Friday, June 1, 2012

On Helping Others.

Today’s subject was requested by a cousin on Facebook.

I encourage my readers to ask for subjects to be covered though I reserve the right to decided which I cover.  He asked me to compose a lesson on helping others.  Since my daily Facebook devotion is geared to a daily passage of the Bible to read I’m limited with the daily devotion to whatever lessons may be found in the assigned reading.  However, I have the freedom and flexibility here, so:

The question at hand provides a perfect example of how the Christian may apply the Topical Method of Bible study I use in my study of God’s word.  Although we, as Gentile Christians are not under the Law of Moses, as the Apostles confirmed when the question was put before them in the first century (See Acts 15:1-32 for the story and decision in context), that doesn’t mean the Old Testament is irrelevant to us today.  When writing the young man Timothy, Paul told him that “all scripture” was beneficial for many things including as a guide for life (2 Tim. 3:14-17).  The scripture Paul was talking about was the Torah, the only scriptures Christians had besides Matthew’s Gospel at the time.  So the wise Christian consults the Old Testament as well on every subject to get a complete picture on which to base doctrine, teaching, and life’s decisions.

The Patriarchs

We find a wealth of information on the subject in the OT and I can but hit some highlights in our consideration.  In the age of the Patriarchs we find the patriarchs were always ready to help others.  When Abraham left Ur he took his father, Terah and his nephew, Lott with him.  He stopped off on his journey to the land God commanded him to go in Haran, apparently because his father wasn’t up to the journey and cared for him until his father died before continuing the journey on to Canaan.

When he got to Canaan he and his nephew had a parting of the ways.  Yet when Lott was captured in a war among the kings of Canaan Abraham gathered his men and rushed to his nephews rescue without a thought as to the circumstances under which they’d parted.  Thus Abraham laid his life on the line to help his nephew in his extreme time of need.  On the occasion of when Sodom and Gomorrah came under Judgment Lott saw the two angels of God who were sitting in the square waiting under the dangerous situation of the city and took them into his home, where he defended them from the mob that wanted to abuse them.

As a side note, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah gets a little misunderstood.  Check the story and you’ll find they weren’t punished because they were homosexuals, in fact Lott’s daughters were engaged to two of their number, and so many of them weren’t.  My bet would be the number of homosexuals among them was about the same as now, about 1-3%.  But they were judged because they practiced every evil and debauchery under the sun, as their conduct indicated when they demanded the “men” who’d come under Lott’s roof that they could rape them.  That, by the way is a time honored way of visiting the ultimate contempt and abuse on a man in the orient and elsewhere, to rape him as if he were nothing but a woman.  The story is found at Genesis 19:1-22.

We find an interesting story where Sarah insists the son of Hagar, the son of Abraham’s slave and technically his firstborn be sent away.  So Abraham does so under God’s permission.  As you consider the story, note that Abraham did give Hagar and Ishmael provisions, to help them under the circumstances.  However, they ran out of provisions and come near to death.  But God steps in to help the pair himself.  So God himself set an example for us as he not only saved the pair, but turned Ishmael into a mighty nation (Gen. 21:1-21).


After God delivered Israel from their slavery in Egypt he made helping other a part of the law.  In Exodus we find it codified in the law that the Israelites were not to afflict destitute aliens, orphans or others in destitute and desperate conditions (Ex. 22:22-27).  God made provisions for the poor for when they had to present mandated sacrifices at the temple to help them.  They were allowed to bring animals of lesser value than otherwise required (Lev. 4:11-13).   In fact, when the days for purification were completed in the case of our Lord’s birth and he was brought to the temple his parents made use of that provision for the poor (Luke 2:22-24; Lev. 12).  So God set the example for the people of Israel to follow in helping those less fortunate in their midst.

But the law didn’t stop there.  It mandated positive provisions for the poor.  When reaping the grain on their land during the harvest, the Israelites were commanded to leave the edges of their land unharvested as a provision for the poor (Lev. 19:9), that command also included a command to leave the gleaning, that is the overlooked sheaves which fell or whatever, for the poor to pick up..  They were also commanded to leave the leftovers from the harvest of the vineyards as well.

Those provisions provided an opportunity for generosity on the part of individuals to help the poor and destitute by leaving less of their land harvested or even deliberately leaving behind gleanings for the poor in the main part of their fields.  We find this custom not only mentioned in the Book of Ruth, but Boaz commands his workers to leave behind gleaning specifically with her in mind (Ruth 2).  In that story we see that some in ancient Israel were moved by the law to go beyond the mere commands and act positively to help the destitute among them.

Now we get down to where the rubber meets the road for us, the Christian era.  Throughout his ministry Jesus urged people to help those less fortunate than themselves.  He didn’t just tell people to, he reached out and did so himself.  The stories of his healing people of their infirmities are so numerous I won’t even attempt to list them here.  But the healed people, raised the dead, and, yes, helped people materially.  How do we know that?

Because we’re told that Jesus and the disciples had a box they carried which contained money and that Judas Iscariot was in charge of it (John 13:29).   It is implied in the telling of the story where Mary anointed Jesus with costly oil that the money was also used to help the poor and that Judas was stealing it from the box (John 12:4-6).  So our Lord set the example and taught his disciples to help those who needed it, materially if necessary.

We have the example carried forward in the early Church where the earliest gathering of them lived together and helped each other (Acts 4:32-37).  In fact we’re told that there was no one in need among them because of the generosity of their fellows (Acts 4:34).  So from early on Christians recognized a personal obligation to help others in everyway they could.  And James expounded on the importance of helping others in his letter to his fellow Christians (James 2:14-17).  But note closely the last verse in my citation, James tells us that if we don’t help those in need our faith is as dead as a corpse.

So what do we get out of all of the evidence we’ve considered?  Throughout the ages men who truly loved God were ready to help those who in need.  God set the example both in patriarchal times but also for Israel.  And that Jesus set the example, which his disciples followed.  Jesus did so willingly and liberally.  That should be a clue for us.  It’s not that we help people out of compulsion, but as footstep followers of Jesus we do so because we want to because our Lord and Master did.

True Christians help in ways large and small, from mowing the grass of a shut in or and elderly person to reaching into their own pockets to help family, friends, brethren, and even strangers.

I love to tell the story of a commune of Shakers I read one time.  They discovered some of their crops were being stolen.  Instead of going to the sheriff and insisting he catch and punish the thieves they decided the thieves’ need must be greater than their own.  So the next year and thereafter they planted more crops and had enough for their own needs even after the pilfering was done.  Can one think of a more Christ-like attitude than that?

Part of the key to having such an attitude is to remember that this world is passing away and we are but temporary residents in it.  Since everything ultimately belongs to God, we are but stewards of whatever goods he blesses us with and we are to use them to his good, much like the “dishonest” manager in Jesus parable at Luke 16:1-13 did.  And that was the point of the Parable, to use our wealth in a way which brings our heavenly father both glory and goodwill.

So we look for opportunities to do good where we can and to the extent we can.  Early Christians were known for that.  True Christians still are.

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