I am always dumbfounded when I hear about someone who professes to be a Christian and rejects the notion that he/she has any obligation to help those who are in need. That consternation is founded in the fact that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures are crystal clear in asserting that God expects his people to help the suffering and disadvantaged among them. In other words, there is absolutely NO room for an alternate interpretation or view of what Scripture teaches on this subject!
Indeed, even under the terms of the Old Covenant, God's expectations in this regard were made VERY PLAIN. In the Torah, we read that the Israelites were instructed that: "If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth...Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto. For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land. (Deuteronomy 15:7-11) Likewise, in the book of Proverbs, we read: "He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again." (Proverbs 19:17)
In the New Testament, this duty to those who are in need is made even more explicit! In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ told a story that makes plain that the folks who will make it into his kingdom are the ones who help those who are in need. We read there that Jesus said: "But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46, NLT)
In the same Gospel, we also have an account of a wealthy young man who asked Jesus what he should do to receive eternal life (Matthew 19:16). Christ reportedly instructed the young man to keep the commandments (verses 17-19). “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?” (Verse 20) Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions." (Verses 21-22) Clearly, for Jesus, helping the poor represented the most moral behavior for any human who truly desired to be with God!
Moreover, this attitude of helping those who were in need was perpetuated by Christ's apostles. In his letter to the saints of Philippi, Paul wrote: "Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too." (Philippians 2:3-4) In his account of the Jerusalem Council, Paul told the Galatians that the Jerusalem apostles had asked him and his coworkers to remember the poor, and he made a point of also telling them that he was fully on board with doing just that (Galatians 2:10). Likewise, in the epistle of James, we read that "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." (James 1:27) Finally, in the first epistle of John, we read: "We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?" (I John 3:16-17) Clearly, the notion of helping and serving those in need was perpetuated by the Church which Jesus founded, and the people whom he had appointed to lead it.
Unfortunately, I have heard that there are those within the Armstrong Church of God movement who would turn something that Paul wrote to the saints of Thessalonica into a quote from Vladimir Lenin. The Communist icon is once reported to have said: "He who does not work shall not eat." According to my source, one ACOG minister claimed that Paul said: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” (II Thessalonians 3:10) However, while Paul certainly did make that statement, this individual had clearly taken his remarks out of context and had consequently twisted his meaning. In contrast to Lenin's statement, Paul wrote: "And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us. For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. We certainly had the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow. Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: 'Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.' Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living." (II Thessalonians 3:6-12) So, we see that Paul's remarks in this instance were directed at individuals who refused to work and were using their idleness to work mischief in the lives of others. In other words, when we read Paul's remarks in context, there is absolutely NO indication that he meant to suggest that folks who were unable to work (or unemployed through no fault of their own) should be excluded from receiving help from the Church!
We are told in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus did NOT come to this earth to be served "but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45) In that same Gospel account, we are told that Christ once said: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” In other words, Jesus came to minister to those who were in need, NOT to make wealthy or self-righteous people feel better about themselves! Christ told his followers: "I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." (John 13:34-35) Hence, it seems very clear to this blogger that this is the kind of behavior which Christ expects to find his followers engaged in when he returns, and anyone who would contradict this conclusion could fairly be characterized as acting in the capacity of an anti-Christ! What do you think?