In Ephesians 4: 28 all forms of gain are mentioned: labor, gift or charity, and theft.
Let he that stole, steal no more. If we are a thief, a plunderer, a pirate or a pilferer we’re to stop what we are doing. God does not approve. And by the way, neither does society or most of our neighbors. The command doesn’t say a thing about getting even with the boss, or ignoring what we “borrowed” from next door. It’s indiscriminate as to whether any ill gotten stuff came from little old ladies, empty houses, from off the floor where it was left by a careless hand, or out of large accounts in escrow. The Apostle simple wrote steal no more. If you’re stealing; you already know what it means.
But rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good. I don’t believe that the Apostle left off thinking with our minds and our applying it to gain honest wages. The point is that he said to do it yourself. As we can, we should do our own work, mind our own business, and keep our hands in our own pockets and not outstretched or in someone else’s. We are to work the thing that is good. That is the only qualifier.
But, we are to do all of that so that we can be ready to help others. I have had to ask for help when things weren’t so good and when I couldn’t meet the imposed demands. So have others. Many are forced to do that right now; and it is not condemned here or anywhere else in the Bible. Quite the contrary, the Apostle wrote that we should work and profit so that we may have (something) to give to him that is in need. We need to set something aside, and this is not speaking about the collection for the assembly, but to assist others aside from that.
The Word tells me that I personally need to help my family, (and if need be) my brethren, and anyone else I might see that may need assistance. As I may choose. I am not to just walk on by. The charity of the church is not my charity, and it exists to assist for the needs of the saints. So it is reasonable to expect that different levels of requirements were set by God for it than for me. The treasury of a church is to be used for that assembly to dispense to meet their own needs and obligations, and in aiding other Christians that may have need if they can. It is not some general charity. Churches do not exist as mission societies or soup kitchens in their neighborhood or as a general dispenser of monies to all who may come through the door with their hand out; that all comes closer to being part of my duties.
Like everything else we discuss here; to get this right requires thought, work and preparation.
However, you can’t help anyone if you can’t help yourself. And you’ll never help anyone (self included) without planning how you will set it up to be in a modest position to be of help.
More often than not we are not guilty of doing too little, but rather of doing nothing at all. We often neglect what we are supposed to do. And I suggest it’s exactly that way with helping others – with work, giving and assisting. It’s hard to get set up to be able to help at all. Then it’s sometimes hard to part with what we have. That’s called avarice. We’re told to avoid that too. So, we end up rationalizing, and like John D. Rockefeller we’ll give them a dime when they probably need a lot more and more immediately. Or we’ll just not have the time and resources, and do nothing at all.
Our daughter recently told us she wasn’t going out on a limb for anyone again. I responded that if that had been everyone’s attitude; she never would have made it this far. She has been dependent upon her parents and friends for all sorts of things and upon the largesse of others throughout her life. Some of the positions she found herself in had been hard for all to bear, but we were there and offered what was needed. I also suggested that it is not good to neglect others; and that it is a sensible thing to position yourself, if at all possible, to be able to help as you have ability. We should set aside funds exactly for that purpose. Prudence tells us that we must set our own house in order and pay our bills. Then we should set aside something to help ourselves in times of personal need. We must also set aside as commanded for the church, and then you should set aside another amount to use to help others when things don’t go so well for them. (If this was easy the Lord and his Apostles would never have spent any time on it.)
It is rightly called charity. You can’t neglect it and be safe. Most of us wouldn’t be here without it. And it only requires being careful and planning, and giving back a small part of what has been given to us. In Ephesians 4: 28 it’s what is called giving to him that is in need. Who is not now, or has not at some time been in that group, or as we cannot see that, may be there in the future?
We can all hope that each of us will never be in the position to need the help of others. But isn’t it nice when things haven’t gone well, when someone unexpectedly makes an offer to help? It certainly is appreciated. It is such a blessing.
If you want to be perfect, go and sell what you have and give it to the poor; and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.
(This essay was based on a series by Michael Schmidt and a lesson by Henry Glaus.)