Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Caring for the Poor
Pastor Steve Schell
Hebrews 13:1-3, 15, 16
Every person who’s poor isn’t poor for the same reason. Some are innocent victims of circumstance while others stubbornly brought themselves to that condition. So how we help has to vary as well. Just giving money to a person or organization in some cases will only make the problem worse. That’s because giving to the poor takes real skill. Yet, this does not exempt those of us without such skills from giving. It means we need to learn how to give from those who do and, in some cases, let others do the giving for us. Yes, God wants each of us to be generous, but generosity alone isn’t enough. We must also be wise. We should never simply give money away saying to ourselves, “Well, I’ve done my part, so whatever happens with that money is of no concern to me.” That’s not true. We’re called to be stewards (Mt 25:14-29) not merely givers. We must never waste precious resources that if given wisely would truly further God’s kingdom.

In the pastoral remarks at the end of his letter, the author of Hebrews tells his readers that God wants believers to thank Him for our salvation by giving generously to people in need. He compares such giving to the “thank offerings” the people of Israel presented at the temple. He encourages us to give to the poor (13:16) and care for persecuted believers like they were members of our own family (13:1-3, 16).
A. What does he say?
(v 1): The first area he addresses is “brotherly love” (philadelphia). He says, “let it remain,” meaning don’t allow your practical care of one another to erode. (v 2): In particular, one area of brotherly love, which was being forgotten, was “hospitality.”

The Greek word literally means “love of strangers,” which would certainly include welcoming traveling apostles and evangelists into their homes since few inns were available in ancient times. But in light of the persecution many were experiencing (Heb 10:32-34), the “strangers” he was encouraging them to welcome must have also included homeless believers. Many had been ostracized from their families or had lost their homes and property (Ac 2:44-46; 4:33-37; 6:1; 1Ti 5:3). In the early years following Pentecost there had been a strong sense of responsibility to care for one another, but apparently, the practice of “koinonia” had begun to wane.

(v 2 continued): As a way of motivating his readers to restore this practice, the author reminds them that “some have entertained angels without knowing it,” referring, most likely, to the unexpected arrival of the Lord and two angels at Abraham’s tent in Hebron (Ge 18:1-18) and later of the angel’s encounter with Lot in Sodom. (Ge 19:1-3).

(v 3): Next, the author tells his readers to “continually remind yourselves of the prisoners” by thinking of themselves as “having been bound with them.” In other words, when a fellow-believer is arrested we should be as concerned as if we were in jail with them. He also described these prisoners as “the ones being evilly treated,” referring to the tortures and deprivations which occurred in such jails. Believers who still had their liberty should remember they too were “in the body” and might someday suffer the same hardships. With this in mind they ought to care for their imprisoned brothers and sisters just as they would want to be cared for if they were the ones in prison. Such care would certain include visiting them and bringing blankets, food, clean clothes and of course prayer.

B. Our “peace offerings of thanks” (vs 15, 16)
How should believers respond to the fact that God sent His Son to be our ultimate sin-offering (vs 10-13)? The author says we should thank Him by presenting “peace-offerings.” The term he uses here, which means “sacrifice of praise/thanks” is also used in Leviticus 7:12 (7:2 in Septuagint) where it describes a peace-offering presented to give thanks to God. Peace-offerings were intended to express thanks from some saving act which God had performed or to make a vow or express fellowship with God by being His guest at a symbolic “meal” with Him (Lev 3:1-17; 7:11-38).

But the author does not want his readers to literally go to the temple and there present an offering. Rather he wants them to thank God by: 1) continuing to confess His Son’s name; and to be financially generous by 2) giving to the poor in general (lit: “doing good”; Mk 14:7) and by 3) contributing to the support of impoverished believers (lit: “koinonia”; 2Co 9:12, 13; Heb 10:33), “for with such sacrifice God is well-pleased.”
1) Confessing Christ
2) Alms (charitable giving to the poor)
3) Koinonia
Today we’ll consider the alms and koinonia.

C. Why are people poor?
There are numerous reasons why people are poor, but for our discussion many would fall into one of three categories:
1) Believers persecuted for their faith
2) People who have been helplessly impoverished by circumstances over which they had no control (family, religion, culture, government, weather…)
3) Troubled prodigals who are reaping what they’ve sown.

D. The heart of God
God’s heart for the poor can be seen in Old Testament passages such as these:
• Deuteronomy 14:28, 29; 15:1-11; 24:10-15, 19-22
• Isaiah 58:3-12
In the New Testament Jesus reveals God’s heart:
• Matthew 14:3-7 He gave to the poor (Jn 12:4-8)
• Matthew 25:31-45 He said He watches to see how His followers are treated and considers their care or neglect as if it had been done to Him personally.
• Like Abraham and Sarah (Ge 18) God still tests hearts with surprise visits. He catches people off guard.

E. What responsibility did the early church feel toward the poor?
• Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-37
• James 2:14-17 “If a brother or sister…”
• John 3:16-18 “Whoever has the world’s goods…”
The word “koinonia” means to treat people like they are your family. People who are not related by blood become united in God’s family by faith. In Christ all believers have the same: Father, indwelling Spirit, Lord (“firstborn,” head of family) and eternal dwelling-place.

F. How do we respond as a church?
1) Benevolence: Our first priority is to care for the believers in need here in our own congregation.
• Benevolence pastor, benevolence council
• Food Pantry
2) Compassion: We assist the poor outside our congregation
• Food Pantry; Tacoma Rescue Mission; home for unwed mothers; South Sound Dream Center; backyard missions (youth); World Vision’s 30-hour famine
3) Mission: We assist people and churches in other locations.
• Mission teams (PNG, Peru, Kazakhstan)
• A&B Fund (feed children, provide medicine, build churches, house orphans)
• Summer mission (other congregations who need help)
Years ago we made a decision not to build a huge building, but to build out this property and multiply services so we could keep giving to missions, benevolence and have an adequate staff to support many ministries. (facilities staff: 1,200 setups per month)

G. How does God want us to respond as individual believers?
• Identify wasteful or unnecessary spending
• “Red-line” our lifestyle: this is enough (Ralph Winter)
• Watch for those in need: persecuted believers, genuine poor, troubled prodigals
• Increase percentage giving as able
• Add: love and faith to every gift (blessed money vs. plain money)
• Get our “hands dirty”: don’t just write a check, roll up our sleeves and help.

H. Conclusion
God is teaching us to love like He loves. Last week we learned He wants us to give promised-love like He does. This week we learn He wants us to be compassionate and kind as He is. He wants us to show our thanks to Him by actively caring for the poor, especially our brothers and sisters in the family of God. As we do, it helps to remember the plan He put into place before He made the universe: He predestined us to be “conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren (and sisters)” (Ro 8:29).

I. Questions
1) Tell us one of the ways you “get your hands dirty” to help others in need? What do you think God would like you to do in the future?
2) Describe a time when someone was generous toward you.

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