One of the prerequisites for being involved with, and even becoming a member of, the church that my family has started attending is being a part of a small group. This is a pretty common idea in the modern church, and one which I am glad has become so normal. The idea of a church calling themselves a “church of small groups,” while cliche, is something that I applaud. I think it more truly embodies the goal that the early church had in mind than the push to be bigger and more cutting edge and state-of-the-art that was so popular a few years back.
So, I got involved in a small group. But, because of the work schedule of my new job stocking shelves at a mostly regional grocery store/supercenter, I wound up unable to be involved in one of the more traditional small groups. So, I had to choose to get involved with the men’s group that meets at 6:30am every other Friday. The last session ended their discussion of Rob Bell’s book Velvet Elvis. After some discussion of the last two chapters of the book and some general feelings about the book as a whole, conversation moved to a decision on what the next series would be. It was decided to cover Philippians. The group leader wanted to do an inductive study, so he wanted us all to read the book over and over again, in its entirety, before the next session, a week from this Friday.
Sadly, I’ve only read it once. I just can’t seem to motivate myself to read it again. Frankly, my initial thought is that I have no idea what he’s talking about because it seems that he is referring to things that were mentioned in some previous, now lost, correspondence from the church to Paul. But one thing stuck out to me, and has been lingering in my head for the almost week that has passed since I read the book.
Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. (Philippians 4:14-16 TNIV)
One of the things that really gets under my skin is the Church’s lack of aid given to those who are in need. I am well aware that there are individual congregations who put out a lot; who support and send missionaries all over the world; who go out of their way to aid the homeless. But, overall, there is a real lack of concern for those who are in need.
A number of times, I’ve been told the story of how, when my wife’s grandfather got sick, he and her grandmother stopped going to church. He was sick, and she didn’t want to leave him home alone. No one from their church came even to ask if everything was okay. At one point, there was something wrong with the house, and the only people who would offer to volunteer some help were a couple of neighbors who were not Christians and “F—ed” and “G– D—ed” everything in sight as they worked.
When I say that there is a “real lack of concern for those who are in need,” that is what I am referring to.
I like how The Message renders this.
You Philippians well know, and you can be sure I’ll never forget it, that when I first left Macedonia province, venturing out with the Message, not one church helped out in the give-and-take of this work except you. You were the only one. Even while I was in Thessalonica, you helped out—and not only once, but twice.
Paul was dealing with an almost identical problem that we modern Christians deal with on a regular basis. Even in the presence of another, perfectly capable, body of believers, it seemed like there was only one congregation who put out of their abundance to aid those who were in need, and it wasn’t even the local one.
Which reminds me of another, although very over-used, passage of Scripture.
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.