In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”
Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.
– Acts 9:36-42
“In the passage where the New Testament says that everyone must work [Ephesians 4:28], it gives as a reason ‘in order that he may have something to give to those in need.’ Charity – giving to the poor – is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats [Matthew 25:31-46] it seems to be the point on which everything turns. Some people nowadays say that charity ought to be unnecessary and instead of giving to the poor we ought to be producing a society in which there were no poor to give to. They may be quite right in saying that we ought to produce that kind of society. But if anyone thinks that, as a consequence, you can stop giving in the meantime, then he has parted company with all Christian morality. I do not believe that we can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid that the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities to not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small.”
– C. S. Lewis, The Business of Heaven
The Scripture above talks of Tabitha (Dorcas). She was always doing good and helping the poor. The people mourning her death were showing Peter the clothing that Tabitha (Dorcas) had made for them. Tabitha had a legacy. She had something for her tombstone. She helped others. Of course, she was not destined to rest underneath her tombstone quite yet. I think this miracle of raising someone from the dead gets forgotten, but Tabitha never will be forgotten. She helped others.
In the C. S. Lewis quote, he starts off quoting Ephesians 4:28, about don’t steal, but work so that you can give to those in need. In a way, this seems bizarre. Thoughts of Robin Hood come to mind, but the Apostle Paul is talking about something else. Go get a job. Keep your mind and body active doing something worthwhile. Idle minds and bodies have a tendency of gravitating toward sin. Of the sins of violating the Ten Commandments, stealing is the one that leads to personal profit, and more idle time. Thus, the idle person can steal and make a living. They didn’t have Welfare at the time. I wonder what Paul would have to say about that. Probably the same thing. Get a job, and don’t sin.
What C. S. Lewis takes from the passage in Ephesians is a command for us to help the poor. He calls the parable of the sheep and goats frightening. It is in a way. Salvation is by Grace and not works. But this parable leads to a lot of doers within the Christian community who may or may not have faith. They reject the message of the free gift of Grace, and out of fear of being a goat, they help the poor. I pray that they can see their error. Yet, the parable is clear that we need to help the poor. We should do so because the love in our hearts overflows, not due to fear of a parable.
As far as creating a society where there is no poor, I am reminded of Deuteronomy 15:11 that says that we will always have poor and we should always be generous. Jesus repeated this line in Matthew 26:11 when He said that the disciples would always have the poor to take care of, but He (Jesus) would not always be there. Of course, Jesus is with us always, but Jesus is telling the disciples that He would soon die. As far as social programs within government regulations, I am conservative minded. I do not believe that God commanded us to vote social programs to feed the poor. He commanded us to feed the poor. Before the days of Political Correctness, politicians used the excuse of “It’s the Christian thing to do.” In many of those cases, those programs have made Christians lazy (as Lewis suggests, and stop giving), but never solving the problem. Our poor are still growing. More and more have their hand out. Is the right thing to heavily tax the remaining workers? Or is the right thing to reach out our hands as the verse in Deuteronomy states to help those in need and lift them up?
Now for Lewis’ conclusion, we should give ‘til it hurts. I have fussed with my wife over this issue. If she won the lottery, she’d give it all away. Our grandchildren would all have college funds. Our children would have new cars and houses. Charities would be flush with cash for a while. And we’d be back being broke. It has been our lifestyle. My family has visited this week, and the older son came early and helped clean up in anticipation of his brother coming with three small children. They found things, throwing most away. I consider it a house fire. The things are just things, but they found my old Scout Leader uniforms. Whether we were coaching soccer teams, leading Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts on adventures, or teaching Sunday school, those things and our boys came before our own comforts, luxuries, and amusements.
But do not consider us poor. We have enough to stay afloat for now, but we have so much more in friendships, love, and joy. And our boys have less to fight over when we are gone.
Things are things. They don’t last.
People last forever, one way or another.
Be sure to praise God and always reach out your hand to help those in need.