This might sting a little.
I have been discussing the ideas of how the church should respond to poverty and the poor around us. Ultimately, the picture of poverty in America comes down to two pictures. The first is the gropu that have experienced a situation that stops them from being able to provide for themselves. This is called abject poverty. This is characterized by a form of disability that prevents working. The Scripture call them widows and orphans. The second group are in relative poverty; or the poverty that is set up by their choices. When someone has fallen ill or experienced a sickness that has them out of work recovering for a period of time, it often depletes their bank account or takes away their income from the family. A death of a spouse can leave the other in financial hardship and lead to a poverty out of their control. This is where the church is called into action to support and provide for that family. When a person that is capable of work, yet decides not to , there is a much different biblical response. This group will even include those receiving disability benefits for things like ADHD or depression, or other mental health issues and those that receive disability for a variety of other things. I said this might sting a little.
Let me clarify my stance with some real world examples. During the last 20 or more years of working with people in homelessness and poverty, I have seen almost every situation imaginable. The ones that always affected me the least (or at least broke my heart the least) were those that claimed they could not work because of a mental issue like anxiety or ADHD. While their issue had some social interaction issues, they could move from pllace to place, lifting furniture, setting up video game systems, plotting how they were going to get this service for free or that service from a charity. All of these that I saw were job skills that could lift them out of poverty. I even have a hard time with physical disabilities in a lot of cases when I see the people with Downs Syndrone or other debilitating issues working at McDonalds or WalMart and pouring their guts out to complete a task. A lot of the times, not every time, many of the people I have worked with have used the disability route to not have to work. Many were in the mindset that the government check was enough to be satisfied with as they sat at home and played video games and watched television. Many spent as much time going from charity to charity asking for rent assistance or food as they would have going to work and being able to pay for it by themselves.
What does the Scripture say about this? Well, this is a bit of a change for me. 2 Thessolonians 3:10 gives instruction for the church to follow the Apostolic tradition and work for all they have. I had once looked at this as a misquoted passage concerning the nonworking. I looked at it as those waiting for the rapture that quit working and relied on the church to provide for them. It may have that implication, but, we are all awaiting the rapture, and when the early church was doing that, Paul was clear. It may have been a normal reaction to quit working if the rapture was so close, but the Apostle said that if a man does not work, he shall not eat. That perhaps noble intent would far outweigh the laziness or the stealing that those today that can work and will not live accordingly.
2 Thessalonians 3:10 says: For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. Paul does not stop there but brings the thought here much more clarity starting in verse 11: For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.
The term busybodies and the words will not work in this passage has a unique idea in the Greek. The translation is “busybodies that do no business.” The non workers had an issue of sin in their lives by abusing the generosity of the Christians and getting themselves involved in the personal business of everyone else. They were commanded to earn their own bread to eat. The early DID provide for the truly needy in the church, but only after seeing that they truly were in dire need. John Calvin said it like this:
“Paul forbids the Thessalonians to encourage their laziness by indulging it, and teaches that it is those who proved themselves with the necessities of life by honourable and useful work that lead a life of holiness.” (Calvin) The church would put those that were not truly in need at work in the church so that the labor of their hands would produce personal witness and give them a sense of self that they were earning their bread. What a noble concept.
What is the application of this discussion?
- Not everyone that says they are needy are truly needy. I would guarantee that many, not all, that come to the church seeking assistance have been to other churches and agencies that day seeking the same assistance they sought out from yours.
- The early church gives us an example of how to deal with those capable of work and refusing to do it. Have them volunteer in the food pantry sorting shelves, or vacuuming the foyer, or doing something that is useful. Be sure to have them sign a waiver of liability because some will try to exploit the church with false injury.
- If they are unwilling to do anything, it is biblical and OK to turn them away. It does not violate Christian generosity to not help everyone that says they have a need. Good background discussions are necessary to determine if a person is using the church as another resource and stop during their day of “grocery getting.”
- Many know the language of Churchaneese. Many will seem to be so holy and church going that you will get fooled occasionally. Be wise and discerning. Learn to ask the right questions and watch body movements and facial expressions. A true person in need will be able to provide tangible insights into their circumstances. Those that are “running the gamut” will try to convince you that they are worse off than they are. Believe but verify everything.
- Sometimes, the person only needs to find descent work. Discuss the biblical principles of work and assist in helping them write a resume or updating the one they have. You will be surprised what skills they have that can be utilized in a variety of ways and what types of work are available with very little physical strains on them.
- The first food box is always given. Many will only need one if they are in a temporary difficulty. When a person returns, then you can get to the place of seeking deeper problems and stronger resolutions.
- Include the Gospel. The sole purpose of any ministry is to share the Gospel. Some have said a sinners prayer at every place they visit. Sometimes this is to minipulate people into giving, but everyone needs to be asked what they believe and taught the truth of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