May 30, 2014

Stop Giving to the Poor and Start Giving to the Church

Anyone who reads Acts and the letters can’t but be intimidated—how hard it is to help those in need. We can see this whether we’re looking at Acts 2, Acts 7, or 1 Timothy—and there are always critics (Acts 7) and awkward cases. These are matters of huge importance, and they are complex. There are all kinds of dangers here—dangers of corruption, dangers of misuse of funds, dangers of boasting about how merciful we are instead of boasting how merciful God is.

The Bible teaches that God himself has set up an organisation to sort these issues out. He thought about it before the foundation of the world and it is given the deposit of the Spirit to reflect the new creation which will last for ever. It is not perfect, but is meant to reflect a place that is, and the whole Bible is written to guide it to be what it should be. It caused Paul to burst into praise of the triune God when he thinks about it (Ephesians 1) and he thanks God it seems every time he thinks about one. I’m talking, of course, about the church. Look how he describes the church in Ephesus. It is the church of the living God. It costs the blood of God. It is entrusted with the word of truth.

It is the place where Jesus walks. In great detail churches are taught how to function, how to cope with the problems of those in real need, how to help sinners in every aspect of life—including how to help the poor. Then they will be holy as he is holy, then they will have unity as the trinity has unity, they will be built into a holy temple reflecting the meaning of the universe to unbelievers, they will be the body of Christ exercising gifts as each member of the body does its work. Every member is called by the Lord for that congregation, no matter what background or race, to serve and build one another up. Church is set up in such a way like the human body. If it looks to Christ its head for all things, each part will receive life. Its foundation is Christ and it is built on the apostles and prophets.

When its leadership structures are set in place, it is not some dull, sterile thing. They are to remember they have instructions so they “. . . will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth”.

How are churches to conduct themselves when it comes to the poor? Never forget that it is the apostles teaching that must come first (Acts 2). When caring for those in need, make sure that the Word and prayer are cared for first (Acts 7). When the complex issue of helping widows in need is dealt with, he goes straight on to talk about the workman who preaches. God’s workman must be given wages. The ox (and some more than others look like them!) must be paid for, grinding out the bread of life and feeding it to God’s people. No ox, no cart.

Why must the preaching of God’s Word about Christ crucified come first? Because financial help can’t bring a man to life, kind acts can’t rescue a man from God’s wrath, changing a man’s environment will not make him co-heirs with Christ. Only Jesus Christ can do this, and therefore he must be preached, and then lived out in church life with help for the poor, with the leadership that Christ himself has ordained and organised.

If churches are not as they should be, they must preach the whole counsel of God, look to Christ for help, and resist the devil. The last thing we should be doing is setting up organisations which have no biblical warrant.

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