Giving to Brothers and Sisters
Contributing to the Needs of the Saints
This world is full of needsphysical, material, and spiritual. Have you ever been perplexed with the needs that come your way? Over the years many people from overseas have written letters or emails to me with a request for various material things. Sometimes it might be money, or an electronic device, or a Bible, or other literature. Surely some are legitimate while others may not be. How do you deal with the many needs that you know about?
Some of these needs come in an organized and institutional manner. Charitable organizations abound, supporting everything from cancer research to heart disease, from the poor in Ethiopia to Haiti, from India to South America. Local organizations also plead for our contributions, including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the YMCA, and youth organizations. Even orphans homes and childrens homes make their plea. What is the conscientious Christian to do?
Of chief importance is using our limited income in a responsible, wise, and Biblical way. Paul gives an important guideline in Galatians 6:10. Notice carefully the priority that he commands: 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. This says that we are to have special concern and involvement with those who are fellow-Christians. We cant support the hundreds of different needs that are around us, thus we are to major on the household of the faiththose who are fellow-believers.
Blessing Others, Especially the Saints
Paul says something similar when he writes elsewhere: Always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people (1 Thessalonians 5:15). If a need that an unsaved person has comes your way, try to meet it if you can. But remember that your priority must be the saints. On the one hand, we may remember the kindness and helpfulness of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).
On the other hand, there are countless scriptures that speak about helping, blessing, and caring for other children of God. James writes of a brother or sister who is without clothing and in deed of daily food (2:15ff). John the apostle also speaks to this. He speaks of a brother in need and then one closes his heart against him (1 John 3:17). John then asks How does the love of God abide in him? There is a special need to care for ones fellow-believers.
In the early days of the gospel, Luke states that certain widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food (Acts 6:1). This food must have been contributed by Jerusalem Christians for their poor widows. But even this was limited. Paul says that widows should be cared for if they are widows indeedthose who had no family to care for them. If they did have family members, they were the ones responsible (1 Timothy 5:3-16). If they were totally alone, then the assembly of saints were to provide for their needs).
Believers First and Foremost
The principle of believers first and foremost is clearly exemplified in Pauls own practice. Notice a few examples. When Paul visited Jerusalem, James and Cephas (Peter) asked Paul to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10). Surely they had reference to poor believers in Jerusalem. There must have been many unbelievers among the Jewish populace, but Paul was to keep the believers in mind.
You may remember that prophets arrived in Antioch from Jerusalem and said by the Holy Spirit that a great famine would come all over the world (Acts 11:28). What did the Christians in Antioch do about this coming crisis? They collected funds and sent them by means of Paul and Silas to the elders (v. 30). But notice this in particular: In the proportion that any of the disciples [in Antioch] had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea (v. 29). They could have tried to re3ach hundreds of thousands of unbelievers, but they focused on the brethrenthose of the household of the faith in Judea.
Pauls Major Project
Several years later, one of the greatest projects of Paul was carried out. The apostle knew that many poor brothers and sisters were dwelling in Jerusalemas well as other portions of Judea. He planned to collect funds from Galatia, Macedonia and Achaia and send this back across the Mediterranean Sea to Jerusalem to help alleviate their needs as well as to show the believing Jews that the believing Gentiles were merciful and supportive.
Pauls first mention of this project was in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, where he directs the Corinthian Christians to collect funds just as he had likewise directed the Galatians (vv. 1-2). It was his plan to have certain representatives accompany this monetary gift (see also Acts 20:3-4 and 2 Corinthians 8:16-24). He wrote, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem (v. 3). Pauls intention was to help and support fellow-Christians in the Jewish city of Jerusalem.
The apostle gives extensive instructions about how the Corinthians are to finalize their collection for this fund in 2 Corinthians 8-9 (the longest section in Scripture dealing with giving). He urged these believers by citing the example of the Macedonian Christians who participated in the support of the saints (8:4). Note well that they were giving to help the saintsnot the poor Jews in the area, but the Christians. They couldnt possibly support every needy person. Neither can we!
