5. American Independence vs. Body Interdependence

Poverty in the Body of Christ

Neil Girrard
Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Mt. 7:21-23 π Mt. 24:12 π Mt. 24:13 π 1 Cor. 12:24-26 π 1 Cor. 13:1-3 π 2 Cor. 10:12 π Gal. 1:8 π Gal. 6:9-10 π Eph. 2:10 π Eph. 4:15-16 π 2 Ths. 3:6-15 π 2 Ths. 3:13 π 2 Tim. 4:3-4 π Tit. 2:1-15 π Tit. 3:14 π 1 Jn. 4:8

Perhaps the worst influence that American independence has had on the spiritual understanding of believers is found in the usual interpretation given to Paul's words to the Thessalonians. Most Americans read that passage as if Paul had said, "If anyone will not take an American-style job (fashioned after the Industrial Revolution model of virtual slavery to Mammon), he is not entitled to receive any type of assistance, financial or otherwise, from his brothers in Christ." A careful reading of the entire passage destroys this interpretation. Look at it carefully.

But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone's bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. And if anyone does obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. ( 2 Ths. 3:6-15; top )

In addition to the simple fact that Paul had no notion of the Industrial Revolution or American-style employment (or America or American-style anything, for that matter!) as a means to financial "security," there are some qualifying factors that say there are circumstances in which a brother has the right to receive assistance and financial support from his family in Christ. That various men throughout church history have abused this privilege in one way or another does not negate this underlying principle.

Perhaps the first thing we should note is that this is an instruction, a reproof against laziness and busybodies. The brother who labors long hours every day to meet the needs of his family (of which cash is only a small part of his family's needs) but who is not, as Americans would falsely say, "gainfully employed" simply because he does not fit into the Mammonized money system of this world, is neither lazy nor a busybody. Any wealthy believer in contact with such a needy brother needs to determine only a very few things - and none of these include whether or not this brother has a job (in the usual American sense of the word). The real questions are:

  1. what has God told this brother to do, and

  2. what resources do I - as one who possesses more of this world's goods than this brother - what resources do I have that I could give to this brother to help him do what God would have him do?

The only excuse a wealthy brother could have for not giving such resources to the needy brother is that, while prayerfully contemplating what specific thing(s) he might give, the Lord interrupts him and says, "No, I have another plan." In the absence of this direct "veto" from the Lord, failure to give anything to the poorer brother represents a quenching of the Holy Spirit in that wealthy believer's life. Most Americans have developed a "when in doubt, hoard" philosophy rather than the "when in doubt, give something" heart of compassion of Christ.

Because the nature of God is to love and the nature of loving is to give, if the Lord has not stayed our hand as we have attempted to give something to our brother in need, we can rest assured that our action is indeed one of those good works which He has prepared beforehand for us to walk in. (see Eph. 2:10; top )

This is so contrary to the American belief - that everyone should be able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps - that what has just been said will be dismissed as heresy. It is only heresy to the American money "gospel" which is nothing more than a different gospel, the perpetuators of which are eternally accursed. (see Gal. 1:8; top )

The New Testament has a different idea than American independence - which is really just another way of saying impersonal neglect of one another. That idea would be called Body interdependence. Paul wrote:

But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. ( 1 Cor. 12:24-26; top )

This reality, that when one member of Christ's Body suffers, the rest suffer - albeit in a different way - has been lost, by and large, to American believers. A brother suffering some miles away (or even next door!) has nothing to do with them, so they think - or at least this is what their actions say, and actions still speak louder than words.

Paul also wrote, "...[that we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the Head - Christ - from whom the whole Body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love." ( Eph. 4:15-16; top ) Notice that the Body is knit and joined together by what every joint supplies. When a joint ceases to supply what it is supposed to supply, the Body ceases to be knit together - and this is the scheme of the enemy concealed in the traditions of vicarious giving to clergy to meet urgent needs!

This is also precisely what Jesus warned of when He said, "And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold." ( Mt. 24:12 ) Because so many are concerned with what their own joint thinks it needs (and not with what other joints need), they fail to act in love and supply what the other parts of the Body need. "But he who perseveres to the end will be saved." ( Mt. 24:13; top ) - with or without what the other parts of the Body were meant to supply.

Paul said to the Thessalonians, "But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good." ( 2 Ths. 3:13; top ) This doing good is echoed in many places throughout Scripture. Consider just the following two:

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. ( Gal. 6:9-10; top )

And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful. ( Tit. 3:14; top )

This message of doing good to others is the sound doctrine that, in the last days, many will not endure (compare 2 Tim. 4:3-4 with Tit. 2:1-15; top ) Because the crowds want to hear stories, they don't want to be told that they have a responsibility to personally care for their brother who is in need. It is this doing good to one another as we have opportunity that keeps our love for one another fervent and genuine. If our love is not genuine while we still bestow smiles and hugs upon one another, then let us return to the "churches" and be full-fledged members once again of the apostasy. Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that it is even remotely possible to worship God in spirit and in truth while we deal with our needy brothers with such duplicity.

One final word is in order and that word is: "in comparison to whom?" Our definitions of poverty and wealth are severely tainted by the foolishness of comparing ourselves with ourselves. (see 2 Cor. 10:12 ) We must redefine these terms in our hearts and minds by the pure light of God's revelation and not by the flickering torch of human tradition, reason and logic. We must not limit the concept of wealth to a number preceded by a dollar sign. And just because you, the reader, know of someone else who has even more of this world's goods than you do does not mean that you do not belong to the class of people the New Testament (and God!) would call wealthy. If you have more of this world's goods than other believers, you are wealthy and this message is, in whole or in part, for you. You must take this message to the Lord and ask Him to reveal to you how it specifically applies to you so that He might make it real in your life. For if our love for those in need does not become real in our hearts, we run the risk of being rejected in the last day for we will have trafficked in some other spirit than the Spirit of God who is love ( 1 Jn. 4:8 ) and we will have only practiced lawlessness, doing what seems right in our own eyes. It will not matter how many spiritual mysteries we were able to grasp and expound, it will not matter how many miracles we performed in Christ's name nor how many demons we expelled from the lives of others. In the end, he will say, "Depart from Me - I never knew you." (see Mt. 7:21-23 ; 1 Cor. 13:1-3; top )

4. Not of the Body π 6. Do What They Need
Poverty in the Body of Christ

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