by Our Departed Brother, LYNN O. COOK
Past DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
CHURCHES OF CHRIST DISASTER RELIEF
God has always been mindful of the poor, the indigent and the unfortunate, those beset by poverty, suffering as widows, orphans, or victims of natural disasters. Those who would deny those indigent among the Jews felt the wrath of God. His law was one of care and concern. He encouraged His people to be merciful and benevolent to the unfortunate Jew as well as the “strangers among you.”
In the Old Testament, God made laws to provide for the needy. A farmer could not glean his field after harvest. That was reserved for the poor. An example of this is Ruth gleaning in the field of Boaz. If a sheaf of grain fell off the wagon, it could not be picked up. It was for the indigent. One could not cut the corners of his field or thrash his olive trees twice, as both were reserved for the unfortunate. Then, too, there were special tithes and offerings for the poor.
AT THE BEGINNING
The New Testament Church had just begun, when it became apparent that many brethren needed help. Brethren “sold their possessions and parted them to all men, as every man had need”. The first thing the early church did on the Day of Pentecost was to continue in the apostles’ doctrine; fellowship; breaking of bread; prayer and the providing for the needy members, “as every man had need”.
The second account of giving is in the book of Acts chapter 4. After the healing of the impotent man by Peter and John, they defend their actions and claim their power “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified”. The multitude of disciples rejoicing over quieting the rulers, now had all things in common. They, who had possessions, sold them and the money was laid at the apostles feet. Distribution was then made to every man as he had need. Barnabas also sells his land and lays it at the apostles’ feet. God was again providing for the needy and indigent.
In Acts 6, a need arises among the disciples as the Grecian widows are neglected by the Hebrew brethren in their daily ministration. The apostles feel the need to continue teaching and ask the brethren to appoint faithful men to oversee their care. Seven men were selected and placed over this benevolent work. Whether this neglect was by lack of oversight in fulfilling a need or the lack of funds to accomplish this work, no conclusion was forthcoming. Yet, there is one conclusion we reach in this incident. We never become so busy or so unorganized that we fail to provide for the unfortunate, nor do we even feel other works or projects can take from benevolence.
THE NEW TESTAMENT CONCEPT OF NATURAL DISASTER RELIEF
The New Testament Church was to find itself in a new and rewarding benevolent concept. It would find itself cooperating, crossing oceans and land to give aid and assistance to “saints” and “to all men.” The parable of the Good Samaritan was to come alive in a vibrant and caring way. They would be responding to areas where major disasters occurred.
In Matthew 24, Jesus explains to his disciples the things which would herald the fall of Jerusalem. He will list a number of things that would occur and then in verse 34, he said “this generation would not pass until these things be fulfilled.” From verse 35, He will describe things that pertain to the end of time.
Of the things that would occur during that “generation”, by Aug. 10 A. D. 70 when Jerusalem fell, He lists the coming of false Christ and many deceived, wars, the coming of the Roman army, natural disasters, and etc.
It seems strange that natural disasters would be mentioned as they are of such frequent occurrences. Unless they were to be natural disasters of major proportion that would stand out above others. Historians record that such disastrous occurrences actually transpired in the Roman Empire and into Judea which was a part of the Roman Empire.
In Acts 11 Paul and Barnabas work with a new congregation in Antioch that had been born out of persecution and hardship. It is here the disciples would be called Christians for the first time. The joy of their labors was soon to find a new meaning of usefulness. Prophets from Jerusalem come down to Antioch and Agabus warns of an impending natural disaster that in the days of Claudius would strike the Roman Empire and would devastate Jerusalem and Judea. “Then every man according to his ability determined to send relief unto the brethren in Judea.” Paul and Barnabas will carry their liberality to the elders at Jerusalem.
There are several observations from Matt. 24:7 and Acts 11:30.
1. Both speak of the same disaster
2. While the disaster covered many years much would take place during the reign of of Claudius Caesar. Historians record Claudius began his reign in 43 AD. and reigned 13 ½ years
3. Every Christian responds according to their ability, to send relief to the Judean brethren
4. Paul and company carry their liberality to Jerusalem
Later, the Apostle Paul pens his first epistle to the Corinthian Church and inspiration leads him to remember the impending disaster that is fastly approaching Jerusalem. In 1 Cor. 16: 1-4 Paul will record, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the Churches of Galatia, even so do ye upon the first day of the week let everyone of you lay by him in store as God hath prospered him, that there be no gathering when I come. And when I come whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem, and if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me.”
Note what Paul is saying:
l. The contribution taken was for the disaster relief in Jerusalem and Judea, not for expenses at Corinth.
2. It would be collected on the first day of the week.
3. Same instructions were given to the Galatians, possibly “Do good to all men especially those of the household of faith” Gal 6:10
4. There was to be a readiness of funds. “That there be no gathering when I come.”
5. Those they approved would take all of their contributions to Jerusalem.
6. Paul would go if needed.
2 Corinthians 8 & 9
Even though Paul had been clear in his instructions to the Corinthian Church in 1 Cor 16:1-4, to collect money for the saints in Jerusalem and Judea, they had not responded well. In his second epistle to them he would reiterate the purpose of their giving and the need for them to be diligent in this effort.
Paul began the eighth chapter by chiding the Church at Corinth concerning the churches in Macedonia who while” in great trial of affliction”…and deep poverty” had abounded in their giving for the impending disaster, “unto the riches of their liberality” (v-52). They even prayed for Paul to take their gift and allow them to have part in “the ministering of the Saints.” (v-4)
Paul continues to show the advantage of giving to disaster relief by showing that Titus had begun this work with them a year ago but they had, “not finished in you the same grace” as the Church in Macedonia.
