Any cursory review of this issue has to conclude that we have to change welfare as we know it. We simply cannot continue to handle this problem as we have in the past. Having established this as a premise, what does the Bible reveal about this critical matter? Can we discharge our responsibilities to the poor by personal charitable action or through supporting the humanitarian (i.e. welfare) policies of the State? President Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty” is now into its third decade and there is ample evidence of its abysmal failure. Can we translate the advice given in the Bible as far back as 3,000 years ago into terms relative to the doing of God’s work in the late twentieth century?
Matthew 26:11 says, “For the poor you have with you always…” Does this mean we should just shrug our shoulders? Absolutely not! Welfare warrants Christian attention! We need to get our government out of the welfare role and put the Church (back) in it!
Jesus Christ modeled a life and ministry of compassion to the poor. He mingled with them (Luke 5:1-11), ate with them (Luke 5:27-32), comforted them (Luke 12:22-34), fed them (Luke 9:10-17), healed them (Luke 5:12-16), and ministered them (Luke 7:18-23). Should not those who are called to “conform themselves to His image” (Romans 8:29) place a high priority on the care of the poor?
Read the verses regarding Tabitha, a Godly women whose chief occupation was helping the poor as stated in Acts 9:36-41. In Acts 4:36-37, we read of Barnabas leaving an indelible mark on the early Christian communities by supplying the needs of the poor and, later in Acts 11:27-30, spearheading relief efforts and taking up collections for famine-stricken Judeans. In II Corinthians 8:3-6, we find Titus organizing a collection for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. Later, he oversaw relief efforts in Corinth (II Corinthians 8-9). The Apostle Paul was committed to “remembering the poor” (Galatians 2:7-10). He began his ministry as a poverty outreach (Acts 11:27-30) and coordinated the resources of churches in Greece and Macedonia for relief purposes (II Corinthians 8-9).
We’ve all read the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, where Jesus tells of a Samaritan who stepped in after the “righteous” men sidestepped their charitable responsibilities. He admonishes us to likewise shed our religious front, letting our actions reflect our true spiritual character. We are to look after orphans and widows in their distress (Luke 3:7-11), and we are told that true repentance is evidenced in sharing food and sustenance with the poor. Selfless giving is honored and blessed (Luke 6:38 and II Corinthians 9:6-8); a sign of genuine faith (James 2:14-17).
God Himself is a cheerful giver and promises to repay any kindness shown to His children with abundance and blessing. Proverbs 14:21 tells us we will be happy if we are kind and generous to the poor. In Psalm 41:1-2 we read, “How blessed is he who considers the helpless; the Lord will deliver him in a day of trouble. The Lord will protect him, and keep him alive, and he shall be called blessed upon the earth.” Proverbs 11:25 states, “The generous man will be prosperous and he who waters will himself be watered.” However, equal to God’s joy over our generosity, is His distress when respond out of selfishness.
“He who oppresses the poor, reproaches his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him,” says Proverbs 14:31. And, in Proverbs 28:27 we are warned that, “He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses.”
I’ve only scratched the surface, but I’ve not found any evidence that we, as Christians, should abdicate our responsibilities to the government. I believe we’ve already done that and are now paying the price for this omission. The government will default or tax us even more heavily. It can be successfully argued that we should reclaim our responsibility and get the government out of the welfare business. It has been stated many times recently, that we don’t have a fiscal problem – we have a spiritual problem.
by Lou Smith
Central Christian Observer Vol. 2, Number 7, July 1996