Should Christians Accept Government Aid or Assistance?

Title: Should Christians Accept Government Aid or Assistance?

Text: 2 Thessalonians 3:10

Time: November 30th, 2012

 

We’ve passed Thanksgiving and we’re headed towards Christmas for this year, but before I get into my usual holiday message series I’d like to speak on a subject that has been in the news a lot this year, particularly with the presidential election and the ongoing debate over the role of government. Today I’d like to talk about the question of government aid or assistance – should Christians seek it, should they receive it? The question comes up a lot in relation to the role of government – should it play an active or passive role in our lives? The President believes in an active government, or in other words, a big government that touches the lives of nearly everyone, every day in some way. While the Republican candidate for President, Mitt Romney, talked about limited or small government that focuses more on the really big issues of defense, security, and the more traditional role of authority and power in society. The President wants to increase government assistance in our country, like an expanded food stamp program and extended unemployment benefits. He has a more socialist vision, like more of what we see in Europe and less of what we’ve historically known here in the United States. While Republicans generally favor limiting government to a few key essential roles, while promoting personal self-reliance and self-responsibility among citizens. But as it turns out, it’s the President’s vision that seems to be winning out gradually in our country, as the last election showed. People seem to be learning more and more in the direction of European socialism and less and less in terms of the original vision of our nation. So then the question becomes, “What’s a Christian to think? What’s a Christian to do?” Do we join the crowd and begin to think differently about the role of the state? Do we join the bandwagon towards increased government intervention into our lives on every level? Should we take all the government benefits we can get, like most people seem to be doing? Or should we stop and consider other possibilities? Well, it’s my firm conviction that as Christians we need to think long and hard before we buy into the vision of big government and the expanded role of the state into every nook and cranny of our lives. Even if we qualify for some or many of the government benefits included in relief, assistance or aid programs we shouldn’t automatically sign up to receive them. There are certain principles we must follow in thinking about whether we should apply for and, if we qualify, whether we should receive government aid – first, is this an emergency situation? Second, is this a last resort condition? Third, will this situation only be temporary?  We need to think through these issues and not just follow the crowd in turning to government for help. Let’s look at these three things.

 

First, Christians should use government assistance only for genuine emergency situations. 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’” Now the meaning of this passage from the writings of the inspired Apostle Paul is clear – every able-bodied person should work in order to earn their keep, which includes food, housing and the necessities of life. This should normally be through earning an income, and paying for the goods and services we need to sustain our lives on earth. But in our country and in other countries such as in Western Europe, there are lots and lots of able-bodied people not working to earn their keep; but instead turning to the government in the form of social assistance programs in order to support themselves. The number of Food Stamp recipients in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the last few years; millions and millions of people are on the program. Unemployment benefits during the recession of the past years were extended to almost two years, which means people who are out of work still receive a paycheck months or years after they’ve stopped working. But what incentive is there to work and earn a living when the government will pay you a good percentage of your normal wage for not working? Clearly, more and more people are exploiting the system. Now I’m not saying there is never a reason to take food stamps or receive unemployment benefits; there are situations where these two social services, for example, are justified. But the principle reason for receiving food stamps or unemployment benefits or any federal or state aid should be a genuine emergency situation. If somebody is going through an emergency situation, then they shouldn’t feel bad or guilty signing up for some help from the federal or state government. This is known as a safety net, and it makes sense, and I’m sure most people would not oppose it. It doesn’t violate the biblical principle of, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” The Bible principle states that if one isn’t willing to earn his own support, he shouldn’t expect anyone else or anything else to earn it for him. But if someone is in an emergency situation – whatever the emergency might be – then accepting assistance or aid from friends, family or government is totally acceptable. The problem today is that millions and millions of people are on government aid when they shouldn’t be, according to the Bible. But for the people who are in genuine emergency situations in which something has come up that prevents them from working and earning their own way, then it’s nice to have a safety net for temporary help. So as Christians when we think about all the government programs and plans offered to us as citizens, we should always ask ourselves before we sign up for anything – am I facing a true emergency situation? If not, don’t sign up for government help, don’t receive state aid, work it out yourself or with family and friends.

 

