Do we lead a quiet life, or are things always in turmoil? Do we live in peace, or is it in constant strife? If we are living in strife and turmoil, what are we doing to contribute to it?
Do we mind our own business, or are we busybodies and meddlers? Do we always want to know what the other person across the fence is doing? Do we always call up somebody for the latest news about what's going on over in this church or with that person and his problem?
Is our "helpfulness" really a guise for poking our nose in where we are not wanted? With some people it is. They serve in order to get the goods on others.
Do we work, or are we lazy? This does not mean just our physical labor for the food we put on our table. It could be spiritual work. It could be our service to one another. Do we work with our own hands, or are people always making allowances for us? Are we living off the goodness of another's heart? Some people think they are owed something. They are victims of circumstance, and so they want everybody to give to them, rather than working for it.
Do we show the same Christian character to our work buddies as we do to the people who sit beside us in church? Paul asks that here in terms of "walk[ing] properly toward those who are outside." Are our lives hypocritical? Do we put on our best character and slip into a chair at church just once each week? Do our acquaintances in the world see Christ in us, or do they see "Joe Six-Pack" who has downed a few too many six packs? Do they see someone who curses a blue streak six days a week, but one day a week, he is the soul of pleasant and wise speech? How do people in the world see us?
Lastly, Paul says, "I urge you that you may lack nothing." He does not mean, "Do we lack a pair of shoes, a new DVD player, or the latest PlayStation game?" What he means is, "Do we lack anything that makes us better Christians, or are we satisfied with ourselves where we stand?" Have we come into the church and accepted God's grace, and then say "Take me as I am, Lord, without one plea"? Or do we know that we lack some quality that would make us better Christians and strive to add it to our characters?
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
It Takes a Church
It is beyond question that Christians should be compassionate. We are to give to the poor and aid the needy (Matthew 19:21; Luke 14:13; Galatians 2:10; etc.). We are to lend a helping hand to those who have stumbled and bear the burdens of the weak (Acts 20:35; Galatians 6:2; James 1:27; etc.). It is sin to us if we know to do good and fail to do it (James 4:17; Proverbs 3:27-28). But how far does this go?
A certain tension exists in God's Word on this point. On the one hand, God indeed commands us to give, help, aid, comfort, and support others in their need. He even set up the third-tithe system to care for those truly in need. However, He is also a proponent of personal responsibility.
Where should charity end and personal responsibility begin?
Even in the land of self-reliance and rugged individualism, we live in a partial welfare state. Government and private handouts are common and relatively easy to get. Citizens can be propped up for long periods if they fit a certain category of need, such as being jobless, a single parent, handicapped, and the like. The nation provides "cushions" of all sorts to soften a person's landing when he falls. Other, more socialist nations are far ahead of the U.S. in this regard.
This has a short-term appeal, but it is regressive and spiritually dangerous over the long haul. Even though they feel a kind of shame for being on the dole, long-term welfare recipients develop an attitude of entitlement called the "welfare mentality." In time, they feel that they deserve help from others and become offended if they do not receive it. They also take offense if someone suggests that they should be looking for work or learning a new skill or weaning themselves off public/private assistance. Why should they? They are getting something for nothing!
The danger appears when this attitude begins to bleed over into a Christian's relationship with God. Sure, God's grace is freely given (Romans 3:24; 5:15), but does that mean He requires nothing of us in return? True Christianity is not "give your heart to the Lord, and you shall be saved!" True Christianity is "Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15)!
Jesus packs so much into these few words! This "gospel in a nutshell" expands to include conscious effort to change and grow in the grace, knowledge, and character of God every waking moment of our day. Christianity is not a lazy-person's religion. It is a God-centered way of living that demands our constant attention so that we can "put on the new man" (Ephesians 4:17-32; Colossians 3:1-17) and "shine as lights in the world" (Philippians 2:15).
A welfare mentality—"the way of get"—is the antithesis of God's way of give, of outgoing concern, of esteeming others better than oneself. It can manifest itself in many forms of behavior: failure to recognize God-given blessings and opportunities to prosper, laziness, sponging off others, rarely helping or entertaining others, making excuses for one's financial state, expressing contempt for "menial" jobs when unemployed, having unrealistically high standards or expectations, etc. All these assume that we deserve something.
To put it bluntly, rather than others owing us something, the only thing we truly deserve is death (Romans 3:10-20, 23; 6:23)! If we are Christians, however, we have been forgiven and set on the right path toward God's Kingdom (Ephesians 2:1-10). To us, God gives the promise that we need not worry about our life, food, or clothing (Luke 12:22-34). God will take care of us! David says, "I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread" (Psalm 37:25). Leave those worries behind! Receive with gladness and gratitude what God gives. Then we can concentrate our efforts on seeking His Kingdom and His righteousness, and part of that is ridding ourselves of the despicable and Satanic notion that we deserve a free ride. Therefore, "work out your own salvation in fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12)!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Welfare and Christianity