Don’t Tread on Me!: The Role of Civil Government in Aiding The Poor
By Jordan Jachim
In helping the needy, a common response even from Christians is, “Take government money! Let the government handle it; I’m too busy (or financially strapped, or whatever)!” Does the State have a role in helping the poor? The Apostle Paul gives us the clearest definition of the civil government’s role.
“For he [that is, the magistrate] is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” (Romans 13:4, KJV)
The purpose of civil government in the Bible is twofold.
- First, to punish evildoers
- Second, to reward those who do good
Pretty simple? No 501(c)3’s or Health Care Bills or even Stimulus Packages. Just reward the good guys and punish the bad guys, either via restitution or execution. That’s it. Wait, isn’t it nice for the State to help the poor? Beware!
God established separate and sovereign spheres of influence. There is the Family, and their symbol of authority is the rod with which to spank a rebellious child. Then there is the Church. Their symbol of authority is the keys, by which they can bar the Lord’s Supper and the fellowship of the church to a member living unrepentantly in sin. The State holds the sword to symbolize their power to deliver justice to those who have committed crimes (as defined by the Bible).
Now, if for some reason (barring Divine judgment) a man or woman becomes poor, their family is to care for them.
“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Timothy 5:7, KJV) Paul does not say that the state is to provide for the family, but that the father is to provide, because this passage is addressed to fathers. But what if, by some divine working of God, the father is rendered unable to provide the basic elements of life (food, clothing, shelter)?
“At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates: And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.”
(Deuteronomy 14:28-29, KJV)
This section of verses teaches a few interesting things. First, that you must pay tithes to God’s minister. This is non-negotiable. Far from being done away with at Christ’s death, we must pay not only tithes but also offerings. The only things which we are no longer obligated to do were ceremonies which foreshadowed Christ (e.g. animal sacrifice to atone for sin showed Christ’s sacrifice). Notice the phrase “within thy gates.” This teaches a local jurisdiction of the church, as opposed to one man or committee ruling the Church catholic (“Church catholic” just means the universal church; not to be confused with the “Roman Catholic church”).
Now, look at where the tithes go after being laid up. They are fed to the Levite (the Lord’s minister) the stranger, fatherless, and widow, three groups who tend to be poor. Again, study the phrase “within thy gates.” This teaches a local division of charity. One centralized organization lording it over independent jurisdictions (e.g. the Federal government as opposed to the state governments) has no business distributing either the Lord’s tithes or the wages stolen from you by the State.
But why is local better than national, anyway?
First, the local minister or sheriff knows the people of the community more closely. To a high-level bureaucrat (either the church or state kind), the people are just so many nameless revenue-producing sources to provide nest-feathering material. The local sheriff or pastor knows the community, and their unique situation.
What if the church won’t provide for the poor? Does the State come in then? The answer is a solid “No”. If neither the family nor the local church will provide, other believers in different congregations must take up the ball that the other institutions have dropped.
Sadly, other believers must take the brunt of provision now, because the church is more interested in entertaining the congregrants than helping the needy. It will not be pleasant for those churches when the Lord asks them what they did with His money. They had anti-Biblical programs to draw the crowds, but what about the single homeschooling mom that they staunchly refused to help, even telling her to apply for government aid, get a job, and sacrifice her children to a pagan idol called public school? “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)
As God designed it, family provides first, church provides next, while the state keeps bad guys from interfering with the provision. If the State provides, it logically follows that the State can take away. If they give you money, they can also tell you what to do with it. Our response to a government handout (of money stolen from the working man) should be the same as our founders put on their first national flag: “Don’t Tread on Me!”