Edging Away from Egypt (3)

Anyone serious about facilitating change in society, must realize that it’s not enough to identify the problems of the status quo. We have to come up with viable alternatives to what we see today, because you can’t replace something with nothing.

How do we replace the socially destructive phenomena of humanistic, atheistic socialism? With the Biblical, essential and responsible alternative: Christian obedience and charity, which the Bible speaks much about.

Where is that?

The Old Testament law laid the foundations for Christian charity. Those whom God said were to be particularly cared for, were the poor, the widows, the orphans and the aliens (or foreigners).

A number of New Testament writers added to this. Paul writes concerning widows,

Honor widows who are widows indeed; but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God.

Now she who is a widow indeed and has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day. But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dad even while she lives. Prescribe these things as well, so that they may be above reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work.

But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention.

Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already turned aside to follow Satan. If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed (I Tim.5:3-16).

A number of observations can be made from this text.

Firstly, not all widows were deserving of financial support. They had to be legitimate church members, and wherever possible, their own family members were those that should be caring for them, for they should “…make some return to their parents” (v.4). Charity begins at home. Children were to care for their aged parents and grandparents (v.4). Only in those rare circumstances when there were truly no family members to care, should the church take up the responsibility. And even then, the widow had to be sixty or more (v.9). The church expects all its people to be diligent workers, not idle (v.13). Ideally, widows should get married (v.14) or get a job, or both.

Secondly, widows were to be “put on the list” (ie, worthy of the church’s financial support), only if they fulfilled eight specific criteria (v.9-10). There were to be strict restrictions on the availability of church monies, for “…the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed” (v.16). This meant saying “No,” to a significant proportion of widows, even godly ones.

Thirdly, decisions in relation to the care of the poor must be made locally. Decentralisation is essential. Why? Every place is different. If the locals don’t know what’s going on, they can certainly find out. They just have to ask a few questions, and they must be willing to do so, if church resources are going to be tapped.

Fourth, the church is never to be a place of free handouts without discrimination, because there is no such thing as a free lunch. Everything costs, and productive, godly and caring church members don’t want to see their hard-earned resources thrown away on lazy, idle people who have mastered the emotional manipulation of weak people to get what they want. That’s not Christian-it’s evil.

Fifth, this means that every church must have Biblical elders and deacons, who will administer the church’s resources wisely and rigorously, in the fear of God. This was how Stephen began his ministry (Acts 6). For some Christian people this is a new thought, as they have to confront thorny issues, and begin to exercise Biblical discrimination. But it is an essential one.

Sixth, accountability with money and resources is a critical Christian attribute (see Mat.25:14-30). When the world sees the church recovering its capacity to manage resources well in its care of widows and the poor, it will generate the world’s respect, and non-Christian institutions will be willing to make donations. I know this happens, with truckloads of supermarket goods approaching their “Use-By Date,” and other valuable resources, of great value to needy people.

This statement has Biblical validity: Power flows to those that take responsibility.

Conclusion:                                                                                                                               We cannot replace the evil of socialism, with nothing. But as the church accepts and acts on its Biblical convictions, and picks up the responsibility of teaching its members their proper role in caring for widows and others, and becomes confident in this, a great change can come over the church and in the long-term, the community.

It means salt and light are returning to the church, after a long absence. It means we are showing there is a far better way to care for the widows in the community, then just giving them an automatic Social Security category to live how they like, and exploit society’s productive people. This has been part of what has gotten us into the hole we are in today, in the church, and in the world.

And this is a part of the gospel, entrusted to all Christians. Are you ready to participate?

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