In the United States, various government programs known collectively as “welfare” provide money and help with basic necessities for those in need. Welfare for those in need comes through such programs as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly called “food stamps.” Government welfare is basically a redistribution of wealth: money is gathered through taxation of working people and given to those who are not working or who are not earning enough to sustain themselves. In light of some biblical passages that command everyone to “carry their own load” (Galatians 6:5), some Christians question the morality of going on welfare or receiving government handouts.
First of all, God has made it clear that the care of widows and orphans is a top priority for Him and should be also for His people (Malachi 3:5; Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 24:20; James 1:27). One of the first ministries of the early church was the feeding of widows (Acts 6:1), but even this act of “welfare” had stipulations: “No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds” (1 Timothy 5:9–10). Welfare through the church was limited to widows who were destitute through no fault of their own and had no family to care for them (1 Timothy 5:3–8).
Christians who find themselves in need of assistance may face the choice of going on government-provided welfare. Lowered income, job loss, family abandonment, injury, etc., can result in financial hardships that demand relief. Government welfare can provide a temporary reprieve until they can get back on their feet.
Whether or not one decides to go on welfare, here are some good things to do:
– Pray. We can approach God’s gracious throne with confidence and ask to “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). We can ask for wisdom any time (James 1:5).
– Seek the help of family members. Families are a ready-made support system and are often in a good position to know the situation and offer help (1 Timothy 5:8).
– Seek assistance from the church. Our church family can be a resource for helping a hurting member through a tough time.
– Continue to provide for your own needs as much as possible. The Bible commends work and warns against voluntary inactivity. If unemployed and able to work, we should seek employment; if we have a job, we should continue to work at it and pray for more gainful employment (2 Thessalonians 3:6–14).
– “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Some Christians may have personal convictions against using government welfare, and that’s understandable. It’s a matter between them and the Lord. But seeking welfare assistance is not wrong per se. The system is in place to assist those who need it, and those with needs should feel free to access it. Christians should not fear they are disobeying God by utilizing the “safety net” created for people in their situation. Government welfare may just be God’s method of providing for them until they can work again or until another means of provision opens up.