RPM, Volume 18, Number 39, September 18 to September 24, 2016

How Do We Do Social Justice (V)

By Ron Gleason

What Does Scripture Teach about Helping Those Who are Truly in Need?

There are various ways that the Church of Jesus Christ can help the poor, but when we do reach out to them, we should ensure that what we are doing is scriptural and not just a government program with a semblance of a Christian "sauce" poured over it. I promised last time that we would begin to examine what the scriptures teach us about the various means employed in the Bible to help the poor, especially since Jesus told us that we will always have the poor with us until his return (cf. Matt. 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8). His teaching is in keeping with what the Old Testament teaches as well regarding the poor, widow, and orphan (cf. Ex. 22:22-24; Deut. 24:17; 27:19; Ex. 23:6-7).

I mentioned that we'd begin our investigation from the concept of Old Testament gleaning in this issue. A number of texts outline this procedure for us, such as Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22; and Deuteronomy 24:19-22. This last text adds as a reminder that the Israelites were to remember their harsh servitude in Egypt. The New Testament Church should remember its harsh servitude to sin and to be willing to aid the poor out of love for God.

It's next to impossible to consider Old Testament gleaning and not think of the book of Ruth. George Grant has given us some good insights into what is being taught there. It is important that we don't lose sight of the fact that God is working out his covenant promises in a quite remarkable manner in the book, but for our purposes today, we want to acknowledge that God is doing that, but shift our focus to examine the nature of gleaning.

We do this with a view to asking what the Church can do about the "war on poverty." Part of the answer is that the first thing the Church needs to do is to stop acting like our nanny-state government. The biblical answer to poverty involves more than throwing money at the problem. Simultaneously, and this won't be popular, church members will need to give to provide sufficient funds for the Deacons to perform their works of mercy and take an active role in their respective churches. For some this won't be a problem; for others, it will require a huge alteration in their lives. Third, rather than having the government get more involved in the war on poverty they need to get out of the way.

One economist put it this way: "Let the government get out of the way of the productive energies of all groups in the population—rich, middle-class, and poor alike—and the result will be an enormous increase in the welfare and the standard of living of everyone, and most particular of the poor who are the ones supposedly helped by the miscalled welfare state." 1 The Church has become so accustomed to the government handling this part of life that if she wishes to be obedient to the Lord in this area of church life, she will have to develop a new paradigm for "doing church." There will have to be less and less of the glitz and entertainment factor and more spiritual elbow grease applied to this problem.

If what I am saying is perceived as a slam against McLaren, Wallis, Yoder, and the emergent crowd, it is. What they are proposing is little more than following the new ultra leftwing Democratic Party and just raise taxes and control the American people more and more. Their solutions are no real solutions at all because they are satisfied to maintain the status quo and keep taxing the American people to death while they pontificate about junk science like global warming. Their care for the poor lacks substance other than the economically ridiculous idea of raising taxes in order to stimulate the economy. The exact opposite occurs.

In Dr. Grant's book, he provides us with some helpful insights that will aid us in building our outline of how the Church can aid those who are truly in need. He writes, "Biblical charity does not attempt to help families adjust to their situation. It attempted to change their situation. Biblical charity does not strive to make poverty and dependence more comfortable. It strives to make productivity and independence more attainable." 2

The Old Testament laws regarding gleaning in the fields required the landowners to leave the edges of their fields unharvested and any overlooked sheaves had to be left where they fell. The poor and alien were allowed to follow the harvesters and gather the grain left over. There are a couple of key principles here that need to be highlighted. First, the gleaners didn't sit at home waiting for the "gleaning check" from the government or their Hebrew food stamps to arrive in the local mail so they'd have something to eat.

Second, and this is a corollary to the first point, the gleaners had to get out into the fields and in that sense work for what they received. They were welcome to gather the grain, but they had to work to get it. Ruth, who was from Moab, was not performing the work that Hebrews wouldn't do. No, this was subsistence level living and often arduous work (comp. Ruth 2:2-7).

Grant's first point for us then is that "recipients of Biblical charity must be diligent workers…" 3 This is a far cry from the scam artists that prey on churches as "soft touches." They breeze in, get a handout, and breeze out never to be seen again, but sure to pass on where their friends can go for "free" food and/or money. To my mind, the practical outworking of this principle would go something like this: a male or female arrives at the church and needs assistance. The pastor explains that food is available, but that there is no cash on the premises. In order to receive some food, however, there is first some work that needs to be done around the building in terms of vacuuming, washing floors, carrying out trash, or the like. There should also be something in place that requires the person requesting aid to sit down and to listen to a presentation of the gospel prior to them receiving the food. Then the food should be given cheerfully and in the Name of Christ.

This approach has several advantages. I said last time that regeneration is the foundation of social stability. That is to say, poverty is not merely a monetary problem, but has much deeper roots into the spiritual condition of man. Any government handout does not take into account the presence and reality of sin. The Church knows better from Scripture and must attempt to minister to the whole man or woman. That will include speaking clearly about the gospel, teaching the virtues and values inherent in a disciplined work ethic, and instructing about what God says vis-ˆ-vis family life and the responsibilities that parents have to their children.

The second principle learned from gleaning—and we'll stop here for today—is that "Biblical charity is privately dispensed by the landowners, not by an overarching state institution (Ruth 2:4-16)." 4 Put in other terms, we will be hard pressed to find a government institution dispensing "welfare" in Israel. The closest we come to anything institutional in nature is when the Levites would grant certain tithes to the poor. In Deuteronomy 14:28-29 we read of a three-year tithe that was paid to the sojourner, fatherless, and widow, "who are within your towns." Now we all know what the emergents are going to do. They are going to push the doxological panic button and get their shorts in a knot stating that the sojourners were the same as our illegal aliens. No, they weren't. Besides, even if they were—and they aren't—they would have to be known by those in the locale. Otherwise, how would those aiding these poor people know whether or not someone was an orphan or a widow?

The Old Testament Church was to manifest biblical love to others because they were to remember that they were once sojourners themselves (Deut. 10:17-19). It would seem that widows and orphans are especially helpless in this scenario because of their lack of husband or father, even though other family members might be around. This was certainly the case with Ruth. Thus, in addition to gleaning, the Lord God interjected a special tithe once every three years to prevent the poor from "going under." In our next issue, we'll delve more into the notion of gleaning and, Lord willing, we'll draw some more principles for how we can administer social justice in the New Testament Church.


  1. Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty (NY: Macmillan, 1973), p. 184.
  2. George Grant, Bringing in the Sheaves, (Atlanta: American Vision Press, 1985), p. 80.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid., 81.
Subscribe to RPM
RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. Click here to subscribe.