REMEMBERING CHRIST’S POOR
“Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.” Galatians 2.10.
There seems to be a growing concern among more experienced Christians about the way in which evangelical churches are spending money. Personal observation and private correspondence have strengthened their view that, while many of the Lord’s people are in temporal need, much of the money Christians have given, often at considerable sacrifice to themselves, is being expended on projects bearing little or no relation to meeting that need. Their misgivings have been increased by the way in which Christians blindly call for such expenditure, merely because others are doing the same thing elsewhere, and then carry it through at church meetings with a great wave of enthusiasm, without even enquiring about the temporal needs of the Lord’s people or the priorities for expenditure laid down in the New Testament. Inevitably, some believers have reached the stage where they are seriously asking whether they should not withhold their tithe from the local church, and send it where it would be better used.
The present paper, penned by one who shares this concern, is an attempt to call attention to the matter in the hope of checking the drift. Its aim is not to discuss the merits or demerits of particular projects, but to remind Christians of Biblical priorities for the use of the Lord’s money, and ask the gay spenders to think again. We shall take for our text Galatians Chapter 2 verse 10, where the Apostle Paul tells the Christians in Galatia of a timely reminder he and his colleagues were given on the subject by the Apostles at Jerusalem. Let us see what that reminder has to say to us today.
1. Apostolic counsellors. Before we look at the actual counsel Paul and his colleagues received, we must notice one or two facts about the men by whom it was given. Paul tells us in the previous verse v.9) that it came from “James, Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars.” In other words, this timely reminder came from men who were not only godly ministers, but Apostles, already functioning as three of the chief ministerial supports in the early church. As such, they were daily in touch with the ordinary people and fully acquainted with their real needs. They were also ministering during a period of great spiritual awakening when the young church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, was enlarging her borders on every side, and displaying a zeal for the glory of Christ, a concern for the conversion of sinners, a love for the brethren, and a self-denying, holy walk before the world of which we seem to have little idea today. Here, were men qualified to give Christian counsel to the Lord’s people. What sort of counsel did they give?
2. Christ’s poor are the second priority. The first point that stands out from the counsel given to Paul and his colleagues is that the care of Christ’s poor was to be their second priority, not their first. In verse 9 Paul tells us that the first priority in the eyes of the Apostles at Jerusalem was the preaching of the Gospel, “.. .that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.” And the preaching of the Gospel is still the first priority of the Christian church. Where the care of the poor usurps the preaching of the gospel as number one on a church’s list of priorities, there is reason to suspect that that church has not merely lost its sense of priorities, but the gospel itself. Those of us who have been converted from Modernism know only too well that much of the noise made in modernistic churches about caring for the needy and underprivileged is rather a cover-up by social gospellers for the absence of the Gospel of God’s free grace. But let us note that the care of Christ’s poor was, in the days of the early church, priority number two and not priority number eight or nine. It is not for Christians today to alter Christ’s priorities. Yet it seems as though the needs of Christ’s poor are being pushed into the background and a variety of expensive projects allowed to absorb vast sums of the Lord’s money. The purchase and alteration of church buildings, installation and repair of organs, purchase and operation of minibuses, formation of church libraries, more and more sophisticated tape-recording equipment, expensive jet flights by ‘trans-world pastors’ are but some of the expensive projects to which we refer. Surely the time has come for us to ask just how much of this expenditure can be justified by the first two priorities of the Apostles?
3. Danger of forgetting Christ’s poor. The Apostles’ reminder, “Only they would that we should remember the poor,” shows that they clearly foresaw the danger of Paul and his colleagues forgetting the needs of Christ’s poor. James, Cephas and John clearly saw the grace that God had given Paul (see verse 9) – grace for the evangelization of the Gentiles. But they realized that Paul and his colleagues could become so absorbed with evangelism that they would forget the needs of their poor brethren in Judea. That danger is still present with us today. In recent years there has been considerable emphasis in Reformed circles on the need for evangelism. But the resultant activity has not always been accompanied by genuine, practical ministry to Christ’s poor. Is this a sign, we wonder, that some churches have fallen into the very trap the Apostles at Jerusalem wanted Paul to avoid?
