Although, as we saw earlier, the church is not intended to take over the state, or to see itself as the state, this does not mean that the church need not be concerned with socio-economic conditions in society. In fact, the Bible lays special responsibility on the people of God to care for the disadvantaged. We will look briefly at two aspects of this area of biblical teaching:
- The biblical mandate for social-relief ministry
- Dwell's strategy for social-relief ministry
The biblical mandate for social-relief ministry
The ethics of generosity in helping the poor is rooted in the person and work of Christ himself according to 2 Corinthians 8:9, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." The example of Christ should lead us to use the wealth God has entrusted to us to glorify him by sharing with the poor.
John draws the connection this way: "We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth" (1 John 3:16-19). Christ's love should move us to compassion for those in poverty.
Jesus agreed that caring for the physical needs of others is an essential part of what it means to love others as we love ourselves in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
We are all made in the image of God, and it should pain us that there is gross inequality. When Paul led relief efforts for the poor believers in Judea, he reasoned with the Corinthians that they should give generously because, "At this present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need" (2 Corinthians 8:14-15). Of course, the ideal is not that all Christians become poor so that there will be equality.
Rather, the ideal is that the poor become more prosperous so that their needs are met.
Jesus taught caring for the poor in very strong terms when he described this scene at the last judgment in Matthew 25:34-40:
"Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed of my Father, the your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in; I needed clothes and you clothed me; I was sick and you looked after me; I was in prison, and you came to visit me.'
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, `Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? And when did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison, and go to visit you?'
The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"
Paul makes it clear that we should also prioritize the needs of Christian poor, without neglecting non-Christian poor (Galatians 6:10). However, this support is for those who are victims of tragedy, disadvantaged, or unable to work. It is not for those who are unwilling to work (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10).
Finally, the extent to which we go in helping the disadvantaged is a matter of private conscience. It is not to be legislated by the church. This can be seen from Paul's comments in 2 Corinthians 9:7 "Let each do just as he has purposed in his own heart - not under compulsion"
The book of Proverbs has some striking promises and warnings in the area of caring for the poor. Go around the room and have each person read one. Summarize what the verse teaches or how to apply it.
- Proverbs 13:23 "Abundant food is in the fallow ground of the poor, but it is swept away by injustice."
- Proverbs 14:21 "He who despises his neighbor sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor."
- Proverbs 14:31 "He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors him."
- Proverbs 19:17 "He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his good deed."
- Proverbs 21:13 "He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered."
- Proverbs 22:9 "He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor."
- Proverbs 28:27 "He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses."
- Proverbs 29:7 "The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor; the wicked does not understand such concern."
Dwell's strategy for social-relief ministry
We believe that the church needs to carry out the biblical mandate outlined above based on a carefully thought-out community development strategy. Several key principles:
- We should devote the vast majority of our resources to projects that effect permanent socio-economic and spiritual change. In other words, we want to impact families and communities with money, support, and the gospel in a self-sustaining approach. The goal is not merely to feed hungry people in a way that will be forgotten in an endless sea of need. Many social problems have spiritual and moral causes that need to be addressed when meeting immediate needs.
- We should devote more resources to meeting need in foreign countries where poverty is much worse than in the United States. This part of our strategy must be worked out in conjunction with biblical imperatives guiding world missions.
- We should accept limitations in the size of the area and the number of people we help for the sake of effecting real change. This means that we are obligated to decline many worth-while projects in order to avoid diluting our impact.
To achieve these goals, Dwell operates many ministries to needy communities. A brief overview:
- Multimillion-dollar annual support for extensive, international network of domestic and indigenous missionaries
- Urban Concern, a longstanding nonprofit in the impoverished South Linden neighborhood, which operates the highly successful Harambee Christian School
- Akili Christian High School, which enrolls predominantly poor black students
- A handful of ministry teams that counsel and equip victims of addiction and abuse
- Free medical and legal clinics
- Targeted service campaigns and fellowship groups for immigrant communities in Columbus, including the Bhutanese and Somali Bantu
- Life coaching, rent assistance, car-insurance subsidies and other services for disadvantaged members of Dwell college home churches
- Ongoing partnership with Central Ohio Youth for Christ that includes mentoring, trade-training, and other programs for at-risk youth
- Dozens of service projects, food drives and neighborhood clean-ups in conjunction with Columbus nonprofit groups
Do you agree with the above three points? Do you understand the thinking behind each? Are there any exceptions that should be made to these points?