Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The biblical basis for serving the needy

The immediate goal of a church benevolence ministry is to relieve human suffering. A secondary goal is to build relationships with hurting people. The ultimate goal ought to be bringing about genuine life change in individuals through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our intent is to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ, not simply to provide services.

The Old Testament is filled with references about God’s desire that we help the under resourced such as the poor, the alien, widows and orphans. "For the poor will never cease from among the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'you shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.'" (Deuteronomy 15:11)

That teaching continues into the New Testament where we get a clearer picture of caring for our own. The New Testament church provided a mutual support network. “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2:45)

Many early Christians had lost family, friends and jobs because of their faith. The church became their new family offering spiritual, emotional and financial support. They shared resources with one another, helping those in need with particular care for widows and orphans.

There are some similarities in today’s ministry context and the first century church. Although people in America don’t lose home, family and jobs because of their faith, church members do face financial hardships due to job loss and unexpected bills.

A church that enjoys true biblical community will bear each others burdens (Galatians 6:2). At the small group or Sunday school level, group members can take up a collection to pay an unexpected bill and help with childcare and meals during a crisis. One Sunday school department held a large yard sale to benefit a class member who, after being laid off, was in danger of losing his home.

Care can be shown for those outside the church as well. One church planter organized fundraisers for a woman in the community whose house had burned down. He, also, arranged for local builders to rebuild the house. The woman was an unbeliever but the love shown by Christians led her to faith in Christ. She was baptized and her home is a meeting place for a small group Bible study.

This type of love impacts the beneficiary, the helpers and the unchurched who are watching.

"A new command I give you: Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another." 
 John 13:34-35

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