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Wayne Camp

Why is it that good things have a way of going awry? Why can something that is good in its originating circumstances go so astray with time? I am speaking of a practice in the early church that went "south" before the New Testament was completed.

On the first Pentecost after the death of Jesus Christ, three thousand were saved, baptized, and added to the young church at Jerusalem. Others were being saved and added daily. These folks had come from all over the known-world to observe the Jewish feast of Pentecost. The church was presented with a problem. These people needed to be taught. They needed the fellowship of other Christians. In order for this to happen they must stay in Jerusalem. How would they survive?

The remedy was found in the sharing of wealth. Acts 4:32 And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. Acts 4:34-35 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35 And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

The Lord never commanded them to do this. It was a spontaneous, unconstrained act. The members of the church at Jerusalem and these new members who had possessions gladly and freely sold their possessions and shared with one another as each person had needs. How could anything like that ever become a problem?

It did not take but a few years for this practice, which was good in that setting, to become a problem. Apparently other churches took up the practice used at Jerusalem and, as so often happens, problems developed. Some people want to eat but are not willing to work if they don’t have to. Our burgeoning public assistance in this country is evidence of that.

It appears that the church at Ephesus had some problems with the matter of which widows were to be taken into the number supported by the church out of its benevolent funds. In his epistle to Timothy, pastor at Ephesus, Paul corrected this matter. Only widows who were desolate and without family were to be assisted by the church on a regular basis. If a widow had children, grandchildren or nieces and nephews, the family was to care for her, not the church. Moreover, only widows who had been faithful for a number of years were to be taken into that number. Newly converted widows were not to be received into the number lest folks make professions of faith and unite with the church in order to receive assistance from the church. Paul instructed, "Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore [60] years old, having been the wife of one man, Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. But the younger widows refuse . . ." (I Tim 5:9-11). Other restrictions are found in the verses previous to these.

Another of the churches that had problems with this matter was the church at Thessalonica. They had some folks in the church that were eating off the earnings of others but would not work themselves. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to correct this matter in his second epistle to this church. Paul first reminded them that he worked while among them. Then he wrote, "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies" (II Thes. 3:10-11).

"If any would not work, neither should he eat." Tough? Yes! Tough love, it is called by some. The solution to the problem of free-loading at Thessalonica was simple. If one would not work, neither should he eat. They were to eat their own bread (v-12), not that paid for by others who were willing to work. And, the church was commanded to withdraw from these people who would not work. Exclude them from the fellowship of the church. From the beginning God commanded man to work. In the Law of Moses he commanded, "Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work" (Ex 20:9).

It is a sad day for a church, a family, or a nation if plagued with free-loaders. God’s remedy was simple, "If you don’t work, you don’t eat, and I will not allow you to eat off others." Tough love! God's tough love for correcting a good thing gone awry!

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Last updated on Saturday, July 30, 2011