Vol.XIV No.XII Pg.4
February 1978

An Alms-Giving Principle

Robert F. Turner

In Phil. 4:12 Paul said he knew how to be full, and to be hungry; how to abound, and to suffer need. These are opposite extremes -- conditions poles apart — and they imply a mid-position of "just enough" where there is neither an over-supply nor a lick. In fact this level of sufficiency is the norm, from which abundance or want must be determined. We thus have the CONDITIONS OF

IN WANT SUFFICIENCY ABUNDANCE Now, this mid-position of sufficiency is sufficiency for what? There must be an answer to this; a limitation; or else there could be no such thing as "abundance." One "abounds" when he has more than enough for something — and the obvious answer is — more than enough to meet his own need. "Sufficiency" is therefore measured by the basic requirements of a unit; that which is necessary for self-maintenance. As respects the biological needs of an organism "in the fasting and resting state, when it uses just enough energy to maintain vital cellular activity, respiration, and circulation" this is called basal metabolism. Technical, but graphic.

An "independent" unit is NOT DEPENDENT upon any other unit for its existence and functioning. As the dictionary says, it is "self-sufficient." "Having a competency; not dependent for support or supplies; not subordinate; etc., etc." All of these conditions are measured on the basis of self-maintenance. How ridiculous it would be to say one was "in want" because he couldn't supply world needs. Want is measured against sufficiency.

A man comes to you with a tale of woe. He says he is "in want" or need. This calls for "alms" on your part — if you believe his plea to be valid. If he lacks food, clothing, shelter — or other necessities for self-maintenance you judge him "in need." But if he has more than enough to care for his responsibilities in such matters, you do not consider him a proper recipient for "alms." The principle is so well known that I feel a bit foolish for giving it this much space.

But churches also have "abundance" or are "in want," as the members of a church (who supply the collective treasury) are in want or abound. (See 2 Cor. 8:14; Rom. 15:25-f.; 1 Cor. 16:13). No less so than in our first illustration, this too implies that the local church may have a sufficiency, and that its want or abundance must be determined by measurement from that. An independent church is NOT DEPENDENT upon others for oversight, support or supplies, etc. It "has a competency" to manage its own affairs and supply all support necessary for its functions. It becomes a legitimate subject for "alms" only when it lacks the ability to meet basic needs (those necessary for self-maintenance). How could it be otherwise?

Judgments may differ as to the condition of the man asking alms, or the church asking alms; but we can be one in our understanding of the principle. An individual, or a church, that has become dependent (unable to meet basic needs for self-maintenance) can be legitimately supplied with alms, to the point of restoring independency (self-sufficiency), and no further.