Loving Others Generously During LockdownChristine Van Wyk
In this time of lockdown, does your generosity extend beyond those in your household? What could God be calling his followers to in this season when self-preservation holds our hearts and minds captive?
On Monday 23 March 2020, in response to COVID19, the government of South Africa has instituted a national shutdown for 21 days. This unprecedented move is an attempt to slow the spread of the disease, reduce risk and protect the lives of South Africans. The implications of this decision and the questions being asked are changing rapidly. Many are grappling with what it means for their everyday lives, their employment and general quality of life in the short and long term.
As we have shared in our other blog pieces, How To Multiply Compassion and Justice in a Time of Isolation and Crowds, Compassion and Corona, we believe that God calls his people to be others-focused. Even as you process what you can be doing personally to prepare for the next stages of the spread of the virus, as well as the various measures instituted to slow it down, you would be a person who considered others. A person who has compassion. A person who displays love and practical service to others.
As you listen and better understand the plight of others in the city and nation, we trust your heart would be moved to be generous, to go to God in prayer and ask: what must I do with what you have entrusted to me in this time?
In a time where fear and anxiety can drive us to self-protection at the expense of others, Christ’s love moves us to others-protection at the expense of ourselves.
This may be a hard message to hear in this time, but we pray and hope it moves us to being extra-ordinarily counter-cultural and put on display the beauty of the gospel.
This article will take a few angles and practical implications. To get there, however, we are first going to explore how believers are to have special regard for the poor. Scripture is littered with commands about caring for the poor, as well as commending those who displayed care to those on the margins of society. In a society as unequal as South Africa’s, it is no surprise that the poor have the highest risk of contracting the virus, have reduced access to proper and effective health care, and will have more difficulty maintaining employment. Whilst every poor person and family are unique, with inherent strengths and assets, there is no doubt that they are experiencing this new reality very differently to middle- and upper-class citizens.
In the scriptures, in Deuteronomy 15, we see the command to “open wide your hand to your brother, the needy and the poor”. God’s heart for the poor and needy is revealed to us in Psalm 14 and 25. In the life and ministry of Jesus, he was moved with compassion for the weak, the harassed, the helpless (Matt 9:35-36). Powerfully, in the life of the early church, the nature of God was revealed in the life of the believers as they communed with and served the needs of the poor and distressed. (Acts 4:34-35; Acts 11:30; Gal. 2:10).
The love of God, was not to be mere sentiment and words, but expressed in actions of generosity and material support (James 2:15-17; 1 John 3:16-18).
You may be asking at this point: in this time, in a society like ours,
WHO am I to be generous with? What difference could my small contribution make? Let me share a brief model that I have found helpful in answering that question.
What follows is a large section from Pastor Kevin de Young’s article ‘Obligation, Stewardship, and the Poor’, which can be found here. The text in italics are our own interactions and contributions and minor word edits in the main text.
Principle 1: We are most responsible to help those closest to us.
In general, we ought to think of our sphere of responsibility as having expanding concentric circles. In the middle, with the closest circle, is our family. “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). This means that if you have the ability to help your (not lazy) children and don’t, you are a pagan. If you have the necessary resources and yet you neglect your aging, helpless parents, you have turned from Christ.
In the next circle we have members of our church community.
The principle is really the same: just as we have an obligation to provide for our natural family, so we ought to provide for our spiritual family.
The New Testament frequently enjoins us—by example and by explicit command and warning—to care for the needs of the Christians in our local churches (Acts 2:45; 4:32-37; 6:1-6; James 2:15-17; 1 John 3:16-17). If there is a Christian in your church who is materially devastated by calamity or infirmity and we who have resources in abundance do nothing to help, we prove that we do not truly have the love of Christ or know Christ himself. (This is the call to internal support, so contact your pastor about how your church supports people in the church family- perhaps there is a specific fund for this kind of giving that you can contribute to.)
