This question has been a highly political issue which has been much debated in the UK, the US and other Western nations, but since we are not getting involved in politics and the affairs of this world, we want to look only at the biblical instruction regarding work for individual Christians, without taking political sides on this issue. Neither are we to “recommend” to a government as to what to do in such a case, except for pointing out the clear biblical principles as revealed in the Bible.
It is obvious that no government on earth rules according to the biblical principles that God reveals in His Word. In fact, man as a whole is cut off from God, and our governments and societies are the products of Satan-influenced and -inspired human reasoning and rationale. We have to accept that in this age of man. As Church members, we are instructed that “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established [better: permitted]. The authorities that exist have been established [permitted] by God” (Romans 13:1 New International Version (1984). (See Q&A #570, 28th December 2012). We are subject to the laws of the land and those in governance as long as there is no conflict with obeying God and His Word. If there is any conflict, we are to follow God’s way and be prepared to take the consequences from the secular authorities.
Without going through all the tithing principles which the Church of God has thoroughly propounded over the years, it is worth quoting the following about 3rd tithe from our booklet “Tithing Today?” (page 24):
“It should also be mentioned that ‘third tithe’ is FOR the poor and needy, not BY the poor and needy. It is, therefore, not necessary for a ‘poor’ person to pay third tithe. Someone who receives assistance from the government does not have to pay third tithe. It would also be following a wrong principle to take out a loan in order to be able to pay third tithe. Based on this principle, God’s Church made the administrative decision in the late 70’s and early 80’s to excuse Church members in certain countries, such as the United Kingdom, from paying third tithe because of the high rate of taxation and mandatory social security payments in those countries. In addition, much of social security benefits constitutes, to an extent, the equivalent of third tithe payments in those countries. The Church of the Eternal God and its corporate international affiliates are following this teaching and practice. However, each individual is responsible before God to determine whether he or she is ‘poor’ or ‘needy’ and therefore excused from paying third tithe.”
The Church of God teaches and practices the Third Tithing system to help needy Church members. However, when focusing on human affairs in this world, there has been fraudulent abuse of the social, welfare and housing benefits system by some over a long period of time, with many claiming benefits to which they have been not entitled. Anyone who claims any governmental benefits fraudulently is guilty of breaking God’s law; stealing, bearing false witness and coveting (the last 3 of the 10 Commandments). Members of the Church of God should never try and take false advantage of the system, as this would be dishonest. We have to trust God through our trials and He will look after us and never allows to be tested more than we are able to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).
It must be added that there are many countries around the world which don’t have any such benefits system and so we should be grateful for living in countries which do provide help for those in difficulties.
Let us look at what the Bible has to say about what our attitude should be to work and finance.
Let us first of all quickly review “work”. The first mention of this in the Bible is right at the beginning in Genesis chapter 1 where God “saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). In Genesis chapter 2, God is shown as working for six days and then resting on the Sabbath (Genesis 2:2). In Genesis 2:15 “the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” That would have needed work or labor.
In Genesis 3:19 Adam was told that “in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” indicating that work or labor would be necessary to eat.
We read in Leviticus 19:10: “And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God.” This same principle is repeated in Leviticus 23:22: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God.” So some work and effort was required of the poor in order to obtain their “benefits”.
In Proverbs 18:9, laziness is shown as an attitude that we should not have. It reads: “He who is slothful in his work Is a brother to him who is a great destroyer. “This is confirmed in 1 Timothy 5:8 which states: “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Further evidence is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12: “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.”
Clarke’s Commentary makes these observations: “If man will work, he may eat; if he does not work, he neither can eat, nor should he eat. The maxim is founded on these words of the Lord: In the sweat of thy brow thou shall eat bread. Industry is crowned with God’s blessing; idleness is loaded with his curse. This maxim was a proverb among the Jews. Men who can work, and will rather support themselves by begging, should not get one morsel of bread. It is a sin to minister to necessities that are merely artificial.”
