Called By Scripture to Provide Charity Outside the Church Doors?
God's church as a holy nation within the world
In ALL we do, we must aim to obey God. When striving to live according to God's commands, we do well to do so in the way He stipulates and not in the way most convenient or appealing to us.
As seed of Abraham, covenant people, the Church, we have been singled out and empowered by God to be that nation set apart by Him within this world. God called Abraham out to Mesopotamia to make of him and his descendants a great nation which would stand out amongst all other nations, (Genesis 12). Moses reminded Israel that they were God's holy people and that this would be visible to other nations, (Deut. 28:9, 10). To all of Abraham's spiritual seed of the New Testament Churches God confirmed this by the words of 1 Peter 2:9
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.
Our Holy Supper table is a celebration of that very unique and exclusive communion we share as brothers and sisters in Christ. Through Him, the Father has adopted us as His children and united us as members of one spiritual family. Because we share in the One Faith in Christ crucified are we able to feel akin to others in Church and to feel at home with each other.
To feel at home: that is, to feel comfortable, because one can identify with something in common, familiar, dear to oneself. For example, the Fair Haven Hostel was set up for the very reason that our frail, senior members in need of permanent nursing care outside their own homes could receive such care in a place where they could still feel at home. What would make them feel at home? The fact that they could live together with brothers and sisters who profess, and live in obedience to, the same faith in Christ. To that end, staff and residents at the hostel were to be one in the faith: brothers and sisters of that same household. We are called to remain a separate people, yet never forgetting that we have been placed in this world. Not of this world, but in this world. That means that we must remain distinct, separate, easily discernible from those we associate with, whether the contact be as a next-door neighbour, colleague, employer or employee, fellow citizen, subject, teacher or pupil. And for our Christian character to be discernible we may not be just any neighbour but we are called to be a Christian neighbour. Only then can we be a blessing to this world as God has called us to be. To Abraham and his offspring God said: "and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed," (Genesis 12:3).
God's church called to be a blessing to the world
How then can we be a blessing to others? As Church by carrying out our mission mandate given by Christ just prior to His ascension; as individuals by carrying out the instructions of the apostles to the young New Testament churches. One of these instructions we find in Paul's letters to the Galatians and the Thessalonians. In Galatians 6:9&10 we read,
And let us not grow weary while doing good ... as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
We read similar words in 1 Thess. 3:12, "And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all..."
and in 1 Thess. 5:15, "but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all."
In these texts we read of two categories of recipients of the Christian's good deeds: 'all men' and 'the household of faith.' But the one may not receive at the cost or exclusion of the other. Paul does say "especially to those who are of the household of faith"; namely, that spiritual family of which we, spiritual seed of Abraham, are members. Our brothers and sisters may never be the last to be helped nor may they ever meet a lack of help within the brotherhood. For example, via the establishment of the Fair Haven hostel, the household of faith was able to offer to its frail, senior members a continuation of the Christian character of one's own home whilst receiving permanent nursing care.
But we do not fully obey the apostle's words if we help our brothers and sisters to the exclusion of all men. These two commands stand alongside each other, each deserving of our obedient response. God's people are to "pursue what is good ... for all", (1 Thess. 5:15). We live in the midst of this world. We don't live closeted within four high walls which prohibit a view into the world. In this world too, by means of our eyes, ears, minds and hearts, we are able to see and hear the needs of people in our society. Only by the love of Christ that drives us, are we able to discern and be affected by these needs and be motivated to pursue what is good for all those in need.
