Should a Christian go on welfare?

Christian welfare
Question: "Should a Christian go on welfare?"

In the United States, a government program known as welfare provides money and helps with basic necessities for those in need. Welfare, as a government agency, has many branches such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. Government welfare is basically a redistribution of wealth: money is gathered through taxation of working people in order to give to it to those who are not working or who are not earning enough to sustain their families. In light of some biblical passages that command everyone to “carry his own load” (Galatians 6:5), some Christians question the morality of going on welfare or receiving government hand-outs.

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). This task was given to the Israelites under the theocracy and later to the church. 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. First Timothy 5:9–10 gives these parameters: “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.” 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).

Welfare as we know it in 21st century America, as administered by the government, looks nothing like the biblical model. Cases of welfare abuse are rampant, and little has been done to curb the ever-growing tide of able-bodied, able-minded adults milking the system simply because they can. The breakdown of the family contributes to the problem. The latest statistics indicate that over 40 percent of babies are now born to unwed mothers, the majority of which will be sustained through the welfare system. And the cycle continues. Misplaced compassion has created a culture of people who have little motivation to make wise decisions and avoid painful consequences because they’ve learned the government will always be there to mitigate those consequences. As a result, entire families live, grow up, have babies, and train their children how to live off the welfare system, creating generational patterns that deplete resources for the truly deserving.

The Scripture passage that deals most directly with the “welfare lifestyle” is 2 Thessalonians 3:6–14. Paul exhorts the church to avoid laziness and idleness. In fact, in verse 6 he instructs the church to “to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.” Welfare abuse seems to have been a problem even back then, and Paul goes on to say, “We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat” (verses 11–12). He even repeats a command he had at one time given them verbally: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Of course, not everyone receiving welfare from the government is misusing the system. There are many who, because of difficult circumstances, family abandonment, or lowered income, have a real need for a temporary reprieve until they can get back on their feet. When welfare is used as a temporary hand-up instead of a permanent hand-out, it can be a wonderful blessing. Take the example of a hard-working father who is injured and whose wife cannot work due to having a special-needs infant. They have lived modestly, but medical bills have exhausted their savings and they have no way to bring in money until the father can work again. Their situation is beyond their control and not due to their own laziness, immorality, or foolishness. For them to seek welfare assistance may be embarrassing for them, but it is not wrong. It is just such people for whom the system was created. With assistance, the family will be able to buy groceries, pay utilities, and keep their home for a few months until one of them can reenter the workforce. In such instances, Christians should not fear they are disobeying God by utilizing the “safety net” created for people in their situation. Government welfare may be God’s gift to them until they can work again.

Whether or not a Christian should go on welfare depends entirely upon the reasons for such a choice and the other options available. The government system currently in place is easy to abuse. When people slide into a mindset that they can get something for free, without earning it, they lose their motivation to work and are in danger of being trapped in a cycle of apathy, indolence, and entitlement. A Christian should keep in mind God’s perspective on work and the value of honest labor. First Timothy 5:8 says, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Teaching our children to play the welfare system is not what God means by “providing.” When a needy family must utilize welfare in order to survive, the parents can demonstrate to their children their thankfulness that God has provided temporary help until they can find work. Honorable people will seek to leave the welfare system and earn their own living as soon as possible.

Recommended Resource: Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture by Wayne Grudem

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Should a Christian go on welfare?

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