Second, Christians should use government aid only in the case of last resort. 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’” The Apostle Paul’s basic point in teaching this truth is that each person is responsible, more or less, for his or her own support. Under normal and natural circumstances, everyone earns their own way, supports themselves, pays their own bills, keeps their own house. If they need food, they buy it with money they’ve earned. If they pay for housing, it comes out of their own pocket through money earned, earned income. Nobody simply waits for other people to pay their food and housing bills when they come due. Everyone takes an active, not a passive role in their own life support. Now of course, there are emergency situations that come up where the normal and natural order of life is interrupted. There are times when we lose our jobs, when our car breaks down and we lose our transportation. There come circumstances where we become sick and can’t do what we normally can do. In other words, there are emergency and extra-ordinary situations where the ordinary means of support is upset; these are emergencies. But it’s not enough to simply run into an emergency situation, according to the biblical principle of self-support and personal responsibility taught here by Paul, before we reluctantly can turn to the government for help, if any is available. We must also be in a situation of last resort. There are lots of people who run into emergency situations who can afford to bail themselves out. For example, there are people who lose a job, lose their income and can’t pay all their bills, and face a real emergency situation. Should they automatically turn to some form of government aid to help? No, not necessarily, because it may not be their last resort. In other words, emergencies come up in life from time to time, but that doesn’t mean we should automatically turn to the state for aid. Only if we are at the end of our rope, or at the last resort should we think about asking Uncle Sam for help. I know in my own life as a pastor of mostly small churches, there have been plenty of times where I didn’t have enough money to buy the things I needed; and I’ve faced emergency situations. But by God’s grace I’ve never had to turn to government, for example, for Food Stamps or Unemployment. Even though I faced a financial emergency, it never got to the point that I saw it as a last resort, where there simply wasn’t any other alternative – that I either took it or starved or become homeless. If someone is in an emergency and it’s their last resort, then they don’t have to feel bad about getting government help for their situation, if all other means have been exhausted. But most people don’t get to that point, although some do.

 

Third, Christians should use social assistance and aid only as a temporary solution. 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’” One of the problems of an expanding government, of creeping socialism, is that people who take on benefits tend to stay on benefits. The whole mentality of help from government as only temporary is being lost today. Now the thinking is to stay on government assistance for as long as possible, maybe forever if they let you. This is clearly wrong thinking. It totally violates the biblical principle of self-reliance and personal responsibility. “If a man doesn’t work, he shouldn’t eat,” reinforces the principle of taking care of one’s self, and not looking or expecting someone else to take care of you. Now again, there are legitimate emergency situations that come up that deviate from the normal, natural, god-given pattern for making one’s way in life. These must be taken into account. And also, people get to the end of their rope, they face a last resort situation where they’ve exhausted all other means, so then they reluctantly turn to government or any institution available for help. This we also understand, and it doesn’t violate God’s Word or any principle of self-reliance taught in the Bible. And finally, when and if someone needs to turn to government for help, it should only be a temporary situation. One should seek to break free from government assistance or aid as quickly as possible, in order to follow once again the biblical principle of self-reliance. But I’m afraid our country, our people, have ventured so far from God’s truth that many of these points I’ve outlined might appear alien, as if I’m coming from another planet altogether. The mentality today is, “Get all you can before somebody else gets it!” Many people, millions of people, are on food stamps today that shouldn’t be. It’s the same with unemployment and all the other forms of state aid. We’re rapidly turning into a culture of citizens looking for benefits without working for them; or we expect other people to work for us and our benefits. Christians are falling into the same trap too. But we’re warned in the Bible against simply following the crowd in this or any way, “Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will,” Romans 12:2. Just because seemingly everyone else is reaching into the cookie jar doesn’t mean we should. Just because millions and millions are signing up for Food Stamps, for example, doesn’t me we should, even if we qualify.

 

As Christians we need to begin to think in terms of turning to God first for our needs. Jesus teaches, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be given to you as well,” Matthew 6:33. We are to turn first to God, not government. We need to develop the habit of turning to God in prayer first, not first off petitioning government in order to qualify for some aid or assistance package. Again, that isn’t to say that at some point, in some emergency situation, when you are seemingly at your last resort, and only for a short-term, temporary time-period, you shouldn’t apply for, qualify and receive some form of aid or assistance from government. You should if you truly need it. If our social safety net operated with people acting on moral principle it would be a workable system and there wouldn’t be any financial or budget crisis. But the truth is, today people are signing up for any and every government program they can get, and it’s breaking the system. People who are not in genuine emergencies are draining the system. People who are not really facing a true crisis, or are not at their last resort, or actually do have other places to turn, instead are using government aid anyway – and it’s breaking the system. We can’t keep expanding the social programs at the present rate. There will eventually be nobody available to pay for them. As Christians we need to take personal responsibility and not contribute to this problem. We need to ask ourselves honestly before we are tempted or try to sign up for any government assistance – am I really in an emergency situation, am I really at the point of last resort, and would the aid only be for a temporary time-period? If we can honestly say that all three tests apply to our specific situation, then we should consider it an answer to prayer that God has provided in this way. But if we really aren’t facing an emergency, if we really aren’t at the end of our rope, and if we really aren’t looking for just a short-term help, then we shouldn’t sign up or even apply for benefits. In this Christians will have to exercise some self-control and self-restraint. Just because a benefit is there, doesn’t mean we have to get it! Just because we qualify for something, doesn’t mean we must receive it. Most of the time, for most people, there should be all kinds of government benefits that are available to them that they simply don’t even need to apply for or receive. Why? Because they don’t really need them; they can make it without government intervention.  Let’s let that be our way of thinking, not the way that looks to sign up for anything and everything available. If we resist, as much as possible, grasping for government handouts, then God will bless us; he promises to do so. Amen.

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