Joshua Caucutt is a contributor for the Money Crashers personal finance blog where he shares his insights for money management for Christians and living a life of stewardship and charitable giving.
One of the most difficult issues for the Church today is how to meet needs of the poor. However, Scripture makes it clear that an important exercise of our faith is to care for those less fortunate than we are. We find references to caring for the poor in James 1:27; 2:14- 16, Matthew 6:4 and many other places.
One of the more interesting passages is Mark 10, where we find the story of a man known as the “rich, young ruler” who inquires about the way to eternal life. Christ immediately places a daunting hurdle in front of him: “go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Mark 10:21) If we keep reading, we find that the rich, young ruler was so saddened by that news that he chose not to follow Christ. It is clear that the riches that this man possessed were more important to him than eternal life!
Scripture mentions the poor and the subject of money all through its pages. Here are five principles that the Church needs to understand if it is to carry out this aspect of missions:
1. The Rich Are to Have Open Wallets
As it says in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
What better way to demonstrate the One you serve than to give away your money and earthly possessions? If you have more than you need, why do you hold back from helping those who are less fortunate than you?
This passage in 1 Timothy 6:17-19 is even more clear: “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches…instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future…”
Those whom God has blessed with monetary blessings in this life have been entrusted with a responsibility to use those resources on behalf of others.
2. The Poor Outside the Church Are a Lower Priority
While the believer is called to be a good citizen and help neighbors in need, the goal of the Church is not to eradicate poverty at large. Poverty is a societal ill that we will always have with us as Jesus said in Matthew 26:11. Instead, the command is to be obedient to meet the needs of brothers and sisters in Christ. In James 2, the person who needs clothing is a “brother or sister” and in Galatians 6:10, we read that we are to “do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”
The Church is not to see itself as the solution to world poverty and the Church is not to use the issue of poverty as a marketing ploy in order to increase its political status. Rather, the Church is tasked with the responsibility to help poor believers within the Church.
3. There Are People Who Should Not Be Helped
There are three types of poor individuals who should not be helped by the Church. The first is a lazy person, “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” (2 Thess. 3:10)
The second person is a young widow – a widow who still has the ability to work or to marry. When the Church gives aid to such a widow, it may encourage her to fall into sin. (1 Timothy 5:9-16)
The third type of person who should not be helped financially by the Church is a man who allows his family to suffer neglect because of his laziness. In fact, this type of man is considered to be a pagan! 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
4. The Poor Who Are in the Church Are Rich
When the rich are generous to the household of faith or the Church, they make it possible for both themselves to be rich in eternal life and for the poor to be rich in this life. In Mark 10:29-30 we read: “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.” When the poor in the Church are working hard and the rich are being generous, the entire body of believers is blessed.
5. The Redemption of the Soul Is the Goal
Meeting the physical needs of others is one of the best ways to live out one’s faith, but it is important to emphasize that eternal life must be kept as the most important object. When helping another person with clothes or food or money, do not neglect the Gospel and that person’s soul.
God has promised that if we submit and obey Him in this life – and that includes our finances – He will amply meet our needs (Philippians 4:19). Yet, if we worry over our wealth and seek to hang on to it at the expense of others, we run the risk of losing our souls. Mark 8:36-37: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
The issue of money and meeting the needs of the poor in the Church is treated extensively in the Bible and we have not even scratched the surface of what could be said about this topic. The most important thing for you to examine is whether or not your church is meeting the needs of those within the membership? Furthermore, are you personally doing all you can in order to carry out God’s command to care for the needy?