The Ministry of Relief
1, 2. (a) What hardship did Christians in Judea face? (b) What act of love did the Judean Christians experience?
IT IS about 46 C.E., and Judea is in the grip of famine. The Jewish disciples of Christ living there lack the means to pay the sky-high prices demanded for the meager supply of grain available. They are hungry, staring starvation in the face. However, they are about to experience the protection of Jehovah’s hand in a way that no other disciples of Christ have ever felt it before. What is about to happen?
2 Moved by the suffering of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and Judea, Jewish and Gentile Christians in Antioch, Syria, collect funds for their fellow believers. Then they select two responsible brothers in their midst, Barnabas and Saul, to deliver the relief aid to the congregation elders in Jerusalem. (Read Acts 11:27-30; 12:25.) Imagine how touched the needy brothers in Judea must have been by this act of love on the part of their brothers in Antioch!
3. (a) How do God’s people in modern times still follow the pattern set by early Christians in Antioch? Give an example. (See also the box “Our First Large-Scale Relief Effort in Modern Times.”) (b) What questions will we consider in this chapter?
3 That event, back in the first century C.E., is the first recorded instance of Christians living in one part of the world sending relief aid to Christians living in another part. Today, we follow the pattern set by our brothers in Antioch. When we learn that fellow believers in another area experience a disaster or a trial, we come to their aid.a To appreciate how our relief efforts relate to our other ministerial activities, let us consider three questions about the ministry of relief: Why do we view relief work as a ministry? What are the objectives of our relief work? How do we benefit from the ministry of relief?
Why Relief Work Is “Sacred Service”
4. What did Paul tell the Corinthians about the Christian ministry?
4 In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul explained that Christians have a twofold ministry. Although Paul’s letter was directed to anointed Christians, today his words apply to Christ’s “other sheep” as well. (John 10:16) One part of our ministry is “the ministry of the reconciliation,” that is, our preaching and teaching work. (2 Cor. 5:18-20; 1 Tim. 2:3-6) The other part involves a ministry that we perform in behalf of fellow believers. Specifically, Paul referred to a “relief ministry.” (2 Cor. 8:4) As to the expressions “ministry of the reconciliation” and “relief ministry,” in both instances the word “ministry” is a translation of a form of the Greek word di·a·ko·niʹa. Why is that significant?
5. Why is it significant that Paul called relief work a ministry?
5 By using the same Greek word for both activities, Paul grouped relief work with other forms of ministry that were carried out in the Christian congregation. He had stated earlier: “There are different ministries, and yet there is the same Lord; and there are different activities, . . . But [they] are performed by the very same spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:4-6, 11) In fact, Paul linked the various congregational ministries with “sacred service.”b (Rom. 12:1, 6-8) No wonder he felt that it was appropriate to give part of his time “to minister to the holy ones”!—Rom. 15:25, 26.
6. (a) As Paul explained, why is relief work part of our worship? (b) Describe how our relief work is carried out globally today. (See the box “When Disaster Strikes!”)
6 Paul helped the Corinthians to see why relief work was part of their ministry and worship to Jehovah. Note his reasoning: Christians who provide relief do so because they are “submissive to the good news about the Christ.” (2 Cor. 9:13) Hence, moved by their desire to put Christ’s teachings into practice, Christians help fellow believers. The kind acts that they perform in behalf of their brothers, stated Paul, are nothing less than expressions of “the surpassing undeserved kindness of God.” (2 Cor. 9:14; 1 Pet. 4:10) Thus, in commenting on serving our brothers in need, which includes relief work, The Watchtower of December 1, 1975, rightly stated: “We should never doubt that Jehovah God and his Son Jesus Christ give real importance to this kind of service.” Yes, relief work is a valuable form of sacred service.—Rom. 12:1, 7; 2 Cor. 8:7; Heb. 13:16.
Relief Work With Clear Objectives
7, 8. What is the first objective of our relief ministry? Explain.
7 What are the objectives of our relief ministry? Paul addressed that question in his second letter to the Corinthians. (Read 2 Corinthians 9:11-15.) In these verses, Paul highlights three main objectives, or goals, that we attain by sharing in “the ministry of this public service,” that is, relief work. Let us consider them one at a time.
