Should the Church Feed The Hungry? #300
Happy Thursday, friends! I know the title says episode #300, but I’ll remind you again that it is a fake episode #300. Partially because I messed up the numbering one or two days, and also because we had one day where I split the reading and the commentary into two episodes because the commentary was too long. In reality, today is day #296 of the year, and we have 71 days left in this most challenging of years! Our Bible readings for this lovely day include 2 Kings 3, Psalms 114 and 115, Daniel 7 and Second Thessalonians 3.
Here’s a riddle for you. It has nothing to do with today’s readings, but I was just reminded of it, since it just happened. Answer the riddle correctly, and I’ll send you one of the books I’ve written for FREE. You will find it to be a treasure that will be worth somewhere between a 2014 bent penny with a slight nick in it’s side, and a twenty dollar bill. Where exactly it fits on that scale will be yours to determine. Here’s the riddle: Every night when my son goes into his room to go to bed, I hear him talking, and a voice responds. Nobody is in his room, and he is not talking to any person in the family, nor an animal. In 2002, this would be a far more puzzling riddle than it is today. What is going on? I’ll give you a small hint: hot Earl Grey Tea.
Though we won’t be focusing in on Daniel 7, I do want to point out the description of God – the Ancient of Days in this passage. I still think episode #69 of this podcast (“What does God look like?“) is one of my favorites, mostly because the research for that episode was so interesting. I had never before put together all of the descriptions of God in the Bible together and looked at them all at once, and was amazed to find out how often FIRE was part of the description of God’s appearance, and His setting. We see this very, very clearly in our Daniel passage:
9 “As I kept watching, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was white like snow, and the hair of his head like whitest wool. His throne was flaming fire; its wheels were blazing fire. 10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from his presence. Thousands upon thousands served him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was convened, and the books were opened.
THREE mentions of fire in this one short description – fascinating! We aren’t focusing on Daniel 7 today, but on 2nd Thessalonians 3 – our first time in the New Testament in close to a week. Our question today is one that might have a surprising answer. Should Christians feed the hungry? The answer, of course, is YES…with one exception, oddly enough. Before we get to the exception, however, let us look at the commands to feed the hungry:
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, Proverbs 25:21 (yes, I said Proverbs…Paul in Romans 12 is quoting from this Proverb!)
and if you offer yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted one, then your light will shine in the darkness, and your night will be like noonday. Isaiah 58:10
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or without clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit you?’40 “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:37-40
So – yes! The people of God are called to feed the hungry, and there is great blessing associated with doing so…however, there is ONE exception to this, and it might surprise you. Let’s read our 2nd Thessalonians passage and see.
Here is the key passage:
10 In fact, when we were with you, this is what we commanded you: “If anyone isn’t willing to work, he should not eat.” 11 For we hear that there are some among you who are idle. They are not busy but busybodies. 12 Now we command and exhort such people by the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and provide for themselves.
2nd Thessalonians 3:10-12
So – this is a very interesting command and an interesting exception to our Christian duty to care for the poor and needy. We are NOT to feed the hungry who are unwilling to work. Let’s ponder this command for a moment. First, a few things that it does NOT mean:
- This is NOT a prohibition against helping somebody who doesn’t have a JOB. This is a prohibition against helping somebody who is unwilling to WORK. I think all men should work, beyond a shadow of a doubt, but the Bible does not command all people to have a 9-5, or to work for an employer. If somebody is a farmer, or an independent contractor, or something like that – I think that fulfills this command.
- This is NOT a prohibition against helping somebody who is unemployed but trying to get a job, and willing to work. This is a prohibition against helping the idle – those unwilling to work.
- This is not a prohibition against helping the sick, or injured, or disabled – we are called to care for them. There is a fine line here – some seek to abuse our current disability systems and pretend to be unable to work when they are able to work just fine. When such a ploy is discerned, I think the church is not to help somebody who is unwilling to work and gaming the system, so to speak.
- This is NOT a prohibition against helping widows and orphans and woman abandoned by their husbands who have children to take care of. James 1:26 tells us exactly how to treat widows and orphans, and tells us that God calls and expects us to look out for them, and I do believe abandoned women probably fall more into that category than outside of it.
The thrust of the teachings of the Bible command Christians to give to those in need and to help in any and every way. The command here is one that keeps us from enabling the lazy and idle, a principal which is articulated in Proverbs:
Laziness induces deep sleep,
and a lazy person will go hungry.
