If You Don't Work, You Don't Eat

The idea that people must work in order to eat might seem far-fetched or even cruel, to the average American observer. Government welfare programs have been in place for decades, so addressing the needs of the hungry through public taxation is something we're used to. But did you know that the idea that people must work to eat is actually a Biblical principal? It sounds harsh, right? After all, as Christians, we don't want people to go hungry. And there is a tremendous need to feed the hungry, even in the U.S. According to the USDA, over 38 million people live in food-insecure households. It's obvious that hunger is a problem that we should attempt to solve. But how? Who's responsibility is it to feed the hungry? Should it be up to the government? Should it be up to the Church? The answer might surprise you.

When we think about who the hungry are, images of the elderly and young children usually pop into our heads first. And to some degree, rightfully so. Of the 38 million people who live in food-insecure households in America, over 6 million of them are children. God's Word declares in James 1:27 that we are commanded to "visit orphans and widows in their affliction". We understand that visiting orphans and widows who are in need of help, isn't limited to simply meeting with them. The idea of visiting them potentially requires us to heal them, pray for them, and help provide for their basic needs, including shelter, food, and water. We're well aware that Jesus fed and cared for the hungry (Matthew 15:32). In Matthew 25, we learn that when we feed the hungry, we are in essence caring for the Lord.

The Word of God clearly demonstrates that followers of Christ ought to feed the hungry, specifically those who are in need of food. We must ascertain that there are three caveats to the requirement of feeding the hungry.

  1. God does not require the government to feed the hungry

  2. God requires His followers to feed the hungry

  3. God requires His followers to not feed anyone who is unwilling to work

There is not one verse in the Bible that allows the government the authority to take resources or money from some people and then redistribute it to others. Government-forced redistribution of wealth is theft. While it is our responsibility to pay our taxes (Romans 13:7), it is the government's responsibility to honor God with the way they govern. Stealing from people is not honoring to God (Exodus 20:15). There is a consistent message that we see from God's Word which demonstrates that feeding the hungry is the responsibility of the Church and the individual believer. If someone who is hungry is capable of working, but chooses not to, we should not feed them. We should note that this idea does not apply to those who may be incapable of work, such as widows and orphans, for example. This principle of not feeding those who are unwilling to work assumes laziness upon the part of people who act like this. We know that God's Word describes laziness as a sin (Proverbs 18:9, Proverbs 19:15, Ecclesiastes 10:18).

You might ask where in the Bible does God tell us not to feed those who are unwilling to work? Won't those people die if we don't feed them? I suppose that is possible, but the more likely outcome is that they will go to work. The motivation to work stems from how God created us, specifically in order to put food on the table. When we feed those who are unwilling to work, we help remove their motivation to ever want to work again. While there is context related specifically to the Church, the Biblical principle for this idea is captured in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12...

For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

Why is it that there are over 38 million people in the U.S., living in food-insecure households when we have a government welfare system in place to feed the hungry? Maybe that system isn't solely designed to feed the hungry. Is it possible that at least to some degree, it is designed to attract people to rely upon the government? And if we rely upon the government for food, what else do we rely upon them for? And if we rely upon the government, are we really relying upon God? Wouldn't that reliance provide the government the opportunity to restrict its citizens? Isn't that what we see happening in the U.S.? Is that not the principle we see in Proverbs 22:7?...

"The rich rules over the poor,

and the borrower is the slave of the lender."

We could debate about the intentions of the original advocates for government welfare programs, but that would likely prove fruitless and futile. There were likely some advocates who genuinely cared for feeding the hungry and there were likely some who had more sinister plans. These two camps likely still exist today. But it doesn't take much research to see that government welfare programs aren't working as some advocates might think they ought to. I suggest that one cause for failure in this area is that, as a society, while we are feeding a small percentage of the hungry through these programs, we are also feeding those who are unwilling to work. Yet for some reason, we don't seem to recognize that feeding those who are unwilling to work is causing more problems than we started with. So a more worthwhile debate might be how the Church should respond to God's Word in relation to feeding the hungry in the midst of our current situation. We should not reward people for the sin of laziness. It is our responsibility to feed the hungry (those who cannot work), but we must not feed those who are unwilling to work.

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