I have been thinking about a difficult question recently – who should we give our charity to? To answer this question, I think we should take a look at the New Testament, to see how the Church handled its charitable giving in the beginning. We find in the New Testament that there were three groups that funds were given to. They gave to the needy in the church, those outside of the church who had needs, and traveling apostolic workers as they had need.
First, they gave to the needy in the church:
(sharing with other believers)
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)
“The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea.” (Acts 1:29)
“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:15-17)
(helping fellow believers in crisis)
“One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” (Acts 11:28-30)
(caring for widows in the church)
“But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God… If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of God’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds… If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.” (1 Tim 5:8-9)
Second, they gave to the needy in general (who are not necessarily believers):
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)
“He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” (Ephesians 4:28)
“In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha, who was always doing good and helping the poor.” (Acts 9:36)
“All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” (Galatians 2:10)
Third, material (food and drink) support for traveling apostolic leaders:
“Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.” (Luke 10:7)
(Paul seems to encourage apostolic support and acknowledges that other apostles did receive such support, however, he never accepted any support for himself, but supplied for his own needs, the needs of his companions)
“Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas ? Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living? … If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvestfrom you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:4-14)
It is interesting to note that Paul was referring to material compensation in the form of food and drink(not monetary compensation), of which he apparently never took advantage of, but obviously Peter and some other Apostles did.
“I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ’It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:33-35)
It is also important to note that the church never provided a salary to anyone, not even apostolic workers. The church supported the poor and needy Christians, it did not burden them by requiring them to give. And the church even helped non-christians who they saw in need. All of their giving was done to meet a need, and was done as the Holy Spirit led them to give. It was given to meet a particular need at a particular time, and was never meant to be a long term financial support for anyone.
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2Corinthians 9:7)