Point of Reference
by Fred Price
Many church members today take pride in our country’s Christian heritage, and they are right to do so; even though not all our founders nor early citizens were faithful believers. Our ethics, concepts of right and wrong – good, better, and best – and many of our legal precepts were indeed grounded in Judeo/Christian philosophy. But we were specifically, intentionally set up as a secular nation with a secular government; because – as evidenced from the European countries many of our citizens immigrated from – a too close association of government and church always worked to the detriment of one or the other, usually both. Complicating matters further was the fact that not everybody went to church and if they did many went to different churches with varied faith traditions and expectations. Our government then was appropriately set up to enhance the lives of all its citizens in their multiplicity of beliefs, nonbelief and expectations while not favoring any of them.
In our attempts at promoting a Christian ethic in our government and throughout society today, the closest example of a national response to people and their needs would be Israel of the Old Testament and the earliest church. One of the more divisive issues confronting us today – and always (see Matthew 26:11) – is surprisingly dealt with explicitly in both Testaments of our Bible. The great law-book of Deuteronomy specifically saying, “…there should be no poor among you,…” Deuteronomy 15:4 Partly because of a system of debt relief built into their economic system, more so their faithfulness – which fostered prosperity. As such, “If there is a poor man… in any of the towns of the land… do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward…” them. “Rather be open-handed and freely lend him whatever he needs.” Deuteronomy 15:7,8 (See also Luke 6:34 for Christ’s take on generosity in “lending.”)
Tacitly acknowledging that, “There will always be poor people in the land.”, for one reason or another ( Deuteronomy 15:17); the Israeli people were none-the-less directed to, “Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart;…” And promised if this were done, “God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” Deur.15:10 “Therefore I command you to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:11 An exhortation echoed by Jesus in John 15:17, “This is my command : Love each other.” (See also Romans 13:8-10)
A fundamental tenet of Judaism is expressed in Psalm 82:3,4. “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” The New Testament writer James equating “Religion that God… accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” James 1:27 Further noting the New Testament’s “royal law” as being rooted in the Old Testament admonition to, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” ( James 2:8) Jesus characterizing those who will be welcomed into heaven as being kind, considerate and compassionate; giving food, drink and clothes to those who need them, welcoming the stranger (or alien) and caring for the sick and imprisoned. ( Matthew 25:35 See also Exodus 22:21) Conversely damning those who don’t. ( Matthew 25:46)
Scripture does indeed note that, “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.” Proverbs 10:4 Raising the question: Why should I “finance” someone else’s life? (Through entitlement or safety-net programs.) Which is a legitimate question, differentiating between the truly poor and the lazy poor sometimes being rather difficult. God makes our response to the poor personal, however, when he says, “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward him for what he does.” Proverbs 19:17 For, “Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.” Proverbs 22:2 Further explaining that, “A generous man will himself be blessed.” Proverbs 22:9 But, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” Proverbs 14:31 (Note the “I was hungry and thirsty” of Mat. 25)
This common thread woven throughout the fabric of both Testaments is abundantly evident in the workings of the earliest church, which held all things in common, selling personal possessions and sharing with those in distress and need . This was not required for “admission” to the church, but was rather the natural expression of the love of Christ expressed by his followers. (See Acts 2:44,45; 4:32-35 & even 6:1 – which also notes the administrative difficulties of doing ministry on a large scale.)
Some point to Paul’s declaration that, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” 1 Thessalonians 3:10; to defend a less than generous attitude. But there is a decided difference between those who will not work and those who – for various reasons – cannot work. The early church’s response to those caught in the grip of natural catastrophes such as famine and its missions oriented giving highlighted in Acts 1:27-30; Romans 15:25,26; Philippians 4:14-18 & 2 Corinthians 9:1-5 & 11:9 Paul asserting that those who had been “…made rich in every way…” had been blessed “…so that (they could) be generous on every occasion, and through…”; that generosity bring thanksgiving to God. ( 2 Corinthians 9:11)
The ideal of, “Mak(ing) it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, …so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." 1 Thessalonians 4:11,12, always garners a strong Amen! (As does Titus 3:14) However, Paul tempered that thought with, “…by working hard in this manner you must help the weak…”; reiterating Jesus’ words of, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35 Paul building on Christ’s sentiments concerning those who have been given much by writing, “Command the (rich) to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” 1 Timothy 6:17-19
The sobering fact is that, “…we ought to (be willing) to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 John 3:16 Which sometimes involves a conscious decision to recognize the less fortunate among us. (And not just our “brothers and sisters” of the faith but, according to Jesus – our enemies as well! Matthew 5:43-38) Because, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” The challenge being to, “…not love with (mere) words… but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:17,18 (See also the specifics of James 2:14-26 Punctuated with the declaration, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”)
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Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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