From the standpoint of the Bible:
What responsibilities do we have as a society toward one another? Responsibilities vary depending upon the relationships we sustain in life.
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We see from the teaching of Moses that the physical nation of Israel had responsibilities among themselves that did not apply to non-Israelites; those who became needy thru no fault of their own, the widow, the orphan, and the so-journer etc. were to be taken care of in the following manner:
Leviticus 19:9-10, 13, 15
9 "When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest.
10 And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God.
13 Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbor, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.
15 Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor.
Leviticus 23:22 - And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.
Lev. 25:35-43 –
"If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you.
Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.
You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit.
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.
"If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave:
he shall be with you as a hired servant and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee.
Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers.
For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves.
You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God.
28 "At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns.
29 And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.
Deut 15:7-15, 18 –
"If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother,
but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.
Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, 'The seventh year, the year of release is near,' and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and you be guilty of sin.
You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.
For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, 'You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'
12 "If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you.
And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed.
You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the LORD your God has blessed you, you shall give to him.
You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.
18 It shall not seem hard to you when you let him go free from you, for at half the cost of a hired servant he has served you six years. So the LORD your God will bless you in all that you do.
19 "When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
20 When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.
21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.
Honesty and integrity upon the part of all parties involved was necessary to the carrying out of these statutes.
From the story of Ruth and Boaz in Ruth 2:6-17, we see that Boaz practiced this, yet Ruth, who was a widow, had the responsibility to go out and work which she did.
6 And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, "She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab.
7 She said, 'Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.' So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest."
8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, "Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women.
9 Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn."
10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, "Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?"
11 But Boaz answered her, "All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before.
12 The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!"
13 Then she said, "I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants."
14 And at mealtime Boaz said to her, "Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine." So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over.
15 When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, "Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her.
16 And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her."
17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.
We find further other passages regarding the poor among the physical nation of the Israelites:
Psalms 41:1 - Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him;
Proverbs 14:21 - Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.
Proverbs 19:17 - Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.
Proverbs 22:9 - Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.
Yet the poor have responsibility to help themselves.
As with a physical Israelite, I as a spiritual Israelite, (Christian, Romans 9:6-8) have responsibilities toward my physical family that a non-family-member does not have: (Eph. 6:1-7). The burden falls upon me first, not the church nor the government. They do not have the burden of feeding my family; I am to work and provide for them. Everyone has responsibility in this regard.
So also, I have responsibilities due to my citizenship toward my fellow-citizen. I have taxes for which I am responsible; the church nor the government has the obligation to do what is my responsibility. As citizens, all have responsibilities toward government authorities (Rom. 13:1).
In the early church we find that Christians recognized their responsibilities toward one another due to their fellowship in the gospel in a way that did not apply to non Christians.
44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.
45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Acts 4:32-36 –
32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.
33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold
35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.
2 and the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, 'It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.
3 therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.
4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.
27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.
28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).
29 So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.
30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
Here we see again that disciples sent relief other disciples only.
What of those who will not help themselves? What does the gospel teach?
Eph. 4:28 - Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
2 Thess. 3:6-15 -
6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, becausewe were not idle when we were with you,
8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.
9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.
10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, butbusybodies.
12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.
14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.
15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
Luke 20:22-25 – To the Jews of His day, Jesus taught:
Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?"
But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them,
"Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?" They said, "Caesar’s."
He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s."
Summary: Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you will feed him for life.