By Not Known
Help to the needy often begins with those closest to us. And so we read: Whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim 5: 8). Following this we may often start our help-giving with our family, our friends, our fellow-believers, those of our cultural group and only then to the world at large. If funds are short, we may even stop after help just our own family.
However, it’s worth considering some other texts. The parable of the Good Samaritan hold us a model of help across cultural lines (Luke 10:29-37). The Christians of Corinth and nearby cities collected money for needy Jewish believers in far-off Jerusalem (2 Cor 8-9). All believers are urged to do good to all men, with particular mention of fellow believers (Gal. 6: 10). And Jesus teaches us to give to anyone who asks of us, citing the example of God who sends sun and rain on all manner and condition of men (Mat. 5:42- 47)
Human need is not parochial and neither is the responsibility of care.
The same point is made to the Old Testament church. When Israel entered Canaan she was to give a triennial tithe to help poorer people (Deut 14:28-29; 26:12-15). This was part of being soft-hearted and open-handed (Deut 15: 7-8). This would be an ongoing need, for there would always be poor people, even though there should not be (Deut 15:4,11)
The lists of recipients are significant. The first mentioned are the Levites, or clergy. They had no land to farm and depended on the offerings of landowners to support their families, much as today’s pastoral staff depend on the church’s funds so that they can be full-time in ministry. Israel’s widows and orphans are certainly to be helped, but they are only mentioned after the aliens or strangers. Likewise with the great celebration that was to follow the first offerings of first fruits in the land that God gave (Deut. 26:11). Notice that order: needy non-Hebrews are mentioned before the main categories of locals. This was so that they too could share in, and celebrate, the Lord’s bounty.
Perhaps it doesn’t really matter which needy person we help first or last. However, there is a sense in which Christian help for the needy is to be like missions (Acts 1:8). We are to help those closest at home, and those not very far away, and our regional neighbours, and all peoples ‘To the ends of the earth‘
Whoever we help first or last, let’s be sure that we echo God’s heard and keep his word by helping the needy wherever his sun shines and his rains fall.