where are Christians ever commanded to give to the poor? That certainly wasn't Jesus practice. He didn't walk the streets tossing money to everyone begging for alms, nor did His disciples. What He DID say concerning His mission was to report that “the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:5). He may not have given them money, but He did give them good news!

In fact, that was exactly what happened when Peter and John came across a man lame from birth outside the Temple. Acts 3:3 says, “When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms.” What was the apostolic response? “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” (Acts 3:6).

Your congregation passes out food and clothing regularly. Great! But if a person is clothed and fed, yet end up in hell because no one preached Christ to them, what have you really accomplished? “Oh, but they see how loving we are!” It's more loving to give a person money than the gospel? I first saw such a ploy used when I was about 16 years old. I wanted to open a bank account. Bank X offered a free toaster for opening my account with them. It's called incentive. Some might even call it bribery. The attendance on Sunday evenings at the last place I served was around 50 … unless there was a fellowship dinner, in which case the attendance doubled. Isn't it amazing how many people turn out for the freebies who won't come for any other reason?

So what are we teaching people from within our benevolence programs … that we are real Christians, or simply used car salesmen? When Paul and Barnabas were sent out from the Jerusalem congregation, the report was made, “They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10). What does it mean to “remember the poor”? Does that mean to give them money, or could it mean preaching Christ to them?

If you consider the surrounding context, you see that Paul speaks of Peter's attitude of favoritism (Galatians 2:11-14). In fact, there is more evidence that Paul was seeking to receive financial support rather than seeking to give it. In Galatians 2:6, he says, “But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.”

Maybe it's time we started to answer our original question: Why give to the poor? When you examine the Biblical evidence, you begin to see first that it wasn't ALL the poor that were given aid, but certain poor in particular. “You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11). “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; ... [13] contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality” (Romans 12:10, 13).“For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem” (Romans 15:26).

The giving in the Old Testament wasn't focused on the poor of every pagan nation, but upon the poor among the Jews. Likewise in the New Testament, giving wasn't offered to every poor person but focused upon the poor who were Christians. That is certainly a far cry from what we see in churches today. Which leads us to our next question: Why was giving focused only upon the saints? Doesn't God love everyone?

These questions go to motive, which is what more people should be considering. Why do we do what we do? “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:23). It's not just about the physical act of giving, but about the spiritual reasoning behind the action.

Romans 5:8-9 says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. [9] Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” Notice the demonstration of God's love. He showed His love to those OUTSIDE of Christ, but the benefits of His blood – salvation from God's wrath – is only available to those INSIDE of Christ (“through Him”).

This is what most people fail to understand and apply within their congregations – the benefits of heaven are found WITHIN Christ, not outside of and apart from Him. Some would call such love favoritism. They would see God's preferential treatment of a particular people. GOOD! That's what you're supposed to see!

In John 14:23, Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” Notice the conditions! IF someone loves Christ, he will obey Him. And IF you obey Him, then both Father and Son will come and abide with you. But if you don't, They won't.

Think of it this way: If God were to give everything to everyone equally (which is socialism), then what benefit is there to being a Christian? It is such false thinking that is destroying the church, not building it up. “You want food and clothing? No problem, we give it to anyone. You want money for your electric bill? Nope, you don't have to be a member here.” Why would anyone want to become a member of your church then, if you can get all the benefits without joining up?

Ultimately, this is really about the gift of salvation not the gift of money. God “has blessed US (Christians) with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). “His divine power has granted to US (Christians) everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). God's benefits are for Christians – for those INSIDE of Christ. And the best way we can demonstrate God's love to others is to show them what's available if they will accept Christ and become a part of the family.

So why give to the poor? We give to the CHRISTIAN poor, because they are our family. If the worldly see our concern for one another and want to be a part of that … that's exactly how God planned it. Jesus said, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; [23] I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (John 17:22-23).

If we give to the poor among our fellow Christians, it isn't because we've been commanded to do so, but because we belong to one another and we care for our family. “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

It is time we reconsidered the focus of our benevolent giving, and what it really means to show the love of Christ. It was Jesus who said, “It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26). “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6). That is just as much a part of Christ's doctrine as “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38), yet woe to the preacher who brings up that subject with the finance or mission committee.

But if we do give to the poor of this world, then such giving is useless without the accompanying gospel of Jesus Christ. Our goal is to make them a part of the family. We want them to join our “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). Our desire should be to save souls. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), not that which is poor.

1 comment:

  1. Vey well reasoned and well presented.
    The Church must focus on true objectives of a Christian benevolence program: who must be in control to set the Church's objectives; including priorities of who receives charity; why we must reject the distractions and demands of the popular religious leaders and philanthropists; and when faithful stewards can unequivocally state that those objectives are actually met.
    May I pass it along to my brothers here at Springbrook?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.