Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Reaching Out to Those in Need

Scripture makes it clear there is a requirement to help those in need, and it uses strong language to encourage this (James 2:14-16; Matthew 25:31-46; Proverbs 14:31). Now there are many fine Christian organizations that have worked to carry out this mandate, both in this country and around the world. But I have also noticed a definite tendency to minimize or marginalize what is commanded here. Now part of this is undoubtedly simply love of money (1 Timothy 6:3-10; Matthew 6:19-24; Colossians 3:5) or simply lack of faith (Matthew 6:25-34; Philippians 4:10-19; Proverbs 3:5,6). These are perennial parts of the human condition, and I admit to struggling with them regularly. But there are other factors in our culture that can militate against our taking these commandments with the seriousness required of them.

One problem is the issue of the work ethic. Now the Scripture does prescribe a work ethic (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10; Ephesians 4:28; Proverbs 6:6-11). It says we should be willing to work for a living in a diligent manner. But this should not be confused with the capitalist ethic that says that if you work hard you will necessarily get ahead and if you are poor you must be lazy. Certainly this is not found in Scripture. Now there are those who are poor as a result of their own bad choices. But even then God calls us to be gracious to sinful people, just as God has been gracious to us (James 2:13; Luke 6:38; Galatians 6:10). There is here a fear of being taken advantage of. I do not believe that Scripture requires us to be credulous (2 Thessalonians 3:10, Proverbs 22:7; 6:1-5). But am I convinced it is better to be taken advantage of than ignore a real need (1 Corinthians 13:7; 6:7,8; Matthew 5:38-42).

Another problem is government involvement. It is thought that the government will take care of the poor. But I see no place in Scripture where it says we can just leave this to the government. I am convinced there is something special about individuals personally reaching out to those in need rather than trusting  people to a mechanical bureaucracy. Now there are also those who oppose helping the poor because in the long run it will build up government power, which would be damaging to our liberties. But if we do not want government gaining power by helping the poor, the logical thing to do is to bend every effort to help them ourselves so they do not have to depend on the government. Even if we cannot compete with the government in this area, the fact they are not the only source of help makes a difference in how much power the government can expect to exercise based on this. But we need to get past our prejudices and excuses to do what God has commanded.

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