17 ¶ He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.
Ayn Rand, the author and philosopher, an atheist, and we know what the Bible has to say about atheists, said that charity as we define it today, giving to help others, is neither a moral duty or a primary virtue.
“My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.”
Under the Law, God had many specific duties he placed on the Hebrews with regard to the poor. Here are two verses for an example.
Leviticus 19:10 And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger (foreigner living in the land): I am the LORD your God.
Deuteronomy 15:11 For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.
Now, in the Church Age, we Christians are also given specific instructions. Here, in regard to honest work;
Ephesians 4:28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.
Of course, the third verse of 1 Corinthians 13 shows that giving to the poor is a virtue. We’ve already seen how the church itself was supposed to operate, with each member’s physical needs being met that they were incapable of meeting. The assumption here is that everyone that can, works.
2Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
Paul even stated that in disputes the church should appoint the “least esteemed” among them to make decisions.
1Corinthians 6:4 If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.
Christians, in the beginning, were often poor and many of them slaves, which were treated as no better than material objects.
Charity, by our modern definition or the Bible’s, is a duty and a virtue. Perhaps, for an atheist (see Psalm 14:1 and 53:1) charity is not a duty or a virtue but Ayn Rand was not a Christian. Now, these verses in the New Testament are directed at Christians on how to treat other Christians specifically but the Christians were known, at least in the beginning, for taking care of the faithful and the pagan alike. The modern so called New Testament church doesn’t even take care of its own poor but assumes the state will take that responsibility through welfare, social security, medicare, and unemployment benefits.
The difference between public charity today as well as in ancient Rome and Christian relief of the poor is that there is a condition in Christian charity and that is that you are willing to work. In Ancient Rome, for those on “grain relief” there were few instances where there was even a means test (under Julius Caesar and Augustus) to obtain the relief and eventually welfare even became hereditary (Emperor Aurelian). In Ancient Rome, as today, public charity made possible by taxes, is a means by which to procure the support of a certain portion of the masses, regardless of their ability to work. Our unemployment insurance, today, is different than that though as the assumption is that you are diligently looking for work. You are encouraged to do so. If you refuse work you can be denied benefits.
In any event, no Christian can align themselves with Ayn Rand’s dismissal of private charity. With Christ charity is a duty for the giver but not, as it is politically now and was in Ancient Rome, a right to be received by the poor. Still, I read one Roman politician complain that the Christians not only took care of their own poor but over a thousand poor pagans in Rome at that time.
I consider myself an old fashioned Baptist, from my understanding of history and what that means. I do not want government involvement in religion and, other than the personal commitment to Christ of a particular politician, I don’t want organized religious involvement in government. My God is not so weak that He needs government to enforce His will or doctrine any more than He needs me to kill someone. However, there is a long tradition in American history where Christians demand government act as God’s agent on earth. The inconsistency of expecting the nation to act as a church body with the three branches of government as pastor-executive, deacons – legislative, and trustees – judicial or some such relationship between church authority and government authority is that Christians expect people to be forced to live under Christian rules but the Christian is not be held to Christian responsibilities for giving and aiding the poor. You really can’t honestly have it both ways. If the nation is a church then tax supported welfare is a duty. So be careful what you demand of government. I would prefer they just leave us alone as the mixing of church and state always harms the spiritual strength of the church, it doesn’t make the state more spiritual. The government is based on force while our Christian association is voluntary. I refer you to the American Civil War if you think our association as a nation is voluntary or the tax code if you actually believe that the income tax is in any way voluntary.
So, the essence of Christian relief of the poor is voluntary. God referred to the Hebrews as lending to the Lord when they pitied the poor, and He promised them a return. We must be careful, as Christians, not to apply this very physical Proverb to a physical kingdom of the Hebrews too literally to Christians who have no visible kingdom on this earth. We are not lending to God. As far as we are concerned it was all God’s money to begin with. It is He who is generously allowing us to keep most of the money He gives us for our own needs.
We give to others because we love Christ and because;
2Corinthians 8:9 For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.
We are not looking to have the money we give returned to us in full. We already have more than we need now, having eternal life. We invest in spiritual things and we expect to receive our reward in heaven. God certainly blesses us today but if you give money to God’s work or the service of the poor and needy expecting a return, although the blessing of giving is enough, then you are not giving with the right heart.
So, I’ll sum up with, it is a Christian’s responsibility to pity the poor out of a right heart and to give generously of God’s money to people, particularly within the church, who are willing to work but unable to sustain themselves, and who have no family to aid them.
It is the Christian’s duty to pay taxes as required by the state, but as a citizen to exert pressure on the government to spend the money wisely and responsibly. Personally, my problem is not with taxpayer funded help of others but with how it’s wastefully administered, much like Ancient Rome, as a right, and now in order to obtain the loyalty of a block of voters.