There are two ways to help someone.
Only one of those ways actually helps. The other way typically makes things much, much worse.
The first way that we can help someone comes from a sense of duty. We think that something is wrong and we feel obligated to do something.
By my calculations, this is the root cause of 94% of the fights my two young sons have with one another.
It goes like this.
The four of us are driving in our car when suddenly, from the backseat, my wife and I hear something that sounds a lot like a soccer riot. When we investigate the cause of the backseat soccer riot, 94% of the time we get the same excuse.
“I was trying to help him!”
What my son really meant was, “I was trying to get him to do it my way.” This requires the use of brute strength until the alleged needy party is forced into submission.
This is usually the way that certain members of our government like to help us. They want to help us to quit shooting each other, they want to help us to eat the right food and they want to help us to not get bitten by mosquitoes.
But what they really mean is, “We want you to do it our way.” This almost always requires the use of brute strength until the alleged needy party is forced into submission.
Draw your own conclusions about the similarities between politicians and children fighting in the backseat.
Thankfully, there is another way to help. While this way does involve a sense of duty, its roots run deeper.
In Acts 2:42-47 we are given a stunning picture of the church. Three thousand people have just repented of their sins and put their faith in Jesus (Acts 2:41). And those three thousand people were quite diverse (Acts 2:7-11).
But despite those differences, we get this description.
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Acts 2:44-45 (ESV)
Amazing! There must have been some sort of ultra-progressive government program to make this kind of thing happen.
There was no brute force involved in this distribution of wealth. No draconian law made these early Christians give sacrificially “to all, as any had need” (2:45).
Instead of some new government power, it was the power of God that led these people to generosity. These new believers had just learned that the tomb of Jesus Christ is empty (Acts 2:32) and, because of the coming of the Holy Spirit, they are not (Acts 2:4). Power.
The early believers in Acts were motivated to help because of the love of a generous Father who gave his only Son to die for sinners, raised him up after he was killed by those sinners and then gave his Spirt to live inside of those sinners to help them to be more like Jesus. To those who had been loved so much, anything short of generosity seemed unloving.
Tonight, President Barack Obama is scheduled to give his State of the Union Address. You can expect him to talk a lot about how he plans to help us. You should consider the possibilities of that help involving some form of brute strength. But be careful before you start getting mad and blaming politicians.
It’s easy to blame the government for the state of unwanted help that we live under. A lot of that blame is warranted.
But a lot of it should be cast towards believers as well. After all, we are the ones that are so prone to abandon that stunning picture of the church that we see in Acts 2. We are the ones who tend to neglect the power of a community of believers generously living under the reality of an empty tomb and the filling of the Holy Spirit. We are the ones who so often give in to the temptation to put a lid on the power of God in favor of the presumed power of man.
All for the promise of a little help.
The wrong kind of help.