Do More Than Say: “Keep Warm and Well Fed”
“If . . . one of you says to [needy brothers]: ‘Go in peace, keep warm and well fed,’ but you do not give them the necessities for their body, of what benefit is it? . . . Faith, if it does not have works, is dead in itself.”—JAMES 2:15-17.
1. How did a brother in Nigeria come into need?
IT IS calculated that Lebechi Okwaraocha was born before 1880, so he is well over a hundred years old. He inherited and worshiped his Nigerian parents’ juju. Then, when in his 80’s, he began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He applied what he learned and was baptized. Thus he has been a Witness for about 30 years. Not long ago, elders from his congregation visited him and his 72-year-old Anglican wife after a very heavy downpour. Both were despondent—the floor of their thatched hut was under water, and they had no relatives who would provide lodging or help them to make repairs. Had you been there, what would you have done? Before finding out what happened, let us consider some Bible advice.
2. Why are we interested in “fine works”?
2 Christ Jesus “gave himself for us that he might . . . cleanse for himself a people peculiarly his own, zealous for fine works.” (Titus 2:14) These works center on the lifesaving Kingdom preaching. (Mark 13:10; Revelation 7:9, 10) However, Christian “fine works” include more than the vital preaching, for Jesus’ half brother James explains: “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.”—James 1:27.
3, 4. What can we learn from 1 Timothy chapters 3-5 about “fine works,” leading to what questions?
3 Congregations in the first century were involved in both kinds of “fine works.” In 1 Timothy chapter 3, after outlining the qualifications of overseers and ministerial servants, the apostle Paul wrote that “the congregation of the living God [is] a pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:1-15) He showed that Christians who stay by such truthful teachings could save themselves and those who listen to them. (1 Timothy 4:16) Then Paul discussed the ‘fine work’ of caring materially for faithful widows who were “destitute.”—1 Timothy 5:3-5.
4 Hence, in addition to our evangelizing, we should be giving attention to “fine works,” such as ‘looking after orphans and widows in their tribulation.’ What can elders and ministerial servants do in this regard, as “those who are taking the lead”? (Hebrews 13:17) How can others of us assist them in this? And what can we personally do in performing “fine works” of this sort?
Elders Who Take a Fine Lead
5. How did Paul meet a special need, with what modern parallels?
5 When a special need arose in Judea, Paul, an elder, took the lead in arranging a relief ministry. Such leadership minimized any confusion; things could be distributed equitably, according to need. (1 Corinthians 16:1-3; Acts 6:1, 2) Modern elders, too, have taken the lead in relief ministries after disastrous floods, mud slides, tidal waves, tornadoes, or earthquakes, thus ‘keeping an eye in personal interest upon others.’—Philippians 2:3, 4.
6. When a disaster occurred in California, U.S.A., what was the elders’ response?
6 Awake! of October 8, 1986, gave an example of such Christianity in action. Elders responded when a broken levee caused flooding in California, U.S.A. These spiritual shepherds quickly checked on their flock to see who might be missing or in need of medical care, food, or accommodations. The elders coordinated their efforts with the headquarters office of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A relief committee was set up, and as fellow Witnesses arrived to help, they were organized into crews to clean up and repair damaged homes. The elders supervised the purchasing and distributing of supplies too. This illustrates that when such special needs arise, ‘each disciple can determine according to what he can afford to give’ or to do, but it would be wise to consult with local overseers and get directions from them.—Compare Acts 11:27-30.
7. To what more common needs should we also respond?
7 While you (elder or not) might occasionally be able to respond to a major need after a disaster, there are more common needs that can be just as vital—those right in your congregation. Because these needs may not be as sensational as a major disaster, they can easily be overlooked or given minimal attention. But local needs actually are the type mentioned in James 2:15-17. Yes, your congregation may offer the greatest challenge as to whether your ‘faith has works, or is dead in itself.’
8. How may overseers show wisdom in handling needs in the congregation?
8 In taking the lead, elders should strive to be “wise and understanding.” (James 3:13) With wisdom they can protect the flock against impostors who go from brother to brother (or congregation to congregation) borrowing money or inventing stories to get “help.” Overseers wisely do not sympathize with laziness, for the Bible rule is: “If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-15) Still, they do not want to ‘shut the door of their own tender compassions’ or lead their brothers to do that. (1 John 3:17) Another reason why they must show wisdom is that the Bible does not give us endless rules about caring for the needy and the afflicted. Situations differ from era to era and place to place.
