Column: Aiding or Abetting?

In the Book of Acts we read about the first deacons, who were appointed to ensure equal treatment for all the widows being cared for by the church. Certainly the church of today, as did the early church, has a responsibility to help those of their flock who are unable to care for themselves. And just as certainly, we are to reach beyond the fold of fellow believers. Whichever the case, though – flock member or not – the primary responsible party is the immediate family.

Jesus denounced as hypocrites the Jews who were neglecting their responsibility to their parents – see Matthew 15:4-9 and Mark 7:6-13. Rather than use their money and possessions to help their mothers and fathers, some Jews declared their property "corban," that is, dedicated to the Lord.

This meant that at some undesignated point, these things were supposed to be given to the temple treasury in fulfillment of this vow. Ignoring God's command to honor their parents, they used a manmade loophole to shirk their God-ordered duties.

So the church picked up where the family help left off or was simply unavailable. But like sharks to blood, the church's willingness to aid others also attracted freeloaders. The Apostle Paul reminded the church at Thessalonica that he had established this rule f rom the get-go: "... 'If anyone isn't willing to work, he should not eat'...." (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Meaning what? Able-bodied people were not to be allowed to cut into the provisions set aside for the unable.

All that having been said, if Jesus decried a person's ignoring their financial and filial obligations, and if Paul forbade wasting church resources on the unwilling but able, then what should today's churches' stand be concerning open-handed benevolence?

Should we offer food, clothing and even shelter to the needy – the operative word there being "needy"? Unquestionably. We are, in the name of Jesus, to compassionately reach out to people in trouble. But we are to do so responsibly and intelligently.

How? A few suggestions:

1. Evaluate each case individually. Check out the information provided.

2. Keep records. Know who is being helped and how often. Coordinate data with other area churches. Don't unknowingly abet any professional leeches.

3. Never give cash. Provide food or other needed items; make payments directly to utility services or landlords.

4. Give them more than material or emotional support. Always share the Good News of Jesus.

5. Every person should be treated with respect. Never allow a bad experience with one person to color how the next person who asks for assistance is treated.

"'For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in....' 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to eat? When did we see You a stranger and take You in...?' 'And the King will answer them, '... Whatever you did for one of ... these ..., you did for Me'" (from Matthew 25:35, 37-38, 40 HCSB).

This article was originally published on April 15, 2004.
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Judy Woodward Bates is a freelance writer, author, speaker and creator of Bargainomics, a Bible-based time and money management philosophy, and the author of “The Gospel Truth about Money Management.” Visit her website at www.bargainomics.com.