Doing good to all in the light of the Old Testament
In Leviticus 19:18 we read of the command God gave to His people Israel to "love your neighbour as yourself." In the verses 17&18 of this chapter, the words "children of your people," "your brother" and "your neighbour" are used synonymously. From this one would be inclined to conclude that the Israelites were commanded to love only fellow Israelites with whom God had established His covenant. But this is an incorrect conclusion in view of what we read further on in this chapter. In the verses 33&34 we read, "the stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself." The Israelites were to love the stranger: the non-Israelite: the non-covenant person who lived amongst them.1
In the Old Testament we read how Israel was to demonstrate their love for the stranger. They were to respect the stranger's God-given right to:
- Take from the tithe of the crop the Israelites were required to store in their towns every third year: Deut. 14:28&29;
- Participate in the harvest festival: Deut 16:11;
- Glean the forgotten sheafs in the field after the harvest, and take the leftover olives and grapes: Deut. 24:19-22; Ruth 2;
- To glean the produce of the land every seventh year when the land was to rest and lie fallow: Ex. 23:10&11;
- To harvest the crops in the corners of the fields: Lev. 19:9.2
Why should Israel love the stranger? Because they are children of that same God who loved them when they were strangers in Egypt, (Lev.19:34). "...for you know the heart of a stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt", (Ex. 23:9). Having been strangers, Israel should be able to identify compassionately with how it felt to be a stranger. Israel was to love the stranger in their midst because they are children of that God who "watches over the strangers", (Ps. 146:9).3
By expressing His anger against neglect of the stranger, God also made clear that obedience to His command to love the stranger was not to be subject to Israel's whims. Therefore we read in Isaiah 10:2 "Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees, who write misfortune, which they have prescribed to rob the needy of justice, and to take what is right from the poor of My people..." Likewise in Ezekiel 18:12-13 we read "If he has oppressed the poor and needy ... shall he then live? He shall not live! If he has done any of these abominations, he shall surely die; His blood shall be upon him."
God did not stipulate any criteria for the kinds of strangers Israel was to love. They were to love the stranger without regard to age, sex, health, country of origin, etc. There were to be no exceptions to those who were to receive Israel's love.
Doing good to all in the light of the New Testament
We don't find any such restrictions in the New Testament either. In Galatians 6:10 we are told to "do good to all men."
Zealous to obey God's Law to the very last letter and punctuation mark, the Jewish leaders of Christ's day were careful to define who exactly was their neighbour, and consequently limited their love for the neighbour to a very select circle of people who, like them, were well versed in the law. All others were dismissed as "this crowd that does not know the law", (John 7:49).4
But how wide did Christ consider the circle of one's neighbours to be? This is the very question a certain lawyer once asked of Christ. The lawyer had rightly confessed that the law required him to love God and his neighbour. In order to justify himself, we read that he asked Christ to specify exactly who his neighbour was. Christ honoured his request by means of the parable of the Good Samaritan, recorded for us in Luke 10:25-37.
Jesus taught this lawyer that to discover who one's neighbour is, one needs to ask of oneself 'to whom can I offer myself as a neighbour?' The Samaritan did just that to the man left for dead by those who had robbed him: he offered himself as a neighbour. He did not first enquire who this man was; whether or not this man was his neighbour. Rather, overcome with compassion, he offered himself as a neighbour by attending to the man's immediate needs, treating his wounds and putting him up in an inn.
Christ Himself had a very broad understanding of the circle of people embraced by the term 'neighbour.' Christ would have us understand that it even included our enemies. In Matt. 5:43-47 Christ exhorted His hearers not to live by the saying of the time which went "You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy," but rather, "to love your enemies, bless those who curse you, (and) do good to those who hate you..." (Matt. 5:43-47). This was no new teaching, for in Ex. 23:4, 5 we read that Israel was commanded to assist his enemy in daily encounters. "If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it." One must have the well-being of one's neighbour, including that of his enemy, at heart. That is why Israel was commanded too to pray for Babylon whilst captive there: "seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace", (Jer. 29:7).
Just as Israel, in loving the stranger in their midst, was to be motivated by God's love for them when they were strangers in Egypt, so Christ exhorts His New Testament hearers to let God's love for all men motivate them to show love to all, even to one's enemies. Doesn't our Father in Heaven cause His sun to shine and His rain to fall on both the just and the unjust? (Matt. 5:45). God has chosen only a small number in this world to be saved by grace, yet He demonstrates, by His gifts of sunshine and rain, that He does good to all mankind.5
Here lies the challenge for the Christian: to find his neighbour in every human being, even his enemy. Says Christ in Luke 6:27-31, "...love your enemies, do good to those who hate you ... give to everyone who asks of you ... and just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise." Love for the enemy too must be a concrete love, expressed in word and deed. Only by extending love to his enemy also, does the Christian excel in loving his neighbour. Says Christ in Luke 6:32, "even sinners love those who love them." But the Christian, who wishes to imitate his Father in Heaven, must empty himself completely. "For (God) is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful." (Luke 6:35, 36).