9. (a) How were deserving Christian widows cared for in the first century? (b) What form of help may such ones benefit from today?
9 For example, in 1 Timothy 5:3-10 Paul discussed deserving widows who had been “left destitute.” Their believing relatives were primarily responsible to help them; neglecting that duty could damage the relatives’ standing with God. If, though, a needy and deserving widow could not obtain help in this way, it was possible for the elders to arrange for some material aid from the congregation. In recent times, too, some congregations have aided especially needy ones in their midst. However, most lands now have tax-supported programs for the aged, infirm, or those willing but unable to find work. Christian elders may want to help in another way though. Some who are in genuine need and who fully qualify for public benefits are not receiving such because they do not know how to apply or are too timid to ask. Thus elders may inquire of governmental agencies or contact Witnesses who are experienced in these matters. They then may arrange for a capable brother or sister to help the needy person to receive the available benefits.—Romans 13:1, 4.
Organizing for Practical Help
10. As they shepherd the flock, elders should give attention to what?
10 Alert overseers are often the key to seeing that afflicted and needy ones receive help from loving brothers and sisters. The elders should be alert to spiritual and physical needs as they shepherd all in the flock. Understandably, elders give emphasis “to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4) Hence, they would try to arrange things so that bedridden or hospitalized members of the flock are spiritually fed. The elders may have the meetings recorded for those unable to attend. Elders and ministerial servants taking their turn delivering the tapes have found that their visits enable them to impart other spiritual gifts. (Romans 1:11, 12) At the same time, they can check current needs.
11. Illustrate how assistance might be arranged for a sister in need.
11 They might note that a handicapped or aged sister could at times come to the Kingdom Hall, or have a brief share in the field ministry, if some sister helped her bathe and dress. (Compare Psalm 23:1, 2, 5.) The overseers could even assign one of their number to make the arrangements. Similarly, they might ask the congregation for volunteers to travel with the afflicted person or to provide a ride. Having a schedule for this would make things even more orderly.
12. How can others work along with overseers in helping sick or aged ones?
12 Elders may observe other matters in which help could be offered or loving arrangements made. For instance, an aged or sick sister has not been able to care for her house as she used to. Could some ministerial servants and others lend her a hand? Their trimming the lawn or shrubs might even make her feel better, knowing that the house now is no cause for reproach in the neighborhood. Does the garden need weeding or watering? Might some sister who is going food shopping be willing to check with her and then shop for needed items? Remember, the apostles were interested in such practical aspects, and they organized capable ones in the congregation to help.—Acts 6:1-6.
13. What resulted from the elders’ helping the Nigerian brother mentioned earlier?
13 Such Christian concern was shown by the elders mentioned earlier who, while making a shepherding call, found Lebechi Okwaraocha and his wife in a sad state. Quickly the body of elders took up the matter and let the congregation know what they had in mind—rebuilding the house. Various brothers and sisters donated materials and willingly shared in the project. In a week, they built a secure, metal-roofed little house. The report from Nigeria is:
“The villagers were surprised and spontaneously brought food and beverages for the brothers and sisters busily working long hours to complete the job before the next downpour. Many villagers voiced complaints about other religious groups who, they said, plunder the people instead of helping the poor. This incident was the talk of the community. The villagers have become very receptive, and many home Bible studies have been started.”
Your Share in These “Fine Works”
14. We should have what view of doing “fine works” toward our brothers?
14 Of course, we can often respond privately and directly to the needs of the elderly, infirm, hospitalized, or those otherwise afflicted who are around us. If we see a way to display real Christianity, why not go ahead and try to help? (Acts 9:36-39) Our motivation is, not pressure from others, but Christian love. The first ingredient to any practical aid is our having genuine interest and compassion. Of course, none of us can turn back the clock for the aged, cure sickness by miracles, or equalize the economic standing of all in the congregation. But we should definitely have a concerned and a giving spirit. When we have that, and we act accordingly, it will strengthen the bond of love between us and those whom we aid. It did so between Paul and Onesimus, who was a relatively new Christian who ‘ministered to Paul in his prison bonds.’—Philemon 10-13; Colossians 3:12-14; 4:10, 11.