8 First, our relief ministry brings glory to Jehovah. Note how often in the five verses cited above Paul directs his brothers’ attention to Jehovah God. The apostle reminds them of “an expression of thanks to God” and of “many expressions of thanks to God.” (Verses 11, 12) He mentions how relief efforts cause Christians to “glorify God” and to praise “the surpassing undeserved kindness of God.” (Verses 13, 14) And Paul concludes his consideration about the relief ministry by declaring: “Thanks be to God.”—Verse 15; 1 Pet. 4:11.
9. What change in thinking may relief work cause? Give an example.
9 Like Paul, God’s servants today view relief efforts as opportunities to bring glory to Jehovah and to adorn his teachings. (1 Cor. 10:31; Titus 2:10) In fact, relief work often plays a considerable part in removing negative notions that some people have about Jehovah and his Witnesses. To illustrate: A woman living in an area struck by a hurricane had a sign on her door that read: “Jehovah’s Witnesses—Do Not Call.” Then one day she saw relief workers restoring a damaged house across the street from her home. For days, she observed the friendly workers, and then she went over to find out who they were. On learning that the volunteers were Jehovah’s Witnesses, she was impressed and said, “I have misjudged you people.” The result? She took down the sign on her door.
10, 11. (a) What examples show that we are reaching the second objective of our relief work? (b) What publication helps relief workers? (See the box “An Added Tool for Relief Workers.”)
10 Second, we “provide well for the needs” of fellow believers. (2 Cor. 9:12a) We are eager to meet the immediate needs and to help alleviate the suffering of our brothers and sisters. Why? Because the members of the Christian congregation form “one body,” and “if one member suffers, all the other members suffer with it.” (1 Cor. 12:20, 26) Hence, brotherly affection and compassion move numerous brothers and sisters today to drop what they are doing at a moment’s notice, gather their tools, and head for disaster-stricken areas to bring relief to fellow believers. (Jas. 2:15, 16) For instance, after a tsunami struck Japan in 2011, the United States branch office sent a letter to Regional Building Committees in the United States, asking if “a few qualified brothers” would be available to help with rebuilding Kingdom Halls there. What was the response? Within weeks, nearly 600 volunteers applied to help—and agreed to fly to Japan at their own expense! “We have been overwhelmed with the response,” noted the United States branch office. When a brother in Japan asked a relief worker from abroad why he had come to help, he was told: “Our brothers in Japan are part of ‘our body.’ We feel their pain and suffering.” Moved by self-sacrificing love, relief workers have at times even risked their lives to help fellow believers.c—1 John 3:16.
11 Non-Witnesses also express appreciation for our relief work. For instance, after a disaster struck the state of Arkansas, U.S.A., in 2013, a newspaper reported on the rapid response of Witness volunteers, stating: “The organizational structure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses has developed the disaster response volunteer service to a fine art.” Indeed, as the apostle Paul noted, we “provide well” for our brothers in need.
12-14. (a) Why is reaching the third objective of our relief work so important? (b) What expressions highlight the importance of continuing with spiritual activities?
12 Third, we help afflicted ones get back into their spiritual routine. Why is this important? Paul states that those receiving relief aid will be moved to make “many expressions of thanks to God.” (2 Cor. 9:12b) What better way could there be for afflicted ones to express their thanks to Jehovah than by getting back to their spiritual routine as quickly as possible? (Phil. 1:10) The Watchtower stated in 1945: “Paul approved . . . the collecting of the contributions because it was helping . . . needy Christian brethren to enjoy some material relief and to thus be able to engage more freely and energetically in Jehovah’s witness-work.” Our objective is the same today. By getting back in the preaching work, our brothers strengthen not only their distressed neighbors but also themselves.—Read 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4.
13 Consider some comments from those who were recipients of much-needed relief aid, resumed sharing in the ministry, and were strengthened by doing so. “It was a blessing for our family to go in field service,” noted a brother. “It gave us a brief respite from anxiety over our own affairs as we tried to comfort others.” A sister said: “Focusing on spiritual activity took my mind off the destruction around me. It gave me a sense of security.” Another sister observed: “While many things were beyond our control, the ministry provided direction for my family. Talking with others about our hope of the new world strengthened our confidence that all things will be made new.”
