…you provided in Your goodness for the poor, O God (Ps.68:10).
Getting a proper perspective on welfare is essential for the future and health of the church. And it’s important not just for the church, but for the world too.
Because the world needs a Biblical understanding of welfare. The notion of welfare in the modern era has become a means of the abuse of taxpayers for generations, and this is consistent with scripture, which teaches us that “…the compassion of the wicked is cruel” (Prov.12:10). This has been linked to the church’s failure to competently teach and implement Biblical principles of welfare.
For the Psalmist exclaimed:
Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores His captive people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad (Ps.53:6).
The judgements against Sodom in Genesis 19 were not merely for her blatant homosexuality. The prophet Ezekiel explained to Israel,
Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughter had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy (Ezek.16:49).
Genesis has no direct references to the poor, but the Holy Spirit nonetheless spoke through Ezekiel how the poor had been mistreated in Sodom, before God’s judgement.
In stark contrast, it appears that Job may have been a compatriot of Abraham, and Job clearly had a compassionate attitude towards poor people. He claimed that
I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the orphan who had no helper. The blessing of the one ready to perish came upon me, and I made the widow’s heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy, and I investigated the case which I did not know. I broke the jaws of the wicked and snatched the prey from his teeth (Job 29:12-17).
In this passage (and in Job 31:13-22), Job detailed exactly who would be the recipients of his charity and care: the poor, the orphan, the one “ready to perish,” the widow, the blind and the lame. These individuals in Job’s community remarkably replicate those whom the law of God (given to Moses at Sinai) stipulated should be the recipients of welfare.
Where did Job get these ideas from, if he lived before the giving of the law?
Before the Fall, God communicated a great deal to Adam and Eve. This information was either written down, or communicated orally from generation to generation, or both. We know this, because God explained to Isaac that
Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws (Gen.26:5).
God would not have held Sodom to account for her sins, if she had committed them in ignorance. Thus the law of God (in all its parts, including His requirements for welfare) was in some way a publicly available document for people in the Genesis era.
What differences should there be in the administration of welfare, from Job’s era, to ours?
There must be a willingness to involve ourselves in specific, individual needs, firstly amongst God’s people, and then in the broader community. The Bible speaks of this:
“Thus says the Lord, “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place” (Jer.22:3).
Since Jesus Christ, God has established His church. Thus welfare today is to be an individual, a family and a church responsibility. The elders of every local church are to govern the church, and to set down the parameters for how the church is to administer welfare locally. (Paul gave Timothy some plain direction on this, in I Tim.5:3-16).
The apostles clearly took seriously the issue of welfare, beginning with the care of widows in Acts 6, which led to the establishment of the deaconate. In this regard, there seems to have been a seamless transition from the Old Testament to the New. Paul appealed for help from the Macedonians and the Corinthians when the church in Jerusalem was poverty-stricken (see II Cor.8-9), he spoke of his desire to help the poor in his apostolic ministry (see Gal.2:10), and he explained in general terms what should be the motivation for godly welfare:
So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith (Gal.6:10).
If believers today want to see the church grow in legitimate authority, it will only come about by the church taking responsibility in the fields it has been called to, and this specifically includes welfare. We don’t want any cheques from government to do this, for this would lead to dependence on those cheques, only fostering high taxation. We would be perpetuating ungodliness; the last thing we would want to do.
What we do need to begin with, is believers to be faithfully tithing, so the church has some resources to be bringing to the table. And we’ll need to educate the saints about our responsibilities.
Are you ready to roll up your sleeves?