(Continuation of Part 3)
We have been exploring the Scriptures about how the church’s finance was and should be used. We looked into the word of God and learned the importance given to the aspect of giving and sharing with the poor and needy, and also supporting the laborious Christian workers. There are few more things that are on my heart to share with you in order to give better clarity to the message.
There are so many poor and needy people existing in the world. Can we help all of them? Practically speaking, we are aware it is beyond our ability to help every needy person. Nevertheless, there is one thing we can do—we can prioritize. The Holy Bible does give an answer about who are mostly entitled to receive our help.
I shared in the first part of these series of messages—the explicit and general Scriptures, individual and corporate examples—about the importance of giving to the needy people. If we carefully notice all these Scriptures, we witness that people within the body of Christ stand first in the priority list. May I share some of them with you again for your keen observation:
- Romans 12:13 – Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
- Galatians 6:9-10 - Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
- Hebrews 6:10-11 - God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.
- James 2:15-17 - Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
- 1 John 3:16-18 - This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
- 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 - Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do…..
- 2 Corinthians 9:1-2 - There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints…
This being understood, I suppose, we need more clarification about what kind of people can be prioritized even within the body of Christ. The Holy Scripture speaks about the church in two different manners—universal and local. All believers in the world who biblically believed in the Lord Jesus Christ fall into the category of universal church. And the regular assembling of saints in a given location is called a local church. So here is how it can work:
- When it comes to helping the needy, we need to give priority to those needy believers within our local church. If we see any brother or sister in our own church, either poor needing help or needy because of some dire situation, let us give attention to help that person. The local church is our immediate spiritual family and such members cannot be neglected, for they are always our first concern in receiving our help.
- The second priority can be given to the churches with whom the local church is associated. This association does not necessarily mean churches within a particular organization. If a local church knows other churches or has some kind of relationship with them, the needy ones in those churches may fall second in the priority list of financial or material help. For example, when our church comes to know anyone who is in genuine need and belongs to another church we personally know, we take it as our privilege to meet that need in whatever way we can.
- The needy ones in the churches that are in the other parts of the country or the world may come third in our priority. There are numerous poor and needy people in the churches that are in other parts of the world to whom the spiritually as well as physically blessed churches can make a great contribution to help them. There may be local churches in which there are no poor or needy believers and such churches can considering giving to the needy people of other lands. For instance, how wonderful it is to see few churches from America helping many needy believers in India! Of course, in doing charity to the churches we do not personally know, much scrutiny is required to know the credibility of the mediators and the receivers.
The primary purpose of giving, as taught in the New Testament, is for the support of the saints, the church. A Christian’s first obligation is to support fellow believers, individually and collectively. The church’s first financial responsibility is to invest in its own life and its own people (cf. 2 Cor. 8:1-5; 9:12-15; Phil. 4:14-16).
Obviously that is not the only economic obligation we have. The parable of the Good Samaritan makes it clear that we should minister personally and financially to anyone in need, regardless of religion, culture, or circumstances (Luke 10:25-37). Paul also teaches that we should “do good to all men” (Gal. 6:10). But in the same verse he goes on to say, “And especially to those who are of the household of faith” (cf. 1 John 3:17). In 2 Corinthians 9:13 the apostles calls for a generous distribution “to all.” Support of the poor and needy in the world in the name of the Lord is a high-priority Christian activity by Scriptural standards. (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. Chicago: Moody Press, 1984, 451).
Now, when it comes to helping the unbelievers, there are two important things I want to share:
1) We need to understand that salvation of the souls is more important than just meeting the physical needs of the people. What is the point in helping people just physically while eventually letting them go to hell! It is said that Christianity has often fallen into two extremes: treating a person either as a soul without body or a body without soul. Therefore, let us help the poor and needy with prime intention and effort to save the souls.
I believe, just giving our focus to the poor while neglecting evangelism is unbiblical. We need to strike the balance, saving the souls and meeting the physical needs. Remember, charity is not a substitute for evangelism. If Christians just focus on meeting the physical needs of the people while neglecting gospel preaching, they are no better than other religious people. And if Christians just preach the gospel and manifest no compassion in meeting the physical needs of the people, they are worse than other religious folks.
2) It is important that we need to preach the gospel, do evangelism, for this is our biblical mandate. However, let us not reject our physical help to people because of their denial to believe in Christ. Although we help others with a concern for their eternal security, we don't cease to help them if they reject our message, for our Heavenly Father causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt. 5:45). If anyone withdraws his physical help when others deny the gospel message, he/she is not manifesting Christ-like compassion, but trying to bribe others with their material things with a passion to win souls in an unbiblical manner.
So, let us continue to preach the gospel in spite of rejection and continue helping others irrespective of their positive or negative response to the gospel we preach. And who knows whether these people, after witnessing our unconditional love for them, may turn to Christ someday! May I end this section with a quote by an esteemed theologian of our day, Wayne Grudem:
The evangelistic work of declaring the gospel is the primary ministry that the church has toward the world. Yet accompanying the work of evangelism is also a ministry of mercy, a ministry that includes caring for the poor and needy in the name of the Lord. Although the emphasis of the New Testament is one giving material help to those who are part of the church (Acts 11:29; 2 Cor. 8:4; 1 Jn. 3:17), there is still an affirmation that is right to help unbelievers even if they do not respond with gratitude or acceptance of the gospel message.
Jesus tells us, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36) (Systematic Theology. Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994, 868)
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