4. Christ’s poor today. At this point, it may be helpful if we attempt to answer a question that has probably arisen in the reader’s mind, “Well, where are Christ’s poor today? Where are the Christians who need our support?” To discover the needy, we shall have to keep our eyes skinned and our ears close to the ground. In the church, as in the world, those who need help most are often secretive about their needs, while those who need help least often
make the loudest complaints about their poverty. We can divide Christ’s poor today into two main classes:-
(a) Those in need of financial help. On the home front, many ministers of the Gospel, particularly those with family commitments and small causes, are in financial need. It is poor comfort to them to receive gifts of books when money is needed for food and clothing, and their family has outgrown existing accommodation. Would it not be better if some influential ministers and churches stopped telling struggling young ministers to “go back to tent-making” to provide for themselves and their families, and showed some real affection by sending them a handsome sum of money from their own affluent funds? Such a gesture would not only enable needy ministers to continue in the work full-time, but also encourage them to live by faith, and foster a spiritual union between them and their benefactors. Then take a closer look at the local church. What about the needs of that young couple with several children, or that young mother who was widowed a couple of years ago? Perhaps a gift from the church might help them to purchase an essential item for the home, or send them on a much-needed holiday. But why confine our attention to the homeland? What we have said about ministers at home applies just as much to missionaries abroad. And there are many, many Christian families overseas to whom our financial assistance could be an immense blessing in one form or another. In some countries, the general level of poverty is so high that believers have no money to purchase Bibles, while in lands dominated by Communism, many families suffer need through the imprisonment of the breadwinner. Well has our Lord said, “the poor always ye have with you.” (John 12.8).
(b) Those in need of Christian care. Poverty does not always take the form of financial need. There are many Christians who, though not in any financial difficulty, need another kind of help -the care of Christian people. We refer to the many elderly Christians who are now experiencing the infirmities of old age, and yet have no relatives either able or willing to care for them. Many face the grim prospect of spending the evening of their lives in the godless atmosphere of a State institution of one kind or another. the extent of this problem is probably known only to those who are in personal touch with it. It is a matter for thankfulness that evangelical societies exist which provide excellent Christian homes for those who really need such care. But inflation bites deep, waiting lists grow longer, and much greater and more consistent support must be forthcoming from the Lord’s people if the present level of work is to be maintained and current plans for expansion are to get further than the drawing-board. There is nothing spectacular in this form of Christian service, but it is one that is particularly noticed by Christ, and will be well rewarded when He comes again (Matthew26.34.40).*
5. Paul’s remembrance of Christ’s poor. The second clause in our text is equally instructive as it shows how Paul reacted to this timely reminder. The Apostle tells us “.. .the same which I also was forward to do.” His assurance contains two points worthy of our attention today:-
(a) Paul’s forwardness. The Apostle did not listen to the counsel of his colleagues at Jerusalem and then forget it as soon as he resumed his ministry among the Gentiles. He bore in mind all that he had heard and seen of Christ’s poor in Judea, and sought to help them at the earliest opportunity. His forwardness was very much the outcome of his own love to Christ and desire to help Christ’s needy members. It was also a forwardness that communicated itself to others. Notice how the church at Antioch reacted to the prophecy of Agabus (Acts 11.28) “Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea: which also they did.” (Acts 11.29,30). Ministerial example still goes a long way with the Lord’s people.
(b) Paul’s methods. Finally, let us remind ourselves how Paul’s forwardness to help the poor showed itself. A careful study of the Book of Acts and Paul’s Epistles shows that his methods were very different from those being adopted by some Evangelical churches today. There were no sensational public meetings, where the Apostle paraded his wounds and imprisonments; no Coffee Mornings, ‘Hunger Lunches’ or Daffodil Teas; no Bring-and-Buy Sales or getting the kiddies to go on sponsored walks or sell inscribed ball-point pens. And what Paul would have said of TEAR FUND’S practice of accepting large sums of money drawn from the purses of wildly excited teenagers by Cliff Richards’ ‘Gospel Concerts’ is left for discerning Christians to decide. The Apostle simply taught Christians their obligations to their poorer brethren as part of his regular ministry, enforced his precepts with the most Evangelical motives, and enshrined his teaching in his inspired writings. Almost every Pauline Epistle contains one or more references to Christian giving (e.g. Galatians 6.6-10). The resultant
giving was direct and sacrificial. But Paul did more than just teach. he took pains to see that the money donated was handled by responsible, godly people and used for the purpose for which it had been given. How wise of the church at Antioch to send their charity “to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” (Acts 11.30). May the Lord give to His people more of that concern for one another and that wisdom in expenditure which was so evident in the days of the Apostles, when the giving was truly generous, and “distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” (Acts 4.35)
*The Cherith Home at Kingswinford, near Stourbridge, Worcs., is one such place of comfort for the elderly. Enquiries concerning vacancies or donations would be welcomed by the Secretary.