15. How might we help some deserving ones who are genuinely in need?
15 Sometimes we can respond to a material need with a kind gift, whether sent anonymously or given in private. Has a brother lost his job and been unable to find another one? Does a sister face unexpected medical bills; has she had an accident or been robbed? Situations like this may arise around us. When we make “gifts of mercy,” our Father looking on in secret will observe and approve. (Matthew 6:1-4) Or, rather than giving money, we may, like Job, be able to provide garments for the poor and food supplies or home-cooked meals for the widow or fatherless.—Job 6:14; 29:12-16; 31:16-22.
16. In what other practical way can help sometimes be given? Illustrate.
16 Your experience or contacts can become a source of practical aid. A brother asked Brother W—— for a loan. His kind response was: ‘Why do you feel that I might have any extra money to lend?’ The reply given was: ‘Because you’re a better manager of your money.’ With discernment, Brother W——, who had often lent money to needy ones, suggested: ‘Perhaps what you really need is some help in learning to manage your money, and I would be glad to assist if you want my help.’ Such help is especially appreciated by brothers who need to adjust their standard of living to new circumstances or who are willing to work hard even at some less esteemed type of job. Of course, if a loan is truly needed, it would be good to make a signed record of it so that no problems arise later. Yet, many brothers who are disinclined to borrow money would deeply appreciate personal assistance in the form of advice or shared experience. (Romans 13:8) This is illustrated by an experience from West Africa involving Emmanuel:
Though Emmanuel was a trained barber, customers were few, and he was disheartened over his inability to earn a living. Then an alert elder in the congregation asked Emmanuel if he would consider doing another type of work. Yes, was his response, for he was not going to let professional pride stand in the way. The elder spoke with associates and located a job for Emmanuel as an attendant in a hospital. He has done well in this work and has been able to help others in the congregation.
17. How might you be able to help a brother who is in the hospital? (Psalm 41:1-3)
17 When a fellow Christian is in a hospital or a nursing home, there are special opportunities to help. Again, sincere interest and concern are fundamental. You might show these by your willingness to read to the patient upbuilding Christian literature or to relate encouraging experiences. Are there, though, physical needs that you can help with? In some areas, medical facilities are so overtaxed that a patient is not bathed or fed unless a visitor does it. So, if the doctors agree, you might bring him a nutritious meal or help him wash his hair or bathe. Would a warm robe or slippers be appreciated? (2 Timothy 4:13) Or could you offer to care for some matter that is worrying the patient? Maybe he is concerned about how his paycheck will be cashed and utility bills paid. You may provide helpful relief by doing even simple things for him, such as making sure that mail does not pile up at his house, that the plants get watered, or that the furnace is turned off.
18. What are you determined to do regarding brothers in need?
18 Undoubtedly, each of us can find ways in which we can improve in our doing more than just saying, “Keep warm and well fed.” (James 2:16) Think of the brothers and sisters in your congregation. Are some deserving ones genuinely in need materially, sick, handicapped, or bedridden? What can you do in a practical way to help these beloved members of the congregation for whom Christ died? Having this attitude will help you to be better prepared to respond quickly if difficulties arise.
19 By applying ourselves to assisting our brothers, we will be proving that our faith is not dead. That same faith moves us to work hard in Christian preaching. We need to maintain balance between helping others materially and regularly sharing in the Christian evangelizing. (Compare Matthew 15:3-9; 23:23.) Jesus’ counsel to Martha and Mary reflects that balance. He said that if a person were weighing material supplies in relation to spiritual food, the latter is “the good portion,” which will not be taken away. (Luke 10:39-42) The sick and the poor will always be present in this system of things. We can, and we should, do good things for them. (Mark 14:7) Still, the finest and most lasting good that we can do is teaching others about God’s Kingdom. That is what Jesus concentrated on. (Luke 4:16-19) It is the way that the poor, the sick, the afflicted, can receive permanent relief. What a joy it is to help our brothers and others to rest their hope on God and to “get a firm hold on the real life.”—1 Timothy 6:17-19.