Paul writes about this ministry to the saints (2 Corinthians 9:1). He continues by referring to this supplying the needs of the saints (9:12). As they would receive this gift, the saints would give thanks to God and glorify Him (vv. 12-13).
When the apostle mentioned this project to the Christians in Rome (Romans 15), he said that he was going to Jerusalem serving the saints (v. 25). He explained, For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem (v. 26). He wanted the Romans to pray that his service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints (v. 31). It is abundantly clear that Pauls intention was to help fellow-Christians (and not unbelievers) with the funds that he would take, along with the seven representatives of the assemblies.
Our Limited Resources
We know that Believers will always be a minority for Jesus emphasizes that few will be saved and few are on the narrow way that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 13:23-24). This would mean that there would be very limited funds to give, thus they couldnt just give such money indiscriminately. They had to use good judgment in how their money was used. Surely this is part of the reason why their support could only be for their fellow-disciples.
Today there are dozens, hundreds, even thousands of ministries and projects in this world. Some of them involve the collection and distribution of multiplied millions of dollars and some or even much of this may go to support poor and needy unbelievers. This may be orphans in third-world countries, AIDS patients in Africa, malaria programs in the tropics, water treatment systems in Africa and elsewhere, provision of animals to poverty people in developing countries, and many others. Probably many or most of such projects would be goodbut are they the best?
We need to use wisdom to determine Gods will in all circumstances. We know that, while feeding the human body is good (Jesus did this with 5,000 to 10,000 people), feeding the soul is even more important. It is good to provide for ones physical needs, but how much more ones spiritual needs! As individuals, we can do such things as feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, giving a meal and lodging to the stranger, clothing the needy, treating the sick, and visiting the one in prison. All of this is needful, as much as we can do, and this demonstrates that we are the sheep of the Judge or Good Shepherd (Matthew 25:31-46). But how important it is to reach the soul, the spirit, the eternal part of a person and bring that person to Jesus Christ that he or she may have eternal life! The former deals only with a few short years here on this earth in the flesh, whereas the latter deals with eternal matters, those who will last eternally!
Other Major Needs
Can you think of any other reasons why the early Christians gave to support and help their fellow-Christians rather than unbelievers? While giving to ones physical and material needs is important, we can see that reaching the lost for Jesus and for eternal salvation does have a far longer perspective. It will last for eternity!
Our discussion in this article has majored on charitable works of mercy and giving to meet the physical and material needs of others. Surely there would be many other needs that should occupy our attention. When we remember that our earthly life is utterly brief and eternity is endless, this should influence what we do with our limited money.
We are told to proclaim the good news of Christ to every creatureevery personon earth (Mark 16:15). We are to reach all nations with the message of redemption (Matthew 28:18-20). This is a message of repentance to all people (Luke 24:46-48). What can we do about this all-consuming commission? In a personal way, we can devote our funds to buying and distributing tracts, booklets, books, CDs, DVDs, and any other means to get the message of salvation to the lost. We can also devote funds for purchasing books and tracts to distribute to fellow-believers that they may be built up and that they may learn truths that they have until now overlooked (Matthew 28:20).
We can also help to support preachers locally or in other parts of the world (sometimes called missionaries) as they share the good news of Christ with the unsaved masses of people. Paul discusses this in 1 Corinthians 9:1-14 but it is scattered in other parts of Scripture as well. Remember that the Philippians and others supported Paul in his preaching endeavors (cf. Philippians 1:5; 4:10-19). The New Testament also says that teachers (Galatians 6:6) and elders/overseers may also be supported (1 Timothy 5:17-18). All of this requires extensive funds, thus we are not only to care for poor saints but also the preaching of the message of eternal salvation.
Lets develop the same attitude that the early followers of Jesus had. Lets seek the things above rather than that which is on the earth (Colossians 3:1-4). Lets focus on that which is eternal rather than that which is temporal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Lets reach people with the good news of Christ (through devoted proclaimers of the good news/gospel) more than seeking to provide people physical comfort. We must be on guard that we dont minimize the physical needs, but we need to clearly emphasize ones spiritual and eternal needs.