Next we have members of our Christian family whose needs are more distant. We still have an obligation to care for our brothers and sisters, but the Bible speaks less forcefully the farther away the needs become. So in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 Paul clearly wants the Christians in Achaia to generously support the Christians in Macedonia, but he is stops short of laying down a command (8:8) or exacting a contribution from them (9:5). (While we are all remaining housebound for the next 3 weeks, there is an opportunity to keep continuing the work of churches or leaders that are based in other geographical locations, perhaps contributing to their ongoing running or a special initiative that they are dreaming of.)
In the outer circle we have the needs of non-Christians in the world. The church should still be ready to do good to all people, but this support is less obligatory than what we owe to Christians and is framed by “opportunity” rather than requirement (Gal. 6:10).
One other category should be mentioned.
Sometimes we come across needs that are so obvious, so immediate, and we are in such a unique position to help, that it would be wrong to ignore them, whether the person is a family member, a church member, or a complete stranger.
Regardless of prior affiliation or acquaintance the “closeness” of the need is too close to ignore. This seems to be the point of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). If we see a person drowning in the pool, we should dive in. If a person is being beaten up, we should intervene. If a minivan has collapsed on a barren stretch of highway, we should stop and lend a hand.
The concentric circles are helpful as a general guideline for care, but they should not be used to justify the lack of care when someone needs our assistance right here and right now.
Questions for consideration:
How can you be generous towards the vulnerable in your congregation at this time? What are practical ways that you can serve those who have lost their jobs, can’t access healthcare, can’t afford the basics, can’t access the shops etc? We encourage you to be aware of the needs in your church community and partner with your church leaders in a sustained, caring and holistic journey with the individuals and families.
What opportunity (Galatians 6:10) do we have in this season to be salt and light beyond our families and faith community? What of Jesus’ upside-down Kingdom do we get to put on display to a world asking big questions now?
What are ways in which you can (temporarily) create more margin financially in this season so that you can be generous towards others? Are there reduced costs in this season, the ‘savings’ of which can be directed to others in dire need? Are there subscriptions that can be suspended in order to better love brothers and sisters?
Principle 2: We are most responsible to help those least able to help themselves.
Here again we can think of expanding concentric circles of responsibility[…] At the center, we have those people whose situation is most desperate because their options are most limited. In the Bible this prototypically meant “orphans and widows” (James 1:27). But the principle applies to any person or persons who will crash unless we provide a safety net. Caring for believers in prison was another classic example in the ancient world (Heb. 10:34).
Outside of this inner circle, we find those who are less desperate but still depend on others for their well-being. In the New Testament this meant being generous with hospitality, especially to travelling evangelists who relied on the kindness of their brothers and sisters for their mission (Matt. 10:40-42; 25:31-46). (In the context of COVID-19 we need to practice wisdom and follow the guidelines set out by Government regarding social distancing. Hospitality may mean dropping off groceries or a cooked meal to bless those who need support in this time.)
Next, we have those Christians with long term needs. The striking thing about almost all of the “poor” passages in Scripture is that they envision immediate, short-term acts of charity. There is nothing about community development (which doesn’t make it unbiblical) and only a little about addressing situations of ongoing need. By putting these situations in this circle I don’t mean to imply that we ought only to care about quick fixes. […] In both Acts 6 and 1 Timothy 5 we see church leaders working hard to develop a fair and sustainable process for the regular distribution of resources to the poor. (We are not able to predict the long-term impact of the virus on our economy and society at large. As generous people, we are to continue to explore ways in which we can love our brothers and sisters well.)
Questions for reflection:
What are organisations that are serving the vulnerable (those least able to help themselves) at this time, in a way that you personally can’t? You may be in a position to support and contribute towards them. We encourage you to contact them directly, as their needs and opportunities will be rapidly changing over the next few weeks. We list a few suggestions below for your consideration.
The believers of Christ are part of the Kingdom of King Jesus. We are not helpless witnesses to a world that is in turmoil. No, we live under the leadership of the King of kings, who demonstrated generosity in this: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9. Let us be generous citizens of His Generous Kingdom.