By Don Ruhl
A poor member of a community visits a church, taking part in the worship services by listening to the prayers, listening to the sermon, noting the death of our Lord, singing the songs, and contributing to the collection. He is poor and like the poor widow in Mark 12, he gave all that he had, his whole livelihood. As he walks across the parking lot, he trips and falls, scraping his hands on the pavement. He needs to buy some items at the pharmacy for his wounds. Yet, that church refuses to take money out of its treasury, to which he just contributed, to give to him to buy those things. That church believes the church treasury is just for members of the church. The church will take his money, but cannot give it right back to him. Is there anything wrong with this picture? Brother, if it does not seem so to you, it does to me. Such a scenario makes that church a stingy church, a Dead Sea church, always receiving, but never giving.
Does not the church exist for the world? Or does she exist only for herself? What if that poor man needed to go to the hospital for his injuries, could the church give money to the hospital to take care of that man? Did you know that there is a story in the Bible that parallels the sequence of events I just painted for you?
What can the church do with its treasury?
Are the only eligible recipients members of the church? Can the church give its money to non-Christians—for anything under any circumstance? Every church that I know of gives money to non-members of the church all the time. Most of the time when we pay a bill we give it to a non-Christian. Why is it scriptural to give money to the power company, the gas company, the telephone company, the photocopier company, the insurance company, the office supply company, and others, but it is not scriptural to give money to a poor member of a community? I can make a stronger case biblically for giving to the latter than for giving to the former.
Can the church give food, but not money, to non-members?
If so, what is the difference in principle? Is the problem money? Is it that we just do not like to give money to people, unless those people can benefit us?
The Parable of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10, shows what a non-Israelite was willing to do to help a man in need, while the Israelites found various reasons not to help the man. “But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Then Jesus answered and said: ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’” (Luke 10.29–36).
You answer the question. Who was the neighbor to the mugging victim? It was not the members of the Israelite church, but the man who took action to help the victim! Jesus demonstrated that the question was not what the lawyer thought it was, “Who is my neighbor?”, but “Am I a neighbor?” The church often follows the argumentation of the lawyer. We argue, “Is he a Christian?”, but the question should be, “Am I a Christian?”
We also debate whether the innkeeper was a member of the church. The priest and the Levite may not have helped the mugging victim, because like the Samaritan, they were on business and could not be delayed, and they did not know whether the innkeeper was an Israelite, or they knew that he was not an Israelite, so they believed it was better not to help the crime victim than to do something they believed was unscriptural. Was the innkeeper a member of the church, so to speak, that is, a faithful Israelite? Jesus did not say. It did not matter. The important part was that the victim needed help and the Samaritan did what he was able to do, but when he had to continue on his journey, he gave money to the innkeeper to take care of the victim.
If the church saw a child in need, would it have to find out first whether the parent was a Christian, and if the parent was not, refuse to give money to the parent to take care of the child? We could easily reword the Parable of the Good Samaritan to fit the church,
And behold, a certain preacher stood up and tested Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the New Testament? What does the Bible say?” So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your brother as yourself.’” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my brother?” Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Roseburg to Medford, and fell among thieves in Grants Pass, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance the local Church came down that road. And when they saw him, they passed by on the other side. Likewise a member of the church, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain secular humanitarian organization, as they journeyed, came where he was. And when they saw him, they had compassion. So they went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and they put him in their own van, brought him to a shelter, and took care of him. On the next day, when they departed, they took out five hundred dollars, gave it to the shelter, and said to them, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when we come again, we will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was brother to him who fell among the thieves?” And someone said, “Those who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to the preacher, “Go and do likewise.”
So Jesus told the lawyer, and us, to do as the Samaritan did!
Some of the Jews believed that the Sabbath prevented doing good works, because it prevented some works.
They reasoned that if it prevented some works, even a great deal of works, it must have prevented all works. In Matthew 12, Jesus confronted this problem boldly. He demonstrated and explained that Sabbath laws never prevented doing good. If you have a law that prevents doing good, something is wrong with your law. “Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’—that they might accuse Him. Then He said to them, ‘What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ Then He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him” (Matt 12.9–14). (See also Mark 2.27.)
Do we interpret New Testament passages to keep the church from helping non-Christians? The law of the Sabbath did not prevent good and the New Testament does not prevent doing good to those who need it.
Some argue the church can help non-members of the church spiritually, but not physically.
