Since God is a God of love, pity and compassion, it is not surprising that he has always championed the cause of widows, the fatherless and other poor and unfortunate people. At the same time, God has stressed that these people should not be shown preferential treatment before the courts simply because they were poor. The poor too, may pay their due according to their ability and opportunity. However, God's law regarding the treatment or neglect of such people is firm and stringent. "Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children father-less" (Exod. 22:22-24). Jesus reminds us, "The poor ye have with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good" (Mk. 14:7). Matthew's picture of the final judgment makes it clear that caring for the poor weighs heavy in determining one's eternal destiny (Matt. 25:34-46). James reminds his brethren that "pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (Jas. 1:27). God's people today must be as diligent and faithful to care for such people as in any previous age (Heb. 2:1-3; 8:6).
However, it is equally important to know that God has severely restricted the work of benevolence. "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thess. 3:10). This is strong language. Indolence is a sin that must not be tolerated. Thsoe who aid such be-come partakers of this sin. God expects each person to stand on his own feet and do for himself as he is able and has opportunity. This leads to another restriction: each one is to be responsible for his immediate family and near relatives as he is able. This includes aged parents and other relatives. Those who refuse to do so "hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (I Tim. 5:4,8,16). Notice also that the care of widows is restricted. James 1:27 teaches this work belongs to individuals, and could include those widows, aged parents and fatherless of his own household. If these guidelines were followed today, welfare rolls would be drastically reduced, and the church not be burdened. It is easily seen that the great majority of benevolent work is to be done by individuals, not the church nor secular organizations.
It should also be noted that God never intended for benevolence to be used as a tool to bring people into Christ or to keep them faithful. Follow Paul on his preaching tours into Asia and Southeastern Europe. There were poor people then as now, and yet Paul never used either clothes, food or money to entice people to obey the gospel. The only drawing power used was the gospel. True discipleship cannot be bought with material goods (Rom. 1:16,17; In. 6:44-45). Such tactics were used after World War II. Baptisms came easy, the building overflowed, but when the "loaves and fishes" ran out, so did the "converts."
There are nine groups of passages of Scripture in the New Testament on benevolence that is the responsiblity of the local church. Lack of space prohibits a full discussion of each passage. Please read these Scriptures: (1) Acts 2:44,45; (2) Acts 4:32-35; (3) Acts 6:1-6; (4) Acts 11:27-30; (5) Romans 15:25-32; (6) 1 Corinthians 16:1-3; (7) 2 Corinthians 8; (8) 2 Corinthians 9; (9) 1 Timothy 5:9-16. Having read these Scriptures, answer two questions about each. First, who did the relieving and who were relieved.
The Christian's life is a training school for eternity. It is in this school that traits of character will be developed that prepare for heavenly citizenship. These traits cannot be developed by proxy, but only through personal exercise and experience. Among these traits are kindness, pity, compassion, gentleness, tenderheartedness, and love. God wants his people to become personally involved in service, not the mere giving of money through some agency. This plan does not exclude money, but also includes becoming personally involved. 1 once knew a lady who willingly gave money but would not go where there was filth and unpleasant odors. Such work is Christ-like and makes one strong spiritually. Christ went among the poor, lowly and out-cast. Yes, he washed his disciples' feet with his own hands. This is true benevolence.