More on Benevolence

In the March 1, 1980 issue of the Standard Bearer a question was answered in regard to the statement in our Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons, which reads, “And ye poor, be poor in spirit, and deport yourselves respectfully towards your benefactors, be thankful to them, and avoid murmuring….” In that answer I agreed with the one who had sent in the original question, that I did not like the idea that the poor should be thankful to the rich, as if they owe a special gratitude to the benefactors who give out of their abundance. The thanks should be directed to Christ, Who inclines the heart of the willing giver. 

One of our readers feels that more could and should be said about this entire matter of benevolence within the church of Christ. He writes as follows: “You state in your answer that the rich are stewards of the gifts which God gives and that also the poor must be charitable, while, at the same time they must be thankful. I fully agree with you and I fear that many people do not understand the full import of Lord’s Day 10. However, I sense in the language of the form something else and I would like to hear your comments and/or criticism of it. (Pardon the imposition!) Is there not a wrong ecclesiology presented here? The rich do not give to the poor. They give to the Church, i.e., the Body of Christ, and that body distributes to its members as they have need. The way the form reads now this idea is excluded and in its place is something which fosters individualism and, as you pointed out, the idea of a caste system. Both of these errors are so foreign to the Word of God, especially as it expresses the beautiful truth of the corporate idea of the Church, that I wonder whether it is not time to consider a correction in the form. I, too, fear making changes. Apart from anything else, the “spiritual climate” is not right. “Men kon het hek we1 eens van de dam halen.” (One could open the sluices of the dam-C.H.) But must such an error be kept because of other considerations? Could the offending phrase not simply be elided? Do your churches have a “Liturgical Committee”? Or put Prof. Decker’s Liturgical class to work.” 

It is most encouraging to hear from our readers, especially when they give evidence of having read the Standard Bearer and supply material for our Question Box. I also sincerely appreciate the remarks of the reader concerning the individualistic strain in our form when it speaks of the rich giving to the poor and of the poor being grateful to their benefactors. 

It is so very true that “the rich do not give to the poor.” On the one hand, it is only the grace of God that prepares the hearts of the believers to be cheerful givers. Paul writes in II Cor. 8:1,3, “Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; . . . For to their power, I bear record, yea, beyond their power they were willing of themselves (to abound unto the riches of their liberality).” God does not appreciate those who send a trumpet before them when they present their gifts, but God loves the cheerful giver, who gives evidence of God’s grace working mightily in him. On the other hand, we owe our thanks, not to the rich, but to God who bestows every good and perfect gift upon us and cares for us, either directly or through the grace bestowed on others. It is still blessed to receive, even though it is more blessed to give. 

Another important truth that is brought out here is the fact that we should give, not as individuals, but as members of the body of Jesus Christ. When one member suffers we all suffer. The needs of one member are actually the needs of all of us, for we are members of the same body (I Cor. 12:26-27). It is exactly for that reason that the office of deacons has been instituted in the church. To them God entrusts the relief of the poor and the distressed (John 12:8Matt. 26:11). Through this office deacons are called, according to our Form for Ordination, “that they in the first place collect and preserve with the greatest fidelity and diligence, the alms and goods which are given to the poor: yea, to do their utmost endeavors, that many good means be procured for the relief of the poor. The second part of their office consists in distribution, wherein are not only required discretion and prudence to bestow the alms only on objects of charity, but also cheerfulness and simplicity to assist the poor with compassion and hearty affection: as the apostle requires, chap. 12; and II Cor., chap. 9. For which end it is very beneficial, that they do not only administer relief to the poor and indigent with external gifts, but also with comfortable words from Scripture.” The deacons must visit the needy, speak with them, read the Scriptures to them, pray with them and care for them in the Name of Christ as ambassadors of our High priest in Heaven. 

This has many implications. For example, it has long been a commendable practice in the churches to receive an alms offering at least once on every Sunday, and also to take a special offering for the needy at every communion service. When we do this we have in mind that we are not merely giving to the poor and indigent, but we are presenting our gifts to Christ as good stewards in His house. And those who receive these gifts from the church receive them fromChrist. As needy we do not go to Philistia or to Moab for aid, that is, we do not appeal to medicaid or other government welfare, but we appeal to Christ, in order that Christ may say to His faithful servants, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” 

This does not prevent the individual members of the church from performing deeds of mercy. There are so many ways in which both men and women can fulfill the office of believers by helping the poor and distressed. We can possibly prepare a meal, lend a helping hand in some manner or another, read to those who are unable to read for themselves, speak a word to the weary, or even discover many other ways which an observant person can soon detect. Also in this instance a visit must not be an occasion for a mere chat or to spread some neighborhood gossip, but must serve to comfort and strengthen the weary in their trials. This also God will bless, not only in the one who receives the visit, but even more in the one who remembers any one of Christ’s little ones in love and in the mercies of Christ.