Summary: Paul provides guidelines for congregational support for those who are needy and vulnerable.

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“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

“Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” [1]

Historically, the churches of our Lord bore responsibility for benevolence. This is not to say that unchurched people could not be charitable; it is, rather, acknowledgement that benevolence in modern, especially western, thought was initiated by and fostered among the churches. This is especially true in North America. The first charities were church-based; and church sponsored charitable institutions continued to be the rule until quite recently in the history of our nation. To verify this statement, one need but think of how many orphanages, how many hospitals, how many centres for education were begun by government, comparing that number to those that grew out of church ministries. Though governments have assumed oversight of most of these institutions, more through regulation than through default, it cannot be denied that institutions of education and higher learning, medical facilities and homes for the vulnerable were disproportionately initiated and operated by the churches throughout the earliest years of our nation.

Historically, governments—whether regal or imperial—concerned themselves primarily with the welfare of the ruling class. The mass of people living under a given government were viewed as vassals, responsible to produce goods to benefit the state. It was only with the advent of the modern democratic state in the western world that governmental benevolence was introduced. And this development of governmental benevolence grew out of seizure of benevolent ministries from the churches.

In a bygone era—not so many years ago, though well before the modern state usurped the role of social benefactor—families accepted responsibility of providing for their own family members; and the churches served as a safety net for those rare instances where family no longer existed or where family was unable to assist its members. In most instances in the western world, local governments assumed responsibility to care for the indigent who had no family to provide for their needs and who had no immediate access to the churches.

However, as modern, western governments have grown larger and more powerful, churches and religious organisations have been shouldered aside as governmental agencies arrogated to themselves the role of administering benevolence through compelling altruism (redistribution of wealth). The churches of the western world have faced increasingly restrictive regulations that effectively ensure their role in providing benevolence is marginalised as the population has been educated to be dependent upon government for assistance.

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