What is the church’s obligation to the poor?
For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.Romans 8:19-22
We live in a broken and hurting world because of sin. This brokenness means that we will never find completely whole, functional families. There will always be some form of brokenness within a family. This can be something as simple as old age, disability, or death; however, this can also include the brokenness of relationships, disharmony, infighting, jealousy, greed, adultery, etc. These and many other sins can result in the normal function of the family being disrupted or destroyed.
Honour widows that are widows indeed. But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God. Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day. But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth. And these things give in charge, that they may be blameless. But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith. And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some are already turned aside after Satan. If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.1 Timothy 5:3-16
In God’s infinite wisdom, He has provided a means for the alleviation of poverty in a broken world with broken families. He has commanded His church to care for those who are without family or have been abandoned by family.
First, we must seek reconciliation and healing within a family if there are family members present. We must seek to bring the dead-beat dad to repentance. We must encourage the widow to reconcile with her children. We must encourage brothers and sisters to seek reconciliation. We must seek to restore broken marriages. If the church does not first seek to bring about repentance and reconciliation, we are guilty of enabling people in their sin. Notice that Paul does not just address the widow’s family, but he also states to refuse widows because of their own sins. Many times there are loving family members who desire to help their impoverished family; however, it is the choice of the impoverished family member to be hateful, disengaged, or sexually immoral. Sometimes a child wants to help their mother, but it is the rest of the family that runs them off. The church must weigh carefully how to best help in these circumstances and not shun the hard process of calling people to repentance.
Secondly, should the situation warrant, the church is to help alleviate the poverty. This may be in part or in whole. When Paul speaks of “taken into the number” he is referring to those widows who are completely taken care of by the church. The church may have to completely pay all of an impoverished person’s bills. This is the duty of the church when the impoverished person is not going to be taken care of by their relatives. This is not the place of the government, but the duty of the people of God.
And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.Acts 6:1-7
The office of deacon was created to take care of the poor, specifically the widows. Notice that it speaks of the daily ministration; this refers to the fact that the church would feed these widows on a daily basis. The deacons are to take care of those who are impoverished.
And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.Luke 10:25-37
Jesus is very clear, we must love our neighbor in real ways. Notice that the Good Samaritan had to become personally and intimately involved to help the hurting man. Part of alleviating poverty is becoming knee deep in the muck to pull people out. We cannot shun the messy work of mending relationship, calling people to repentance, and asking the hard questions. This is part of loving our neighbor. It is far easier to pass by on the other side of the road and throw money out the window, but that is not Christianity.