People need help. Everyone does. There are seasons in life where we are confused, messed up and flat out broke without knowing how we are going to get by. As a servant in the church, I’ve interacted with people for many years that have real and serious financial need. Where are we to go when we need help? In this short post I want to look at the lines of support that the Scriptures reveal to us about how we are to help one another, help those in need and trust God for our daily bread.
Before we begin I want to be very clear on this on point. I only seek to look at some key passages in Scripture and I am not looking to lay out a political philosophy. Though certainly, what I will say has political/social ramifications. Some may be upset that I include institutions, including the government, as a pathway of help for people. Others will be upset that I included these as the last step along a long line of helping. Either way, I pray all may learn about loving and caring for one another whether you are left, right or centrist in your own ideology relating to helping your neighbor.
Faith – Help from God
As a believer, we must first see God as the one who will meet all our needs and care for his children. He is the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep, lays his life down for them and he is the provider of all things we truly need (John 10). Faith means we pray, we trust God and follow him with our lives. The means by which we make money and deal with money are therefore undergirded by following Jesus’ commands and his ways. God’s promises are to provide for our needs (Philippians 4:19 ,1 Timothy 6:6-10) and it is the wise who understand that the righteous will be provided for (Psalm 37:25, 26). When we talk about helping others in need, helping the poor among us, it is not an insult to encourage people to "trust in the Lord with all your heart." It is not an opiate for the poor and oppressed to believe in God. The Lord is a present help in a time of trouble and refuge to all who seek him (Psalm 46). He will give us joy and contentment whether well feed or hungry, whether in poverty or in rich blessing (Phil 4:11-13) and we must build our lives on the foundation of knowing our help comes from God.
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who ymade heaven and earth. - Psalm 121:1, 2
Work – Help from our Hands
As we trust God and follow him, what are we to do in light of our need for food, clothing and shelter? We are called by God to work hard even to the point of having something to share with others. Our jobs can be existentially fulfilling and deeply satisfying at times. At other times they seem simply to be a means to other ends we need. Whether we love or despise our current employment we need to see our jobs as gifts from God to provide for our needs. The book of Ephesians says something profound about the way our needs are met by God. In a list of ethical teaching for how we should live in light of the gospel, we read the following in Ephesians 4:28: "Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need." Our path should not be stealing for our daily bread, but honest work. 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 goes even further in telling us "For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” When looking at the passages in Ephesians and 2 Thessalonians together a clear picture emerges. We should work hard and that work should provide for our needs. Our work is for our own living but more than for us alone. It is also so that we may have something to share with anyone in need. Generosity is always a way of life as God provides for our needs.
Family – Help from our People
The Scriptures are clear that people should help their own family members in need. The mere nature of human community points clearly in this direction as well but let us be clear for the sake of argument. In the ancient church of Ephesus there were people who needed help. Many times there were widows, whose husbands had died leaving them without financial recourse. The church was very willing to help as it had always desired to do in light of Jesus's example and the teaching of her leaders. One thinks right away of James, pastor of the early Jerusalem church, who described pure religion to include taking care of widows and orphans (James 1:27). Yet in Ephesus widows were being passed off to the church for care while their own families did little to help. The instruction given to Timothy was that the family should care for one another. Kids and grandkids should take care of Mom and Grandma. See 1 Timothy 5:1-8. This is such a serious matter that the discussion concludes with the strong statement: But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). Basically, if you don't take care of your own people you really kind of suck in a serious way.
Church – Help from God’s People
In that very same discussion of widows, the exhortation was: " honor widows who are truly widows" (1 Timothy 5:3). In other words, the church community has a duty to help people who are needy and to step in to help the vulnerable in society. Yet let's be clear, the church does not exist to pay everyone's bills, provide financially for everyone's needs and give everyone everything. There is no way it could do so. Yet I want to make two things clear. First, the church takes an offering to serve the mission and ministry of God and to help the needy. The church that does not allocate a portion of its funding to those in need is not honoring the model of what the offering is for in the Bible. Offerings were taken to fund the mission, support those serving in mission (Luke 8:1-3, 1 Timothy 5:17,18, 3 John 1:5-8) help the poor and care for one another. Second, the church should not help in a way that does not ask people to trust God, work hard (or work hard at finding work) and share with others. Our call should be to everyone: trust Jesus, work hard, be generous, and help one another. This means that our personal finances should be used to help people. When we have needs that we see, we should seek to help. No, we should not pay to give someone a free, bigger TV, but we should help those who don't have enough to make ends meet. This is complex and needs wisdom as many times helping through handouts actually hurts. Yet if we are never willing to put out the helping hand we may be just paying lip service to Jesus' call to us to help "the least of these my brothers ” (Matthew 25:31-46). Wisdom is needed as to when to give and when to hold accountable for sinful disobedience to God's call to be willing to work and share. Love for God and neighbor demands that we help one another:
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
1 John 3:16-18, ESV
Community – Help from “US”
Finally, there is a place for community based help for people. In fact, it is massively important for God's people to join together in such labors. Food kitchens, for profit company programs to help the needy, and government assistance all have their place. Yet for the Christian we should encourage faith, work, family, church, community...then as last recourse, getting help where we can. It is a sad state of affairs that people do not trust God, at times not having to work, getting no help from family or church and being empowered by free money from some place. Safety nets are a good thing and a sign of a compassionate, caring society. Yet they should be there when we fall and we should encourage faith, work, family and community prior to receiving tax payer money.
People all along the ideological spectrum desire to help their neighbors when in need. People disagree on how we ought to help. As followers of Jesus Christ, we should be personally involved in helping others and receiving help from God. He has designed this world such that we are dependent beings. First upon God, then on the work he gives us to do with our hands, then on families with whom we share and a church family that has one another's back. The love and support of this community, Christ's church, should extend generously to the world in both word and deed. The church should be there for those who have no faith, family or community but we cannot compel anyone come into the beloved family of the church. Our lives should be wide open and we should actively love and reach out in service to those around us in need.
The gospel is the good news of God's grace and mercy towards sinners. That same gospel should lead us to live lives of mercy and good deeds in Jesus name. After all, Jesus told us that the world would know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35), and love should never just talk...for talk, is always cheap.