[Box on page 17]
The Congregation Cared
A couple who had moved to a small congregation in a rural area provided this thought-provoking report:
‘Three years ago my wife and I sold our home and moved to a distant congregation that needed mature assistance because there had been some problems. Soon I had four positions of responsibility. We loved the brothers and wanted to work with them. Over the months the congregation’s spirit improved, and two fine elders moved in.
‘My wife began having health problems, and last year she needed major surgery. The day she entered the hospital, I came down with hepatitis. Two months later, I was laid off because the economy in the area was very bad. Our funds were exhausted, I was out of work, and both of us were trying to regain our health. I was depressed because the district convention was coming up and I had a part on the program. I also had an assignment on the circuit assembly in a couple of weeks. But with no money, I had no idea how I could get to these or even take care of my family. One morning my wife went out in the field service, and I sat down to review our situation.
‘As I looked out the window, I asked myself, Where is my trust in Jehovah? I had told my wife not to worry, but now I was beginning to doubt. I then expressed my “little faith” to Jehovah and begged him for help. As I finished praying, a brother knocked on the door. He wanted me to go with him for a cup of coffee. I explained I had better not, for I had to work on a part for the meeting that night. He was very insistent, though, saying that it would take only a few minutes. So we went. We returned a half hour later, and as I got out of his car I felt better.
‘When I entered the house, I noticed that the kitchen counter was stacked with groceries. I thought that my wife must have gone shopping. “But wait a minute, how could she, for we don’t have any money.” Then I noticed an envelope. The front read:
‘“From your brothers and sisters, who love you very much. Don’t put any of this in the contribution box. It has already been taken care of for you.”
‘I couldn’t hold back the tears. I thought of my “little faith,” and that made me cry more. Then my wife came home. I just pointed to the food and the other gifts. She also broke down crying, along with the two sisters who had come in with her. We tried to explain that we couldn’t accept so much, but the sisters told us that no one knew who gave what. The whole congregation had a part, and they wanted to do it because they felt that we had taught them how to give to others. This just brought more tears!’
Later, when he wrote up this account, the brother’s work had picked up. He and his wife were sharing in the auxiliary pioneer service.
[Box on page 18]
Evidence of Christian Love
A congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the western United States faced a unique situation that allowed them to manifest Christian love, such as is recommended in the Scriptures. In their territory, the state opened a center to care for severely crippled victims of cerebral palsy. One of the first residents of the center was Gary, 25 years old, who could no longer be cared for at home. The disease had left him a quadriplegic, and his speech was affected too.
Gary had been a baptized Witness for seven years. Once in the new center, he wanted to attend meetings of the local congregation. His parents lived not far away, and for a time they brought him. But in view of their age, other brothers in the congregation began to help. One owned a van. So he, his wife, and their two girls would get ready and leave home 45 minutes before the meeting so that they could pick up Gary. They would take him back to the center afterward, thus getting home quite late.
Something was developing at the center though. Other cerebral palsy victims manifested interest in Bible truth. Soon a couple of them accepted a Bible study. Later, others also showed interest. How could they all be brought to the meetings? Another family in the congregation purchased a van, and a business owned by local Witnesses made a third van available. Yet, these means at times were inadequate or inconvenient. Could the congregation do more?
The elders discussed this and then proposed that a van be purchased solely for bringing the handicapped ones to and from meetings. The congregation agreed and gladly contributed. Some Witnesses from the surrounding area who heard of the undertaking made contributions too. A van was obtained and fitted so that wheelchairs could be transported in it.
Now, each month a different Congregation Book Study shares in driving the van to meetings and assemblies. Five from the cerebral palsy center regularly attend, four of them now being baptized Witnesses. They have come to be known and loved by many brothers and sisters who experience the happiness of helping. How? By holding the songbook and looking up scriptures during meetings. At circuit assemblies and district conventions, they even help to feed and care for those who cannot do this for themselves. This has produced a mutual fondness that is truly heartwarming. And what about Gary? He now serves as a ministerial servant in this congregation that has given such evidence of its love.—Acts 20:35.