That we are to show kindness to everyone goes without saying. That we are to show kindness especially to the household of faith doesn’t always.
I suspect the church may have been slow cooked into seeing the validity of faith being best expressed in good works – community charity. It sounds good, it is accepted by the world (who wouldn’t accept someone else paying the bill for the collapse of community, morality and law), and it isn’t intrusive, but this is, at heart, a patronization of the church, and unreflective of her raison d’etre.
**I am making a point more than criticising the Salvation Army, for whom I have respect.
For example: everyone loves the Salvation Army, until, that is, they dare preach the gospel of redemption to the people they assist. Their charitable status would be questioned, the imposition of faith would be scorned, their good works smothered in a pile of righteous indignation by a world that hates the very thought of righteousness, but not indignation.
The General may well squirm in his grave if he saw what had become of the ‘blood and fire’ of the gospel he lived for and so passionately preached.
Galatians 6:10 invokes kindness where we see the need of it, and can do something about it. It is inclusive and never-ending, in that the poor we will always have with us. There is however a caveat. The priority of our charity is not the world but the church – the household of faith.
1 Timothy 5:8 emphatically states that we are worse than an unbeliever if we fail to provide for our own household, as we have in effect denied the faith. In essence this is saying that the faith we espouse has its first and primary impact in our own house – domestic and church. To fail at this is to fail at the faith. This is a serious but seldom heeded truth.
Caring for the needs of communities is laudable, but not so at the cost of the people of God, who are indisputably and unequivocally, our first priority.
The church was always meant to be a self-sustaining community, “showing forth the praises of God.” It was never intended to merely be a social organisation given to the relief of the poverty that is so often engendered by this world’s systems – greedy people and corrupt governments. The church is something quite other than just this, although, and rightly it does include this – but not as its defining motif. Paul would not have had a bar of that, much less Jesus. Their vision of the church is far different than that imposed by the body politic on us. We have been tightly squeezed into a garment that was meant to be a loose fit.
Many will argue that the vision of the church finding its validity in the care of the poor as the priority of the love of God is no where better described for us than in the scene in Matthew 25 – The Final Judgment. “My brothers” is here interpreted as the world’s poor. This is a common theme and use of this text when people want to help the marginalised, the poor – the brethren of Jesus?
**Craig Keener is instructive in his commentary on these verses. “This passage probably refers to receiving messengers of Christ. Such missionaries needed shelter, food and help in imprisonment and other complications caused by persecution … Receiving them was like receiving Christ.” He appears cautious in saying this when the text essentially demands it
In itself, caring for others, isn’t a problem, however the “brothers and sisters” of the Lord are believers. They may be in jail, poor and treated with contempt, as many Christians were, as Paul himself was – alone and neglected in prison. But it is a fair stretch of the imagination to say that all the poor of the world are the brothers and sisters of Jesus. He certainly loves them, and has a will towards them but they aren’t family by virtue of their poverty.
The poor are no more inclined to do God’s will than the rich.
Jesus clearly contextualizes who his family is – Matthew 12:50. His own family came demanding he see them, undoubtedly because they thought he was mad. His blunt and somewhat surprising answer was that his mother and brothers were those who did the will of his father in heaven – which thing they weren’t doing then and there.
In Acts 6:1-7 a justifiable complaint arose over care of widows. The Greek widows were being neglected by the Hebrews, who, no doubt, were caring for their own. (Even in the halcyon days of the early church – selective racial bias was evident.) The widows referred to were believers, as are those Paul addresses in his letters to Timothy.
The beauty of the church was that it was a society within a society – one that didn’t collapse the society they were in, by being different, but rather bettered it. It is countercultural but not culturally destructive, as was the plea of Justin Martyr, the early church apologist and philosopher. He argued to the Caesar that Christ made for better society, and wasn’t a destructive influence in civil society, as enemies of the church would have had it.
Psalm 94:5-7 speaks of God seeing the treatment of widows and the fatherless. However the people he speaks of are God’s people – “your people … your heritage,” and not the surrounding nations.
Today we are enemies if we dare suggest that the role of the church is anything more than charitable, and its ministers anything more than mild, kind, effete, muted, and neutered – frankly, saccharine people.
But the church is more, and so are its ministers.
The prime focus of the New Testament Epistles is the church – not the world. Paul’s passion was that the Body of Christ be built. Certainly this includes social action and justice, but never at the expense of the Glory of God – his church. It is normally directed to the church.
The church has been first cab off the rank, innovative and influential in caring for people – for centuries. And the world is not better off when these innovations and their institutions became centralised, legislated and government controlled. And what the church has and continues to do isn’t something I suggest should stop, aside from which, by what moral authority do I suggest it should?
But I do have a right to say that we do the church no favours by making it second best – not the prime focus of our care and generosity.
God’s church first, God’s people first. And if this disturbs you then you have been slowly roasted over the fires of the opinion of the world, and not nurtured by the New Testament, which we insist says something it doesn’t say.
“And especially to the household of faith.”
Written by Simon Mcintyre