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What guidelines should a church establish for helping needy people?

God want’s us to be compassionate to others in need, but we must always realize our prime purpose is to proclaim the gospel and nurture them to maturity in Christ. The New Testament does not proclaim a social gospel as it is often twisted into meaning. Having said that, out of love for others, we should seek to help people as we are able (see Gal. 6:6-10), but this does not mean we become a welfare agency. Our responsibility is to lead people to Christ and where needed, to help people help themselves so they can meet their own needs and become productive members of society. Compare the following verses:

Eph. 4:28: The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may share with the one who has need.

2 Thess. 3:6 But we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from any brother who lives an undisciplined life and not according to the tradition you received from us. 3:7 For you know yourselves how you must imitate us, because we did not behave without discipline among you, 3:8 and we did not eat anyone’s food without paying. Instead in toil and drudgery we worked night and day in order not to burden any of you. 3:9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give ourselves as an example for you to imitate.3:10 For even when we were with you we used to give you this command: “If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat.” 3:11 For we hear that some among you are living an undisciplined life, not doing their own work but meddling in the work of others.3:12 Now such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and so provide their own food to eat.3:13 But you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing what is right. 3:14 But if anyone does not obey our message through this epistle, take note of him and do not associate closely with him, to put him to shame. 3:15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

Note the principle of verse 10 above: a person who is not willing to work, should not be allowed to become a welfare recipient. Such is not cruel, but vital to their own well being and future happiness and ability to become a functional and fruitful member of society.

At the same time, as we help people, we should never help them in such a way that it might promote a lifestyle that is contrary to basic biblical principles of right and wrong, especially on a long-term basis. In the interest of leading people to Christ, we can perhaps overlook some things for a while since no one is saved by changing their lifestyle, but each situation must be evaluated. For instance, I once did marriage counseling with a couple who were living together. I did not insist they separate before I counseled them. What they needed was to know Christ. In the process, they both came to know the Savior. I later married them and they even got involved with our church and began to grow.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)