Paul will show in verse 4 that the joy of giving to this cause is not by command but by “example of others and proving your love.” He will then further motivate them by showing that Christ even though rich, gave up all for man’s sake. A worthy example to follow!
So there would be no criticism Paul concludes the chapter by showing how he has enlisted brethren well respected in the church to travel with him to Judea. “That no man should blame us in the abundance which is administered by us.”
Chapter nine is one of the strongest discussions on the early church’s response to disaster relief in Judea and Jerusalem. It begins in verse one “For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you”. In verse 2 he states that the Churches of Macedonia and Achaia had been ready a year ago to send their contributions to churches in Judea. He also expresses a fear to the Corinthian brethren that they may not be as committed as the churches in Macedonia and Achaia to give, so he sends brethren ahead to Corinth to be sure their contribution is ready. He then lays down the law of acceptable giving,” Then, he establishes the principle of giving to receive. Jesus had already stated, “give and it shall be given to you.” Paul says what you give determines what you will receive – abundantly or sparingly.
As Paul concludes this chapter, he lists four blessings that Disaster Relief accomplishes.
l. “It supplies the needs of the saints”. Vs 12
2. Creates “many thanksgiving unto God” Vs 12
3. They see your “professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ”. In other words they see you practicing what you preach. Vs 13
4. You provide assistance, “unto all men”. Vs 13
When Churches of Christ respond to major disasters, they accomplish these four things. They provide to the needs of all saints affected, in disasters as well as “all men”. In this our Lord is praised and people actually see generous Christians involved in practicing Christianity. Like Jesus said,” I was hungry and you fed me…” Matt. 25:35.
Paul had gone to Jerusalem and while there the Jews had accused him of corrupting the Temple by taking a Gentile into it–which he had not! He defends himself before Felix the governor and tells why he was in Jerusalem. Vs 17, “Now after many years I come to bring alms to my nation and offerings”. Another translation has it, “after an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor…” Remember what Paul said about the collection for the saints in 1 Cor 16:1-4? ” And when I come whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem. And if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me.” From what Paul said in Acts 24:17, it was needful for him to go to Jerusalem and why” To take the contributions for those affected by the natural disaster that Jesus had spoken of in Matt. 24:7 and Agabus in Acts 11:27-30.
In these four verses, Paul tells of his love for the Church in Rome and his plans to come to them on his way to Spain. “But now I go to Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily: And their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things. When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you in Spain.”
Paul lists the following in these passages:
l. He was going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints affected by the natural disaster of the famine spoken by Jesus and Agabus.
2. He mentioned the contribution that he had written to the Church in Corinth in chapters 8 and 9, that the churches in Macedonia and Achaia were sending to those affected by the disaster.
3. Because the Gentile brethren had been blessed by the preaching of the Jewish brethren, they were “debtors” to return the generosity by helping with material things for the suffering Jewish brethren. He emphasizes the obligation by calling it “their duty is also to minister unto them..”
4. He would only return to home and Spain after he had fulfilled his obligation to take this help to the devastated area.
These aforementioned passages when the New Testament was written was to show the purpose and need of brethren responding to “saints” and “all men” in time of natural disaster. Congregations like those in Judea and Jerusalem could not handle disasters that struck their cities and homes alone. Brethren could be prepared as some of them a “year ago” and be ready when disaster strikes and to respond by providing congregations in devastated areas with the ability to meet their need. If this is done, the things accomplished in New Testament times can be accomplished today such as:
l. All saints being taken care of
2. The world seeing Christians practicing what they have always preached
3. All men being cared for
4. And much thanks given to God
Today we do not lay the contribution at the feet of the apostles for the needy nor do we send our resource into areas of devastation by apostles as Paul carried them to Jerusalem.
It is not so much the method of transportation as it is a realization that those in devastated areas need our immediate help. Paul called it a “duty”. Churches were admonished to lay by on the Lord’s day for the collection of the needy saints. The things that disaster relief does are not optional, as it supplies the need of the saints, it creates respect to God as well as bring honor to his name. Those assisted with benevolent supplies see the gospel in action and provisions are extended to all men. Like the story of the Good Samaritan, which tells of crossing religious and ethnic boundaries to help, so the church does the same today.
Men who were serving as elders, and many still do, saw a need for the church responding immediately to every major disaster with quality provisions, prepackaged so as to be ready to pass out upon arrival at the local congregation in the disaster area. They envisioned trucks laden with supplies being sent to the churches in the devastated area enabling the churches to immediately begin to help people afflicted by the tornado, hurricane, flood, or other disasters there may be.
The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief still operates out of a large warehouse complex in Nashville, where several million dollars in supplies are stored ready to be sent out. The program is possible mainly through the efforts of retirees, who sort and pack items to be sent. Through the way we buy and the generous donations from industry, we can still take a $100.00 contribution and put $300.00 of first class supplies in the disaster area. There was a time when Churches of Christ were the “last with the least”, but now the Churches of Christ are the first with the best.
For more information about Churches of Christ Disaster Relief or the opportunity for Lynn O. Cook, Director of Development, to present this work to the congregation or meet with elders and/or committees, write to Mr. Cook at the Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort, Inc., 410 Allied Dr. Nashville,TN 37211 or call 1-800-541-2841, or you may contact Mr. Joe L. Dudney Vice President/Executive Director at the above address.