Troublesome Topic: How Can We Help the Needy When Our Government Does So Much?

Acts 2:45


and they had the habit of selling lands

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and possessions and dividing [the proceeds] to all, accordingly as anyone had need,

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and they had the habit of selling pieces of land and other possessions and dividing the proceeds among everyone, especially to those who had need of basic things that are hard to do without,

How Can We Help the Needy when Our Government Does So Much?

Wow! You ask tough questions! I will not attempt a full discussion of this issue, rather I will limit myself to a few basic comments.

In today’s setting in America, this is extremely hard to do and do well because of everything the government does for people. The government is willing to carry people, the church is not, nor should it be.

God looks at our hearts and he sees our attitudes toward helping others, and toward material things. If we give generously, both locally and abroad, God is pleased even if we don’t see the results we would like to see from our giving. I know many people, ourselves included, who have tried to help out someone in need only to be burned. But that should not stop us from giving, rather it should teach us to give wisely (I have much to learn in that area). We need to focus on having the right attitudes, not just on what happens with the money. After we set it aside for God, it is no longer our money anyway, it is God’s. We are responsible to give; the recipient is responsible before God for how he uses the gift. However, we should always strive to give wisely.

I have learned the hard way that we cannot permanently change someone’s condition if that condition is a consequence of their choices. If you try to change it for them, they will likely make choices that will take them back to that same condition. First they must change the part about themselves that brought about those consequences in the first place. We need to look for proofs that people are changed on the inside. That is hard to do but it is better than just listening to their words (which I have done too often). Don’t get into something you can’t get out of smoothly. Don’t create dependency. Don’t carry people. I am learning that showing the love of Jesus must also include upholding God’s standards, therefore love and consequences go together. Don’t shield someone from the consequences of their actions because those consequences can lead them to God.

I used to think that personal intervention is always better than programs, be they government run or operated by a “church” or ministry. However, now I see that certain challenges, such as people trying to come clean from an addiction to drugs or alcohol, are too much for an individual to handle. There are rehabilitation programs that are very good at providing what that person needs while taking them through the process that needs to be completed for success.

We also need to be willing to invest something that has become far more valuable than money – time. We need to walk along side people in order to help them out. It will be much slower, harder, and more demanding than just giving them some money, but it is likely to be more effective at bringing them closer to Jesus. Strive to build a relationship with that person, not just give them money. If they don’t want the relationship they are probably using you to get money. In the end, we should strive to find a balance between building relationships and helping people in material ways. They go together.

The compassionate giving of the early church was one of several key elements that made this group of people so winsome to others. Even skeptics and critics were drawn to them by the way they cared for the needy. I find it unfortunate that the institutionalization of the church has changed the way tithes and offerings are used. The early church used almost all of its money to help others; today most of the tithes and offerings are used within the institution of the “church” and a tiny portion is used to help others outside that institution. Many skeptics and critics look at the institutionalized “church” today and criticize the “church” because most of the money goes to salaries and buildings. (When I put the word “church” in quotes I am referring to the institution we call the “church;” when I use the word church without quotation marks, I am referring to the true church, the body of Christ, i.e. people.) In this instance the critics are right. I believe that the house-church model can and should function in a way that is free from this criticism. Having a “church” building and salaried staff is not sin, but I do think there is a better option and that option is the house-church model.

I highly recommend that every believer give well over 10% of his income to God’s work. This will free him up to be generous to the local body of believers and also to be generous when needs arise that are outside the scope of that local ministry.



The word used here usually pertains to “land” in the form of “land that is owned by someone.” It can also refer to other “possessions,” but land was the primary meaning. This likely meant that believers sold pieces of land that they or their ancestors had been acquired over time which were not their original homestead. They sold off their excess land so they could help the poor, but I do not think they sold all their land, including the family’s homestead. In the law they were not to acquire land for the long term, only lease it till the year of Jubilee. Since the Jews seldom followed that regulation, certain families acquired large amounts of land. By selling their extra land (hopefully to someone in the original family of Jewish owners) they were doing more to obey the Law than most had ever done.


“had need” implies the lack of a basic necessity, not just an inconvenience. First they took care of those among the followers of Jesus who had serious needs. We know from things stated elsewhere that they were also generous toward those who were not followers of Jesus.