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Every human being has been in need at some time in their lives. We start off as babies needing everything - and yelling until we get it. But as we grow older, we mature and are expected to find the right way to satisfy our own needs and not depend on someone else. Life is full of trouble, though, and there have been or will be times when we will find it difficult to face those troubles alone. That is when we need some help and the Scriptures tell us that a brother is born for adversities (Prov. 17:17). Another truth that we may have come to realize on our own is that there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24). The wise words of the book of Ecclesiastes warn of the danger of being alone and reminds us that two are better than one because if they fall, one will lift the other one up and if it is cold, two together can keep warm (Eccl. 4:8-12). Most people do exhibit some compassion to another in distress and this may be due to the fact that we are in need of being loved from our birth - and the sense or need of belonging somewhere in this world is strong. Strangers have often moved quickly to rescue another person that is in danger or helping others by filling some need. Somehow we get some satisfaction and pleasure from doing something heroic or just nice and good. That inner drive makes us want to help and a person in need is happy to see a friendly and helpful hand reaching his way.
There are a number of scriptures that strongly place on our shoulders the importance of helping a brother in need. We may argue about who a brother is - but Jesus had something to say about that in His tale of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). One would think that a priest would be the first to help. A Levite was of the priestly tribe and surely he would help. This was about being a neighbor who saw someone who was in need. In this case, the need was apparent and urgent. It would be something like a person who is drowning or has been in an accident. The urgency of the situation does not leave much time to think - action is needed. There are times when people have done something very foolish and put themselves into a dangerous situation. Those who try to help are often put in danger themselves. Some people are very heroic, but when someone foolishly puts their health and life in jeopardy, it does not seem fair that others should rush to the rescue. But we do in many cases because we do not like to see suffering. The Bible gets more specific as it speaks to the members of the Body of Christ as brothers. John wrote that we are to be like Christ who laid down His life for us - and we are to do likewise (I John 3:16-18). Specifically John said that if we see a brother in need and we have this world's goods, we must not shut up our heart. How are we to fulfill these words of instruction that so strongly reflect the character and nature of our Creator?
In both of the above cases, the giver was one who had sufficient and clearly saw that another was in need. It seems obvious that there has to be the ability to help and also the clear need for help. There is a responsibility on both parties. The person who has a need also has the responsibility not to abuse the good will of the giver. We must do everything in our power not to have a need, but if it is genuine, then we ought to go to our brothers. Brothers or brethren is a term given to all who strive to walk in Jesus' footsteps - fellow Christians. The Bible also warns about "false brethren" (2 Pet. 1:1-3). They are covetous and would not hesitate to take all that was offered to them. Some abuse the love of a true follower of Christ (Matt. 5:44-48). So clearly, God expects us to use wisdom in our generosity and giving. Among followers of Jesus Christ, Paul went so far as to say we should allow ourselves to be defrauded or cheated rather than go to the law when there is a matter that is not resolved (I Cor. 6:5-8). Obviously in the church at Corinth there were members who took advantage of the kindness of others. There have been cases where God clearly instructed those with nothing or almost nothing to give - to give anyway. Such was the case when Elijah needed to have a place to rest (I Kings 17:10-14). God is always our provider as He supplies the air we breathe and everything in this universe. It was also to the credit of the people of Philippi who looked out for the needs of others as well as their own needs (Phil. 2:4). Peter expressed the need for the followers of Christ to have a fervent love for one another, to be hospitable, to be good stewards (I Pet. 4:8-10). Paul wrote about the church in Macedonia who had given aid in spite of their own poverty and lack of means (2 Cor. 8:1-6). Paul used this example for the church at Corinth, but since it is in the Holy Scriptures, it applies to all of us. Paul went on to encourage the members at Corinth to be willing, zealous and generous in sharing with those who deserved help (2 Cor. 9:1-6). It seems Paul needed to write some things into his message like being generous (verse 6) and not grudgingly (verse7). It seems some of the people were not giving with the right heart and attitude.
God is testing the hearts and minds of people. He is seeking godly offspring (Mal. 2:15). A person who puts themselves in a position of need because they are lazy or careless has a character problem that needs to be addressed. Each year in the mountains of our lands, young men take snowmobiles into increasingly dangerous areas for the thrill of riding in the mountains. Each year a number die or are injured due to accident or avalanche. They leave wives and children and bereaved parents behind. They endanger the lives of those who must come to rescue them or retrieve the body. We all enjoy a little excitement in life, but without being responsible, we are creating huge problems for others. That action is not loving our neighbor as ourselves. Paul was the one who encouraged showing love for our neighbor - he was also the one who said if a person will not work, neither should he eat (2 Thess. 3:10). Far too many young people ruin their lives with drugs and debauchery and then line the streets looking for a handout or rescue. They have chosen the path that will make them dependent upon other people for everything in their lives. These are not what is meant in the Bible as a "brother in need." Addictions are extremely difficult to shake and besides there are cases of mental illness. If laziness is the problem, helping them is only feeding their habits.
People of God have come to realize that God will always provide for them if they do their part. Toward the end of his life, King David said he had never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for bread (Psalm 37:25). Paul noted for the Corinthian brethren that God was able to make all grace abound toward them and that they would have sufficiency in all things and even abundance for every good work (2 Cor. 9:8). We read these encouraging words and our experiences in life sometimes leave us with concerns. God wants us to have His nature and love for the world, but He also expects us to know how, when and to whom we should give. God has limits to His giving. James wrote that one barrier was doubt (James 1:7). He also notes how careful God expects us to be toward the needy (James 2:3-9). James concludes that if we see a brother or sister naked and destitute we must not turn away (verse 15). We will always be tested with the love we show toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. Finally, if there is any doubt - then help, Paul said you might just be helping an angel (Heb. 13:2). If we would carefully teach the lesson of responsibility and care to our children there would be far fewer needy and far more loving people on earth. We all have choices to make. Be wise in acting.