14 Attending meetings is another spiritual activity that our afflicted fellow believers need to resume as quickly as possible. Consider what happened to Kiyoko, a sister then in her late 50’s. After she lost everything in a tsunami except the clothes and sandals she was wearing, she was at a loss as to how she would survive. Then an elder told her that they would have their regular Christian meeting in his car. Says Kiyoko: “An elder and his wife and another sister and I sat in the car. The meeting was simple but, like a miracle, the memory of the tsunami just slipped away from me. I felt peace of mind. That meeting showed me the power of Christian association.” Commenting on the meetings she attended after a disaster occurred, another sister stated: “They were my lifeline!”—Rom. 1:11, 12; 12:12.
The Ministry of Relief Brings Lasting Benefits
15, 16. (a) What benefit would Christians in Corinth and elsewhere receive from supporting relief efforts? (b) How do we similarly benefit from relief work today?
15 In his consideration of the ministry of relief, Paul also explained to the Corinthians the benefits that they and other Christians would receive from sharing in this work. He stated: “With supplication for you, they [the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who received the assistance] express affection for you because of the surpassing undeserved kindness of God upon you.” (2 Cor. 9:14) Yes, the generosity of the Corinthians would move the Jewish Christians to pray in behalf of their brothers in Corinth, including Gentiles, and would deepen their affection for them.
16 Applying Paul’s words about the benefits of relief work to our day, The Watchtower of December 1, 1945, stated: “When one section of God’s consecrated people contributes to the needs of another group of them, think of the unifying effect it has!” That is exactly what relief workers today experience. “Doing relief work made me feel closer to my brothers than ever before,” says an elder who helped in flood relief. One grateful sister who received relief aid put it this way, “Our brotherhood is the closest thing we have to Paradise on earth.”—Read Proverbs 17:17.
17. (a) How do the words found at Isaiah 41:13 apply to relief work? (b) Mention some examples of how relief work honors Jehovah and strengthens our bond of union. (See also the box “Volunteers Around the World Bring Relief.”)
17 When relief workers arrive at the scene of a disaster, our afflicted brothers experience in a special way the truth of God’s promise: “I, Jehovah your God, am grasping your right hand, the One saying to you, ‘Do not be afraid. I will help you.’” (Isa. 41:13) After surviving a disaster, a sister said: “I felt hopeless seeing the damage, but Jehovah extended his hand. The help I received from the brothers is indescribable.” After a disaster devastated their area, two elders wrote in behalf of the congregations where they serve: “The earthquake caused great pain, but we experienced the help that Jehovah provides through our brothers. We had read about relief work, but now we saw it carried out in front of our eyes.”
Can You Have a Part?
18. What can you do if you want to share in relief work? (See also the box “It Shaped the Course of His Life.”)
18 Would you like to taste the joy that relief work provides? If so, keep in mind that relief workers are often selected from those who work on Kingdom Hall construction projects. So mention to your elders that you would like to fill out an application form. An elder with much experience in relief work gives this reminder: “Travel to a disaster area only after you have received an official invitation from a Disaster Relief Committee to do so.” In that way, our relief work will proceed in an orderly manner.
19. How do relief workers help greatly in demonstrating that we are truly Christ’s disciples?
19 Relief work is indeed an outstanding way in which we obey Christ’s command to “love one another.” By showing such love, we demonstrate that we are truly Christ’s disciples. (John 13:34, 35) What a blessing it is for us today to have so many willing workers who bring glory to Jehovah as they provide needed relief to those who loyally support God’s Kingdom!
a This chapter considers relief efforts performed in behalf of fellow believers. However, in many instances, our relief work also benefits non-Witnesses.—Gal. 6:10.
b Paul used the plural form of di·aʹko·nos (minister) to describe “ministerial servants.”—1 Tim. 3:12.
c See the article “Aiding Our Family of Believers in Bosnia,” in the November 1, 1994, issue of The Watchtower, pages 23-27.