I spent 10+ years at a previous church running a food ministry, and I expect our current church will begin a food ministry in the very near future, but one thing we must be diligent about is not enabling the lazy and the idle. We want to HELP the lazy and the idle – help them work, help them be fruitful, and help them live a life of impact. At that church we had a group of 3-4 men that would come to our food pantry most months. They lived in tents or a broken down RV, lived in the woods, and did not have steady jobs. They fished and hunted for sustenance and did odd jobs, but they worked, and so we were happy to help them with food. Paul is not setting an impossibly high bar to receive aid from the church – just saying that people must be working (somehow, someway) in order to receive food and aid from the church.
Now – does this mean that if a hungry person asks you for a meal, or a few dollars, that you must ensure that they work for it, or check their papers to see if they have a job, or make them earn it by doing a job for you? I don’t think so, at least, not in a one time situation, though I am perfectly fine with asking somebody to work for their food. I think this command is directed to the church to not enable the idle by giving them food in an ongoing way – say through a food pantry, or some such ministry like that.
What sort of situations might this command apply to? Well, I live in a city in California with a tremendous homeless problem. Should the church feed the homeless? ABSOLUTELY – unless, of course, they are idle and not working. We shouldn’t feed the idle whether they are homed or homeless or whatever…the homeless part has no bearing on the equation, it’s the idle part. We have several people that park near our church (which is in the middle of downtown) and pretty much do nothing all day but hang out near their cars and listen to music, or talk, or things like that. They are the definition of idle, and I don’t believe the church should feed them. Should the government feed them? I don’t think the Bible forbids that – it forbids the church from doing it. We have homeless people that come to our church and are contributing members. They do odd jobs, collect cans, and help out with their hands when they can. We are happy to feed them when they are in need, because they are working.
Should there be a stigma attached to people needing food? Absolutely not! As a father of five, I can tell you without shame that my family would use our church food pantry from time to time back when the kids were much younger, and our funds were stretched tighter. We must feed the hungry, but we must not feed and enable the idle. The moment they move from being idle to being productive – we must feed them!
Let’s close with some words from Spurgeon:
It is said that slings were first used in the Balearic Isles. The little boys in the Majorcas—I suppose they were Minorcas then—used to have their breakfasts put up on a beam, and they had a sling and a stone given them; and if they could not knock over their food, they had to go without. You do not need to be told that this capital practice soon made them very expert in the use of the sling. The best way to make your boys men is not to cuddle and coddle them, but to make them work. That is a grand old rule in the Bible,—“that if any man would not work, neither should he eat.”
C. H. Spurgeon, What the Stones Say: Sermons in Stones (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 48–49.
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” How are we to understand this precept?
Certainly, we are not to understand it in the sense of the idler, who says, “God will provide; and, therefore, there is no need for me to labour. God’s providence is my inheritance; and, therefore, I may fold my arms and sit still.” The man who talks and acts in that fashion will have thistles on his land, emptiness in his cupboard, rags on his back, and ruin to his character; and all that will serve him right. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “This we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat;” and it would, perhaps, be the best way of treating some men if they were never allowed to eat anything except what they had themselves earned. Of course, this rule would not apply in the case of those who are disabled by old age, or laid aside by sickness; but, in every other case, work is the lot of us all, and it is a benefit to us all; and we ought never, under the pretence of piety, to endeavour to shirk it. You have heard, perhaps, of the very pious man, who entered a monastery in order that he might spend all his time in devotion; so, when the time came for the brethren to go into the fields to work, he did not leave his cell; he was too spiritual to handle a hoe or a spade, so he continued in communion with angels. He was very much surprised, however, when the time came for the brotherhood to assemble in the refectory, that he was not called; and after waiting till the demands of hunger overcame the claims of his spiritual being, he went to the prior, and asked why he had not been called to the meal, and he was informed that, as he was so not work, it was thought that he was probably so spiritual that he could not eat; and, at any rate, the laws of the monastery did not permit him to eat until he had earned what he needed. There was much commonsense in that reply; and our Lord Jesus Christ was not one of your lackadaisical, goody-goody sort of people, who have nothing at all to do. Point me to a single wasted hour in our Saviour’s whole life; show me one instance in which he was a sluggard, if you can. There is his life record before you, written by four truthful men; put your finger, if you can, upon a single spot where he might be rightly accused of being sluggish. If he had been so, we might have had a warrant for interpreting this text according to the lazy man’s version of it; but it is not so. His motto ever was, “I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day; the night cometh. when no man can: work.”
C. H. Spurgeon, “Thought Condemned, Yet Commanded,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 52 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1906), 61–62.