God's Pattern for Benevolence
In other articles, we have noted the definition of the word pattern and that God indeed has always had a pattern for what He wants His people to do. We examined the pattern God has for financial support to those who preach the Gospel. In this one we shall examine the pattern God has established in the area of benevolence, that is the caring for the material needs of men by the church. To begin with, we must recognize that the Lord never intended for the church to care for all of the physical needs of men all over the world. Please take note that I said for the church to take care of the needs of all men. The responsibility of helping all men, as we have opportunity is one of an individual nature. The Bible story of the good Samaritan shows this clearly (Luke 10:30-37). The question we must address here is, "Is the church, out of the Lord's treasury, to take funds and provide for the physical needs of those who are not Christians?" We must not allow our emotions to lead us in answering this question. Certainly, the needs of suffering humanity are to be met and we, as individual Christians are directed to help anyone in need. Again, the story of the Good Samaritan is a good Bible example. That does not answer our question, though, as to whether the church can take from the Lord's treasury and do this. We must look into the pages of Divine inspiration at the pattern God has established for the church regarding those in physical need. Remember that the pattern is set up by Jehovah God and it matters not whether we may understand why it is so but, instead, do it as God has directed.
In the New Testament, we read of the following examples of monies from the church treasury being used for benevolent work. Physical needs.
In Acts 2:42-45 when Christians were in need of physical help, they divided their possessions with each other and shared. This was sharing with one another as Christians. Later (Acts 4:32-37) there was need among some Christians and this time the money was given through the church treasury (distributed by the apostles). Still later, (Acts 6:1-6) there was a need that arose of needy widows, and men were appointed to see that steps be taken to administer what was lacking. Again, in Acts 11:27-30, Christians were made aware of a great need that would come to pass in the near future, and agreed to send funds to help those who were of God's family. "Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea" (Acts 11:29).
Later still, when there arose a similar need among Gods people in Jerusalem, many brethren from all over sent material aid to help the needy saints.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his second letter he commended the faith and commitment of those of Macedonia for sending help to the needy saints. "Imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints" (2 Corinthians 8:4). Again we see who Paul is speaking of who was to be helped, in the following: "Now concerning the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you" (2 Corinthians 9:1). When Paul was on his tour of collecting these funds to take to the needy saints in Jerusalem he wrote to those of the church at Rome the following: "But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things. Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain" (Romans 15:25-28). Again I say, as individual Christians, we are to help everyone we find in need who is worthy. But from the church treasury, in the area of physical needs (benevolence) the pattern God has given is for the money from His treasury to be used to for His people. Brethren went with Paul to help in this task and each church sent its own messenger along (2 Corinthians 8:16-23). There was no "central control" or organization set up by some local "sponsoring" church or individual. The monies gathered were either sent or carried directly to the needy church. It was placed in the hands of the elders for distribution to every person who had need. "This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul" (Acts 11:30).
Though sincere, misguided brethren have been guilty of spending the Lord's money to build and maintain homes for the aged and homes for homeless children without giving a thought as to whether or not the Lord has given His blessings to it. What does God say about taking care of the aged and homeless children? Does He have a pattern revealed to us as to how it is to be done? Let us look once more into the pages of Divine inspiration for the answer.
Regarding the care for the aged. The following is the pattern God has for caring for the elderly in need. "Honor widows who are really widows. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God" (1 Timothy 5:3-4).
"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" (1 Timothy 5:8).
"If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows" (1 Timothy 5:16).
It is obvious to the reader of these passages that Gods pattern for caring for the elderly needy is for the kinfolk to care for them that the church be "not burdened". Of course, if the elderly has no one who can care for them or will not, the church then has the authority to take care of their needs. (1 Timothy 5:16) "...that it may relieve them that are really widows." The church "relieving those who really are widows" simply means to provide for their needs whether groceries, rent, utilities or whatever the need is. However, there is no authority found here for the building and maintaining of a "home for the aged" to take care of their needs. Brethren are mixing up the "Who" with the "How". The "Who" belongs to the kinfolk and the "How" is determined by what is the best way to do it. Thats called "expediency" or the best way for it to be done.
Regarding the care for homeless children. Misguided brethren for years have used James 1:27 to prove that the church should care for these children who have no home. Thus they claim to have the authority to build and staff a home for these children and pay for it out of the Lord's treasury. For the very life of me, I have never been able to understand where they get such an idea. Look at the passage. "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." If we would learn to study the Word of God and leave things in their proper context, we would have very few problems. Obviously, the entire chapter is dealing with individual responsibility. In verses 2-8, James writes of the responsibility of the individual regarding adversity and the part it plays in our faith. In verses 13-16 the text admonishes us about personal responsibility regarding temptation and sin. Verses 21-27 contains admonition regarding refraining from sinful things and the admonition to understand personal responsibility as a Christian. Involved in that context is the kind of life that produces pure religion. This includes the caring for widows and orphans but in it all, it belongs to the individual and not the church. I admonish each to read and re-read the chapter. You will see clearly that the text in James 1:27 is speaking of the individual's responsibility and not the church.
Some would argue, "The church is made up of individuals and thus what the individual can do the church can do". Indeed, the church is made up of individuals, but there are things that are assigned to the individual that are not assigned to the church. Look at Matthew 18:15-17. You will note that after you have gone, been rejected and then took witnesses with you it still must be taken to the church if you are then rejected. The group you had with you, though members of the church, did not make up the church for it then had to be carried to the church. Look again at 1 Timothy 5:16. The first responsibility of caring for needy parents is to the individual and in fact the text says for them to do is "and let not the church be burdened." If the elderly needy has no one who can or will care for them, then the church can do it. But it first starts with the individual believer.
Does God have a pattern for carrying out His commands to care for the needy? Yes, indeed He does, and let us never forget what happens to those who ignore or reject His pattern and go about doing things in their own way. It will always bring the wrath of God upon them.