Christianity, current events, morality

Will someone help Phoebe? A reminder to love and support all of those who labor among us

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.

Romans 16:1-2 (ESV)

The prophet Malachi asked the question “Will a man rob God?” This has been brought up countless times when the call to receive tithes and offerings goes out at church gatherings.  It is an important question concerning tithes and offerings, but there is more to robbing God than this. What do I mean? Tithes and offerings are not limited to what gets put in the offering basket. We also rob God when we dishonor our brothers and sisters, send them away empty, and we do not do good to those to whom it is due.

I wish I could say that the church makes Christianity real by showing the world the love we have for one another, but actual experience paints a different picture. Often times I have seen brothers and sisters in need roughly treated by the church. The church even goes on the offensive against needy brothers and sisters by passing the blame to them: “you wouldn’t be going through this if you were in God’s will.” Sometime the church offers “helpful” advice when they say: “just get a job,” “a man who doesn’t support his family is worse than an unbeliever,” and “didn’t Paul work to supply his needs?” People end up feeling worse when they hear such things instead of being encouraged, and it can also excuse the church from supplying the needs of needy members of the body. When the world sees that this is how we treat our own, they turn away from the truth. Mahatma Gandhi once said “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” These things ought not to be.

There are two types of people I have in mind when I speak of needy brothers and sisters. On the one hand, brothers and sisters have become needy due to circumstances beyond their control. An example of this are those have lost employment and are no longer able to support themselves. On the other hand, there are those who have become needy in answer to the call of God. They have given up everything to be obedient to the call of God; these are modern day Levites who go wherever God calls them and whose sole support comes from the people of God. Both of these groups have a legitimate claim to be supported by the church, but in practice, those who suffer involuntary need receive better treatment than those who voluntarily give up everything to obey God.

There is a simple explanation for this. People who become needy involuntarily are respected because their circumstances are not their fault. They were working and self-supporting until they lost employment. They are actively seeking employment again; they just need help until they can get back on their feet. Because they are regarded as truly in need, this makes it easy and respectable to justify doing good for them. Modern day Levites have a tougher time getting support. Because they voluntarily walked away from worldly work and possessions, their need for support is regarded with a degree of suspicion: “Why don’t you just get a job? Didn’t Paul work? Who is your pastor, and why isn’t anyone supporting you?” And the list goes on with many such variations. Such questions seek to undermine the legitimate need modern day Levites have for support from the church. They have even accused of using full time ministry as an excuse to live off the labor of others since they aren’t doing “real” work; this distortion makes it much harder to justify doing good to them. After all, no one wants to support someone who just wants a free ride. Many times in the church it’s the Martha types who get respect and sympathy because they are working (or trying to), but the Mary types are still disdained for wanting to devote themselves to the Lord (Luke 10: 38-42).

Before we dismiss the needs of our modern day Levites, let’s use the light of God’s word to examine the legitimacy of the needs of modern day Levites. If Scripture shows that modern day Levites still walk the Earth today, then we must answer some questions: Does God still call people to give up everything and follow Him? If so, what is our obligation toward them?

Does God still call people to give up everything and follow Him?

Yes. The call to give up everything is explicit in the call to discipleship (Matt 10: 37-39). We cannot love anything more than the Lord Yeshua and still be His disciple, so we must acknowledge that everything belongs to Him, and that He is free to do whatever He wants with it. The shemitah year (which we are now in) reminds us about this because it is a recurring reminder that everything belongs to God. That means we are not owners of anything; we are just stewards entrusted by God to manage His possessions. We must never hold on to anything like it belongs to us. Chuck Swindoll said it very well when he said “hold on to the things you love with loose fingers, because if you don’t, it’s going to hurt when God takes them away.”

God does not always call us away from our vocation. Sometimes He keeps us in our present circumstances as a witness to others on the job or in your neighborhood. He may also want you to use some of the income he provides for you to support others in ministry. But sometimes He does call us away, as when Peter, Andrew, James, and John walked away from the family and their livelihood in the fishing business for something better (Matt 4: 18-22). So what is our obligation to the ex-fishermen among us?

