Thursday, August 21, 2014

Helping the Oppressed and Downtrodden

Scripture teaches the need to help the poor, oppressed, and downtrodden (Matthew 25:31-46; Proverb 21:13; Deuteronomy 15:7,8). Further, there were special provisions made for those in need (Acts 6:1; Romans 15:26,27; 1 Timothy 5:3-16). There was also the having of all things in common, which from the rest of Scripture seems to have been a specific provision for a specific need, but it showed their attitude (Acts 4:34-37). Now this does not contradict the Biblical requirement for a work ethic (Ephesians 4:28; 2 Thessalonians 3:10; Proverbs 6:6-11). We may need to distinguish between those who refuse to and those who are unable to work. I recognize there are those who are unable to work because of their own wrong choices, but God is a God of grace and forgiveness. When possible, we ought to try to help people to a place where they can support themselves. This is a difficult thing to balance, and we may be better off giving through an organization, like a rescue mission, that is experienced in dealing with such situations.

But all this refers to the actions of the church and individuals; what place does the government have in all this? I would say from Scripture that the primary responsibility for helping the poor should not simply be wished off on the government. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7; 8:8; Acts 5:4). I know this is frequently applied to giving to the church (and there is an application there), but the context is helping the poor in Jerusalem. We are called to give based on our available resources, but no exact amount is given (1 Corinthians 16:2; 1 Timothy 6:17,18 , Matthew 6:19-21). And the government is called to punish wrongdoing, and that is hard to do when no specific requirement is given (Romans 13:1-5; Deuteronomy 25:1; Proverbs 20:8). However, there are examples of the law making some provision for those in need (Exodus 23:11; Leviticus 19:10; Deuteronomy 14:28,29). But this seems more of a minimal provision than an attempt to meet all the needs of the poor.

Today, however, it is difficult to see who will meet the needs if the government does not do it. It is questionable that the Christian church, in its current divided state, could do it even if it decided to. But I do not think we should conclude this is the government's job and ignore our own responsibility to do what we can to help those in need. In terms of politics, I do not think we should have a knee-jerk reaction of creating a government program to meet every need. Neither can we just be indifferent to those in need. Deciding exactly what to do and what will work and what will create a worse problem than it solves is a matter of practical politics. But we must start out with a willingness to do what is best to help those in need.   

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