So, if we wish to do something for all men, we must do it for ALL without any discrimination. That means we will help the communist, the atheist, the evangelical, the Jehovah's Witness, the Chinese, the Aborigine, as the Good Samaritan would have done, and not just the Dutch or the Reformed as would have been the way of the priest and the Levite.
Doing good to all men in practice: an act of stewardship
God has endowed varied and abundant gifts on His people and in turn calls them to be faithful stewards of these. Of ourselves we own absolutely nothing: "For we brought nothing into this world", (1 Tim. 6:7). All belongs to God: "Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it", (Deut 10:14). God owns all and He distributes as He deems fit. It certainly is not a little that God has given mortal man. We read in Psalm 8:4-8 that God has given man "dominion over the works of (His) hands (and has) put all things under his feet." To have dominion means to have sovereignty or control. Yet we do not do so independent of God, but conscious of the fact that in this too we are accountable to God as a servant is accountable to his master.
In Galatians 6:10 Paul says "as we have opportunity." We are to do good, to offer help, to give, whenever we are faced with a need we could answer by means of the talents God has put at our disposal. The needs of our neighbour could embrace our time, money, transport, nursing care, food, clothing. God has called us to be faithful stewards of all these things too, and we must give as appropriate and according to our God-given means. God's command to the rich in 1 Tim. 6:18&19 is "Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come that they may lay hold on eternal life." And who are the rich? All who have more than another; all who have something to share with another.6
"As we have opportunity" by no means limits the methods by which good shall be appropriated. One's aim should be to do good, to meet a need, as effectively as possible, be that as an individual, together with another person, as a group, or collectively as an organisation.
We are called to love, not only in word, but also in deed. To love is to give. John 3:16 beautifully illustrates this connection between loving and giving: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son..." (emphasis added). Here we see how love motivated the gift. The gift proceeded from love. Who did God love? The world: mankind: dead in sin and so desperately in need of something only God could give: His saving grace. To give means to sacrifice: self-sacrifice. Christ is the ultimate example of self-sacrifice, having given up His own life for sinners.
Packer has the following to remark about the Christian and the act of giving:
It is our shame and disgrace today that so many ... of the soundest and most orthodox Christians go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord's parable, seeing human needs all around them, but (after a pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that God might meet those needs) averting their eyes, and passing by on the other side... The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor – spending, and being spent – to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others – and not just their own friends – in whatever way there seems need.7
How do we come into contact with our neighbour? Just like the three men in the parable of the Good Samaritan who on their journey came across the beaten man, we too encounter our neighbour on our journey of daily life. Such an encounter need not be some momentous occurrence but could simply be finding our next door neighbour, someone on our street, or an accident victim on the road, in need of our help. Our newspapers, radios and televisions confront us with the varied needs of people in our immediate surroundings or elsewhere in our state, country or world: the needs of the homeless; the needs of victims of wars, famines, earthquakes, and floods; abused women and children; the needs of the lonely, the elderly or long term sick; the needs of the disabled. Mission reports and videos confront us with the poverty, poor health and living conditions of the people our mission workers work amidst. By various means God brings on our paths people with a range of needs. We do not literally have to 'bump into our neighbour.' No, God has given us ears, eyes, minds and hearts to perceive how and when I CAN BE A NEIGHBOUR AS I HAVE OPPORTUNITY.
For the last forty years we, as members of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, have invested much time, effort and money in the establishment of our own churches, schools, and facilities for our senior and disabled members. This was done in obedience to the first part of God's dual command in Galatians 6:10. God has certainly blessed our efforts. Since we conclude on the basis of Scripture that we also have a calling to help those in need outside the Church, we feel the time has come to act in accordance with the other half of that dual command, namely, to do good to all men.