Our obligation to modern day Levites

Since modern day Levites are called by the Lord into full time service, they are entitled to receive their living from their service. Paul wrote that “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches” Gal 6:6 (ESV) and “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” 1 Cor 9:11 (ESV). That means we have an obligation to supply their physical, spiritual, and emotional needs so that they will be fully equipped and lack nothing. This is where we must do something to make our support real, not just pray about it (James 2: 14-16).

Physical needs

We must support out modern day Levites so their physical needs are supplied; this can be food, shelter, expenses, or clothing. I have heard the objection that if God is their supplier, then He will supply everything supernaturally. This does not align with Scripture, and this becomes apparent if we use the ministry of Yeshua as a case in point. It is true that Yeshua did multiply loaves and fishes to feed thousands of people, but His ministry was still supported by everyday people:

Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their [private] means.

Luke 8:1-3 (ESV)

The Lord’s ministry depended on the contributions of the people to supply physical needs, and if His ministry was supplied this way, then we must also supply our modern day Levites from the resources God blesses us with.

Spiritual and emotional needs

We often look to our modern day Levites to supply comfort, exhortation, teaching, intercession, love, healing, and ministry, but we often forget they also need the same thing. When the enemy attacks and brings setbacks and discouragement, the encouragement our modern day Levite needs comes from the body of believers. When we make mistakes, we still need to confess our faults to each other and bind up each other’s wounds. In short, we need to bear our burdens with one another, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

We must also be particularly vigilant to protect our modern day Levites in the physical and spiritual realms. Just because they are ministering for God doesn’t mean the Adversary leaves them alone. On the contrary, they are often the target of much worse attacks than the rest of us in God’s army. They are uniquely gifted, equipped, and called forerunners in God’s army, and the enemy would love to knock them out of the fight. As such, we must intercede and cover them with prayer; this binds up the enemy so that he doesn’t interfere with their ministry. Don’t forget the power that effective and fervent prayer has (James 5:  16-18). We must also be ready to make a stand with our modern day Levites because some attacks are in the physical realm. Slander, accusations, and all kinds of mistreatment and abuse are often directed at our modern day Levites, and when these things happen we must be prepared to stand up as their defenders and advocates. Do not forget the strength that comes in numbers (Eccl 4: 9-12).

Go all the way when you support the modern day Levites

Don’t give our modern day Levites halfhearted support (in military terms, don’t half step). What I mean is this: Anyone can provide a meal or a coat, but just doing so doesn’t mean the need is fulfilled. Anyone can provide a meal or a coat without any emotional attachment, but doing this is the same as a clanging symbol (1 Cor 13: 1-3). What good does it do to get a meal without the chance to share your heart and connect over the meal? There is a huge difference between receiving a meal from a heart filled with love, and a meal without love. Modern day Levites need all the benefits and encouragement that comes from love (as we all do). This is better, but I want to go one step further and show my brothers and sisters a more excellent way.

Encouraging a modern day Levite over a meal is good, but such encounters are transitory and infrequent. A more excellent way is to provide long term intervention and loving support. If you have an extra room and want to donate the space to support a modern day Levite, that is well and good. But I repeat the same thing here I said about meals: do it in love. I have seen a modern day Levite be provided with a living space at different houses, but no love to go with it. This made the spiritual atmosphere toxic and even adversarial instead of holy and sanctified. The result of these arrangements was conflict, strife, and suffering in the physical and grieving the Holy Spirit in the spiritual. This is unacceptable behavior for those who call Yeshua Lord and it must stop. A modern day Levite needs a safe place to land after a day of ministry to be refreshed, and this is provided with a long term commitment to supply a living space (physical support) and love (spiritual and emotional support) for as long as God assigns that Levite to labor in your area. A long term commitment of love and support is the most excellent way, and this means bonding with another person like they are your family (which they are). I encourage everyone who has the resources to do so to sow into this work. Think of it this way: If you obeyed God’s call and left everything behind, how would you want others to minister to you? Please remember the modern day Levites among us who gave up everything to obey God’s call and honor the Lord Yeshua in them by helping them with whatever they have need of. You will be blessed!

A word of warning

I have gone to great lengths to show that modern day Levites need our support, but what happens when they are ignored and roughly treated? Consider this:

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Matt 25:41-46 (ESV)

Withholding good from those to whom it is due is sin, so I ask again: Will a man rob God?

Be encouraged, my beloved!

January 1, 2015

Tevet 10, 5775

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