They would say the church could use her money to buy that person a Bible, but not to purchase things that person might need for the body. This position makes a distinction between benevolence and evangelism, but benevolence is a tool of evangelism. Why did Jesus help people in the body? It was not just to help them in the body, but to get them to see that He could help them in the spirit. Matthew 5 shows that He expects us to operate the same way. You cannot argue that He only addressed individuals, for the church is nothing more than individuals together. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5.16). Some believe individual Christians can do these things, but when Christians pool their money together, it is not scriptural.
In Acts 24, Paul testified that he brought alms for his nation.
What did he mean by his “nation” and what did he expect those listening to think he meant? Paul spoke before the Jewish high priest and elders of the Jews and Felix, the Roman governor. “Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation” (Acts 24.17).
Paul did not say he brought these alms for the church. It may have been for the church also, and even first, but not the church alone. How did Paul expect Felix to understand “my nation”? Felix would have understood it as the Jewish nation, the nation of Israel.
Where did Paul get the money? He got it from the churches. Much of his writing addressed this contribution (Rom 15.26; 1Co 16.1–4; 2Co 8 & 9).
What Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia shows that the church may help people outside the church.
Galatians 6 shows who does the helping and who can be helped, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6.10).
Notice Paul’s use of the plural pronoun. Notice also that we as a group are to do good to all. We should especially emphasize helping those of the household of the faith, but that wording does not negate what he said just before that! Of all the New Testament epistles, this one was written not to just one church, but to many, showing that churches can even work together to do good to all kinds of people, “Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), 2 and all the brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia…” (Gal 1.1, 2).
Also, in the immediate context of Galatians 6, you will read this, “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches” (Gal 6.6).
We use this passage to show that the church should support preachers. No one that I know of contends that each member of the church needs to go up to the preacher and give him his wages, but we can do it through the treasury. The church is the body the Lord put on the earth to benefit all people, not just church members. Whatever good we should do to members of the church, Paul commanded we should do toward all people.
It is inconsistent to say that the church can help outsiders spiritually by preaching the gospel to them, even giving them material things, and physically by giving them food and things of that nature, but that the church cannot give them money or that the church cannot give money to non-members to take care of non-members.
It is inconsistent to give money to outsiders to help us preach the gospel through radio advertising, newspaper, printers, et al., but that we cannot use their services to care for someone, such as giving money to a hospital, which is not run by a church, or pay a bill or giving money to an orphanage, which is not run by a church, to care for children.
James 1 and First Timothy 5 teach that the church has a responsibility toward certain groups of people.
This is not mere individual action only, for what individual Christians can do, they can do collectively. “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (Jam 1.27). “If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows” (1Ti 5.16).
Did James and Paul specify the type of homes widows and orphans can be in before the church can help? Did they say anything about who does the supervising and managing? If a true widow, defined by Paul in First Timothy 5, went to a home operated by someone in the community, would the church be released from its obligation to help her? Why would the church want to be released from that obligation?
In Acts 20, Paul reminded the Ephesian elders of his example while among them.
He encouraged them to follow his example, as individuals and as the church, “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20.33–35).
Paul evangelized by doing good works to all the weak.
Some say that the church should not give money to outsiders running an institution, because they might not use it right.
Should we stop paying all our bills for that reason? Do members of the church ever mismanage or steal money? I know of a deacon in the church that sent me to preaching school and he stole a large sum of money from the church and left town. In one of the previous congregations for which I worked as preacher, we had a member who helped count the money, and stole thousands of dollars. One of the twelve apostles stole money from the treasury! Does the name Judas Iscariot mean anything to you? Did that stop Jesus from collecting money and doing good works?
Second Corinthians 8 and 9 provide much of our information for the church contribution.
In several places Paul discussed how the liberal giving of the church helps people. He argued that what people gave to the church could be used for members of the church and for anyone else who had need, “For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men” (2Co 9.12, 13).
Let us simply ask why the church exists on the earth?
Why did the Lord not take us straight from our rising out of the waters of baptism right into heaven? What is it that He wants us to do here? What did the Lord do here? What did the apostles and early church do here? Did the church only minister to itself? If so, how could the church ever grow? As Paul said in Galatians 6.10, “Let us do good to all.”
- Messianic Prophecy Number 20: Exo 12.46 – No Bones Broken (theoldtestamentandthenewtestament.com)