Church's Duty to the Needy

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What are the Biblical instructions and limitations for local churches helping the needy?

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Its primary missions are spiritual in nature: 1) supporting men to teach the gospel to a lost world – ; – and 2) to edify its own members – ; . But, there is also a secondary mission: providing for the unmet material needs of the saints. Where does the church have this duty? It is important to remember that human logic does not answer this question.
Acts 13:2–3 ESV
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
Philippians 4:15 ESV
And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.
1 Timothy 3:15 ESV
if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
Ephesians 4:12–13 ESV
to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

I) Purpose of the local church

Our saving fellowship is vertical through Christ, not horizontal through a local church – ;
John 14:6 ESV
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Ephesians 1:4–5 ESV
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,
So, what is the purpose for local churches? In the beginning it appears to be spontaneous from the desire to be with others who share this faith –
Acts 2:41–47 ESV
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
But it is clear that there is a God-designed order, a pattern for local churches – ;
Titus 1:5 ESV
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—
1 Corinthians 14:40 ESV
But all things should be done decently and in order.
This pattern is to do what cannot be done by individuals alone, like collective discipline, appointment of leaders, financial support of preachers and shepherds

II) Help those of its own

Early church did so through its leaders (apostles) – ;
Acts 4:32–37 ESV
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Acts 2:44–45 ESV
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Widows were also taken care of – ; – which tells us the early church did so a regular basis, but secondary to its main mission
Acts 6:1–6 ESV
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
1 Timothy 5:9–10 ESV
Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.

III) Help other Christians whose local churches cannot meet their needs

Poor in Jerusalem during famine – – sent from church to the elders of the other church (for proper distribution, not for general use)
Poor among the saints in Jerusalem – – for the poor saints, not every work (building projects) of the Jerusalem church – – supplied the needs of saints, not every work or every needy person of the world
Romans 15:25–26 ESV
At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.
2 Corinthians 9:12–13 ESV
For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,
“Collection”, not “contribution” – – emphasizes this is a work of the collective group, not individuals
1 Corinthians 16:1–4 ESV
Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.
Singular “gift” – – use of “churches” demonstrates it is a collective action, not the work of individuals
2 Corinthians 8:18–24 ESV
With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.

IV) What is not the duty of the church

Support of all orphans and widows – – written to individuals
James 1:27 ESV
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Support of all needy – – also written to individuals
Galatians 6:10 ESV
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Support of those who have family or other support –
1 Timothy 5:16 ESV
If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.
No Bible authority for these “good works” of local churches
Concl: When we study these passages, we learn that: 1) This is a secondary (as needed) purpose of the local church and, 2) It (as well as all work of the church) is authorized by God in specified patterns.
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