Food, shelter, health care: where do we draw the line?

Christians, real Christians, have a heart for the needy. As a compassionate people, filled with the love of God, we are concerned for those who lack food, shelter and healthcare; and we desire to see their needs met. Yet to say that we are to give without limits is not only ignorant, it's unbiblical.

Today I invite you to join me in a history lesson. In order to reconcile our heart to serve others with our need to manage resources, we must turn to God's story for His wisdom rather than debating each other in our own.

Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia, had a population of over 100,000 in 50 A.D., many of whom were believers in Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Paul wrote to these believers regarding several topics, including provision and need. He was concerned for the welfare of the church for many reasons, one being that some Christians were depending on wealthier Christians to provide for them rather than earning their own living. Frankly, some were just lazy.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul differentiates between the lazy, the timid and the weak. “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” With all people we are told to be patient. Yet our patience is to be coupled with responses that differ according to each person's situation.

Help is reserved for those who are weak. The original Greek word for weak refers to the feeble and the sick. We are to offer our help to those who are literally and physically without the power to help themselves.

Our encouragement is meant for the fainthearted, that is, the feeble-minded–those who lack courage and faith. To encourage literally means to build heart. Most people have melancholy moments of fear and pessimism. Some are plagued with them. We are to encourage the timid and depressed.

But the unruly, according to 1 Thessalonians 5:14, require our admonition. The unruly are the disorderly and disobedient, those who are choosing not to walk in accordance with God's plan for a productive life. This word in Greek was used to describe those who did not show up for work. God created man to work. We were not put here for a free ride. God put Adam in the garden to tend it and to cultivate it, to maintain it and to increase its fruitfulness. Both take work.

Paul goes on to say in verse 15, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” God's Word teaches patience and the pursuit of good for all. But we cannot ignore the categorical nature of verse 14. With patience, some need encouragement, others charity, while others need a swift kick in the pants. All of these promote good in others when administered appropriately, even though all may not be pleasant.

Certainly the lines are blurred at times, and some people may need a combination of these interventions. But it's important for us to recognize that not all people require our financial help or deserve it. Most Christians would agree that it is ideal for 100% of people to have food, shelter and healthcare. But not all 100% are to receive it gratis. That may make us feel sad, but nevertheless, it is the truth according to Scripture. We must do our best to live according to this truth, and discern from a biblical view how best to deal with those who are in need.

Here's a parable for you. A rich man took his family to a car lot to purchase new cars. Three of the poorer townspeople came to watch. The rich man felt compassion for them, and asked them about their lives. One was the victim of abandonment and abuse, and was paralyzed by fear. Another was physically disabled, and was challenged financially to survive each day. A third simply refused to work, succumbing to selfishness and laziness. The rich man considered their stories and after purchasing cars for his family, offered help to the disabled and to the abused. But to the lazy without excuse, he rebuked him, and advised him to take responsibility for his life. The rich man showed patience to all and acted in pursuit of everyone's well-being.

I suggest that this follows the biblical model presented in 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15. But here's the direction I fear our nation is headed:

A rich man takes his family to a car lot to purchase new cars. The dealership invites three of the poorer townspeople to join them inside. The car salesman, following orders from the establishment, asks the rich man, “How much money do you intend to spend today? What is your budget for your family?” The rich man shares his available funds. The car salesman then recounts the latest declaration from the ruler of the land: The rich man may only buy moderately-priced cars for half of his family members, so the remainder of his available funds may be used to buy cars for the three poorer townspeople, regardless of the reason for their poverty.

To be faithful Christians, we must allow God's Word to infiltrate our every thought, deed and decision, even decisions made through the system we call the U.S. government. Needless to say, none of us have all the answers to our country's dilemmas. But as we continue to search, let's do so by the light of His Word.

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  1. Monique Davis said:

    I agree, but the issue is this: how do we, as a nation, discern who is worthy and who is not? What sort of standard will we use, and how will those measures be rolled out? As a nation, we do not take care of our sick and homeless (as upwards of 75% of homeless people are mentally ill in some capacity) now, so I’m afraid our administration will not provide any sort of assistance if the health care bill doesn’t pass. How do we reconcile what’s right according to God with policy in this matter? I hope it can be done, but I fear we live in an all or nothing society. Good points raised though.

    August 6, 2009

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