Study the Word: Bulletin Articles
“Helping those in need”Categories: benevolence, charitable, church funds, contribution, Study the Word
As a church, we had the opportunity to help brethren out who were victims of the recent hurricane in Texas. Christians also individually offered help to out people in general who were in need in those areas. Even though these were good things to do, what does the Bible says about this? Let’s take a closer look.
It is essential to remember that God’s people are to do good to all people, especially those of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). Even Jesus went out of His way to help those who were not followers of Him (Mark 1:32-34). Christians extend kindness to all, even towards their enemies (Rom. 12:19-21).
What Christians do with their own is their own business. However, when saints give to the Lord on the first day of the week (I Cor. 16:1-2), it is no longer “their own.” This is how it was told to a couple who lied about how much they contributed to the church treasury: “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God,” (Acts 5:3-4).
Having demonstrated that God’s people can help whomever they want with their own funds, let’s now notice the limitations placed upon the local church. Peter mentioned above that money it is given to the church treasury, it is no longer our own. This means that the church funds are not used the same way as an individual’s funds. This is clearly demonstrated in I Timothy 5:16, where Christians are obligated to help their family members and not burden the church with it. Let’s see what churches can do with their funds to help the needy.
When it comes to helping those in need, there is no question that local churches are only supposed to help fellow saints. This includes both local brethren and those living elsewhere. Churches in the first century did this by sending relief funds to the elders of the church that had people in need (Acts 11:30). Notice that the funds were sent directly to the church in need – they were not sent to a third church or other group to be pooled before getting distributed.
Contrast this with what individuals can do to help the needy. They could send it directly to a family in need. Or they could send it to some relief organization (like the Red Cross) who will then help those in need. That’s something we can do since it is “our own.” However, the Bible only contains limited examples for what they church can do. Again, the church must give it directly to those in need. To have some church collect funds from other churches to be a “sponsoring church” is unauthorized by the Lord.
Let us also consider what the local church can and cannot do concerning their own member’s needs. In Acts 2, we find that those who were converted on the day of Pentecost soon found fellow saints in need. So what did they do? Some brethren stepped up and gave what they could (verse 45). From Acts 5, we know that funds given to the church are under the control of the church, not the individual member (verse 3-4). The local church then has the duty of helping those in the flock that are in need (Acts 6:1-7).
What kinds of needs do you think were incurred by the brethren in Acts 2? We can properly conclude it would be food and shelter. We know that not only did brethren help collectively, but they did as much as they could individually also. Acts 2:46 describes the brethren eating from house to house. Brethren were being hospitable by sharing what they had. What a wonderful attitude of selflessness! These brethren willingly gave twice knowing that Christians are to give cheerfully to the Lord (II Cor. 9:7) and are just as happy to share what they have on their own.
Whether we help someone individually or collectively as a church, the principle of II Thessalonians 3:10 should be applied. In this text we read that is if one is unwilling to work, neither should he eat. It is not our place to reward laziness. Churches are not in the business of being responsible for debts incurred by the irresponsible. This might seem cold and callous, but remember that the funds we give to the Lord are governed by the Lord (Col. 1:18).
Much of what a local church does to help needy members is non-specific. By this I mean that the scriptures do not state how much can be given or for how long – those are judgment calls made by the local church. That’s why the apostle told the brethren in Acts 6 to choose seven men who had a good reputation. You need those who are wise and will make decisions that are good and proper.
Unfortunately, faithful churches are being accused of being uncaring for not using their funds to help in ways that are not Biblically approved. If churches helped the needy without limit, just how many funds would a local church have to help spread the gospel and edify its members? The answer is, not a dime. As Jesus put it, you will always have the poor with you (Matt. 26:11).
Those who accuse the church of being heartless have failed to understand the first part of this article. Christians everywhere strive to be Christ-like and help who they can (whether Christian or not). The limitations placed upon the church do not limit individuals, just as Peter explained to Ananias in Acts 5. To see to what extend godly people help others, read the story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).
Christians should find comfort in knowing that there is a church family ready to help in times of need. They should never feel guilty for needing or receiving assistance. May we all likewise be willing and ready to help whenever we find opportunity.