Rev. Kuiper is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Randolph,, Wisconsin. Previous article in this series: December 1, 3008, p. 107.
That the congregation supports her diaconate by giving, and that such giving is an act of worship, we have noted in the previous two articles in this series.
We should not conclude, however, that we fulfill our calling to support the diaconate only occasionally (once a week or less), and in the space of a moment, by putting money in the collection plate. Rather, the support of the deacons has implications for all of our life. Specifically, the Scriptures indicate two implications, which we now consider: the implication regarding work, and the implication regarding stewardship of our money and possessions.
The Implication Regarding Work
Both Scripture and our Reformed confessions indicate a relationship between work and the care of the poor.
Ephesians 4:28 is explicit in this regard: “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.”
In its explanation of the eighth commandment, our Heidelberg Catechism underscores that the people of God work with a view to caring for the poor.
Q. 111. But what doth God require in this commandment?
A. That I promote the advantage of my neighbor in every instance I can or may; and deal with him as I desire to be dealt with by others: further also that I faithfully labor, so that I may be able to relieve the needy.
In several of our minor confessions (by which term I refer to the forms in the back of our Psalter, which the Synod of Dordt officially approved for use in Reformed churches) the same point is made. Ephesians 4:28 is quoted in that section of the Form of Ordination of Elders and Deacons in which the congregation is given a charge regarding her officebearers. There the congregation is exhorted to labor, in order to be able to provide the deacons with the means to do their work. And in the Form for the Confirmation of Marriage Before the Church, the bridegroom is instructed:
And since it is God’s command “that the man shall eat his bread in the sweat of his face,” therefore you are to labor diligently and faithfully, in the calling wherein God hath set you, that you may maintain your household honestly, and likewise have something to give to the poor.
The relationship between work and the support of the diaconate can be stated in several ways.
First, work is the means whereby one makes a living, so that he does not need the help of the deacons, or at least does not need as much help.
Work is the ordinary means by which God supplies our needs, and provides us the means with which to pay our own bills. So we read in I Thessalonians 4:11-12: “And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.”
This also is the reason why in Ephesians 4:28, work is contrasted with stealing. Not by stealing, but by work, God supplies us with the necessities of life. He who refuses to work, though he is able bodied and has the opportunity to work, and who instead comes to the deacons for his support, steals from the church. To such God’s Word says, “Stop stealing, and get to work!”
Second, one of the purposes of God in giving income-producing work to healthy adults in His church is that His poor be cared for. This too is clearly the teaching of Ephesians 4:28. The last clause of the verse specifically indicates the purpose for work: “that he may have to give to him that needeth.”
By our diligent labor, God often provides us withmore than enough to provide for the necessities of life. What are we to do with that which is over and above what we actually need? We will quickly think of ways in which we might spend it on luxuries. Not that luxuries are wrong in themselves. But before spending this money on himself, when his own needs are already met, the child of God must sharewith others. He must give to the poor.
For the fact is, the church always has the poor with her (Matt. 26:11, John 12:8). She always has some who are unable to work because of old age or severe physical infirmities. At times she has some who are able to work, but cannot find a job to support them. Such are the proper recipients of benevolence. With a view to sharing with such, we must work.
This is really the argument that the apostle Paul makes to the saints in Corinth as he encourages them to give for the saints in Jerusalem. We read inII Corinthians 8:13-15:
For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.
The argument is that the very reason why God gave an abundance to the Corinthians is that they might supply the need of the saints in Jerusalem.
This is the doctrine of the communion of saints applied to material goods! This is the way in which the church of Christ today shows herself to be like the early New Testament church, in which “all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (Acts 2:44-45). God does not require us to sell all our possessions in order to have all things common; but He does require us to give of that which we have earned for those in need. This is God’s purpose for giving us more than is necessary to sustain our own earthly life.
The poor in the church have reason to thank God that He raises up able bodied men, and supplies them with jobs, so that the poor can be cared for!
Taking this point to heart, we state this as the third aspect of the relationship between work and the support of the diaconate: my love for the poor becomes a motivation for me to work. The child of God labors in obedience to God’s command that he work (“Six days shalt thou labor,” Ex. 20:9, Deut. 5:13). Love for God, and obedience to God, must motivate him. But so must love for the neighbor. I am to awake in the morning resolved to love God and my neighbor, in gratitude for all that God has done for me in Christ. Among the ways in which I am to show this love is that of going to work, so that God will provide me with the means to care for the poor.
The Implication Regarding Stewardship
Not only must the child of God work with a view to supporting his church’s diaconate and caring for the poor, but for the same reason he must also be a good steward of that which God gives him.
Work in itself does not guarantee that one will have the means to support the deacons. It is possible that one makes a decent income by honest work, but squanders that income, so that he still does not have the means to give for the relief of the poor. Or it is possible that one still has the means to give for the poor, but makes a deliberate choice not to do so, because he wants to use that money for himself.
The child of God may not do these things. As the support of the diaconate is the church’s obligation, and as every member of the church is required to do what he can to carry out this calling (which point we made in the first article of this series), one whose work provides him with the means to care for the poor, but who squanders that income so that he cannot give to the poor, or who refuses to give for the poor because he desires to advance himself, stands in God’s sight as guilty.
With love for God and our brethren in our hearts, let us be good stewards of that which God gives, so that we are able to give for the poor!
Scripture gives us warrant to say that we must be good stewards of our possessions with a view to helping the poor.
First, some passages of Scripture clearly teach that by being a good steward of what God has given him, the child of God will avoid personal poverty.Proverbs 10:4 reads: “He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.” And Proverbs 21:17: “He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich.” So the avoiding of poverty in my life is not only a reason for me to work, but also a reason for me to be a good steward of my income.
Second, by being a good steward, I will not only avoid poverty personally, but will have the means to give to the poor. For as a good steward I will save some of my resources, and not spend all my income or use up all my possessions. Proverbs 21:20says, “There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up.” Now a wise man might store up that which he saves for various good reasons; but one of them would be that he has the means to care for the needy. At any moment, one could come to us requesting us to help him in his need. He who has stored up will be able to do so (and must, I John 3:17!). We have noticed in the past that the apostle Paul directed the Corinthians to “lay in store” for the poor saints in Jerusalem, so that when Paul would come to Corinth, this collection might be ready for him to take to Jerusalem (I Cor. 16:2). So being a good steward requires that I save some of my income so that when the collection for benevolence is taken, I have the means to give.
Third, Scripture indicates that the care of the poor must be a higher priority in our life than the enjoyment of luxuries. Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all that he had and give to the poor (Matt. 19:21). Jesus gave this command specifically to test the faith of this rich young man. By giving this command, Jesus did not mean to teach that every child of God must sell all his possessions and give all to the poor. What this command does show, however, is that we must not consider the obtaining and enjoying of luxuries to be more important than the care of the poor.
How necessary, then, that we examine our lives to see whether or not we have the right view of our possessions; whether or not we use our possessions properly; whether or not our financial priorities stand the test of Scripture.
And how necessary that we examine our hearts to see whether we love God and our neighbor, as we are commanded!
For this love of God manifests itself in loving the neighbor. This love for the neighbor includes our love for the poor. And our love for the poor leads us both to work and to be good stewards of our possessions.
God gives us this love!