July 18, 2020
Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3 Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me. (1 Corinthians 16:1-4 NIV)
There is a famine in Jerusalem and the church there is struggling to find enough food to eat. Paul is concerned. As Paul prepares to close his letter, he makes a simple request and provides some practical instruction to aid the church in meeting his request. Paul’s simple request here gets expanded upon in 2 Corinthians which would indicate that the church did not respond as Paul hoped they would.
The principle is simple. Those who have more than enough should give to those who do not have enough. It is easy to see that those of us living in the U.S. have more than enough. Especially if we define enough as food, clothing, and shelter. Anyone reading this on a computer or smartphone has more than enough based on that definition.
The challenge in our world is the number of people who do not have enough. How do we help them? In the early church the solution was simple. People who would normally have had enough did not have enough to eat because of a famine. What they needed was money to buy food until the famine was over and the fields in their country produced crops again. Famines still occur today and have many causes including lack of rain or swarms of locusts. I think the appropriate response is to give money to buy food. We choose to do that through IDES (https://ides.org/about-ides.) One of things I like about this organization is that the help they provide flows through a church in the area of need. This opens the door to the sharing of the gospel while meeting real physical needs. I am certain there are similar organizations within other church fellowships or denominations.
What if the need is the result of other causes that have nothing to do with a natural disaster? We call this systemic poverty and using the word systemic is an indication that the system needs to change. This requires development work which is much harder than charity. Sometimes the solution is as simple as teaching someone to fish, or how to raise fish. Often the solution is more complicated due to corruption and other forms of oppression. Where these exist, it is common for gifts of money and food to disappear before they ever reach the people in need.
I think Paul’s solution still applies today. When the gift was ready the church was to choose couriers to carry the money to the point of need. Paul was willing to go along if that would increase the church’s confidence that their gift would do the good they intended. Even though we have missionaries faithfully serving around the world and electronic means of instantly moving money to them, it is still good to go. There is no better way to understand the situation and the need than to physically be present. I am grateful that I have been able to do this a couple of times. My views of what poverty looked like were changed in each case.
There are many resources available if you want to explore this topic in more detail. If you only have time and resources to select one, I recommend “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fickert.