Another reference to work can be found in Ephesians 4:28: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labour, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.”
In Ecclesiastes 9:10 we read: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”
There are also a number of Biblical references to sowing and reaping which is a work-related activity.
We can deduce from these Scriptures that we should work whenever possible to provide for ourselves and our families. For far too long, as mentioned above, too many in the Western nations have relied on welfare benefits without trying to get a job, or they have used the system for applying for and getting benefits to which they have not been entitled. This has of course contributed to and, in certain cases, even encouraged idleness, dependency and even dishonesty.
On the other hand, as a society and individually, as much as it is within our power, we do have the moral and godly responsibility to look after the needy, including the chronically sick, the disabled and those who simply cannot (find) work.
To clarify, we do not even address here “entitlements,” which have been earned through prior work, such as pensions, Medicare, social security or unemployment benefits, nor are we addressing disability payments for those who are partially or permanently unable to work. This would of course also include maternity leave, vacation time, etc.. We are strictly talking about discretionary welfare programs. But even then, we must understand that especially in our Western societies, far too many are simply unable to find work or get a job with sufficient pay to make a decent living. What an indictment against our societies it is that it has become the norm for both husband and wife to be forced to work, so that they can survive financially. Of course, there have been fraud and excesses, but this does not justify throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
In addition, as Christians, we must never harden our hearts towards the poor and needy (Deuteronomy 15:7-11), even if the poor might have brought poverty upon themselves—perhaps through unwise decisions. The Bible commands us to help the poor, when it is possible for us (Proverbs 19:17; Galatians 2:10). We are not to withhold blessings from them, and we are told to do good to all, “especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
What about our attitude to financial matters? In Proverbs 22:7 we read a gem of wisdom that has generally been ignored: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible makes these comments:
“The rich ruleth over the poor,… Usurps a dominion over them, and exercises it in a rigorous, oppressive, and tyrannical manner; otherwise they are generally the rich that rule, and if they rule well, in a lawful, gentle, and righteous manner, it is commendable; and the borrower is servant to the lender; being under obligation to him, he is forced to be subject to him, and comply with his humours, and do and say as he would have him; it was a happiness promised to the Israelites, that they should lend to many nations, but not borrow, Deuteronomy 15:6; compare with this Nehemiah 5:4.”
So many ignore this wonderful admonition, advice and warning that “the borrower is servant to the lender.” Mr Micawber, a character in Charles Dickens novel, David Copperfield said “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”
We can learn from Joseph’s example in Genesis 41:33-36: “Now therefore, let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that are coming, and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. Then that food shall be as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt, that the land may not perish during the famine.”
Unfortunately, this was not done in the UK, the USA or many other Western nations, when the economy was good and the government just kept spending instead of taking the advice of Joseph. Had this been done, the countries would have had reserves to weather, to a great extent, the national and global financial difficulties that are now being experienced. But the governments weren’t the only ones to blame. So many ordinary citizens, ignoring the fact that, historically, famine follows feast economically, spent as if there was no tomorrow, racking up huge debts.The effect of such reckless financial behaviour is now being felt by so many. Those who saved for a future “rainy day” are somewhat “cushioned” from these devastating effects.
It should be clear that true Christians should heed God’s advice about sound financial principles which, of course, includes tithing. If a government or nation would rule and live righteously, then it would not face any financial crisis, and nobody would be poor. In the Millennium, when Christ rules this earth, welfare systems will be unheard of, because there won’t be any need for them. Our individual Christian attitude today should be to work hard for our family (unless, of course, there is no work available or a person is unable or prevented from working for legitimate biblical reasons) and to be financially sensible with the money that we earn and that we have, while not forsaking the poor and needy. God will bless those who are obedient to His Will and to the principles that He has given us in His Word.
Lead Writers: Brian Gale (Great Britain) and Norbert Link