We are in a tough economy, and while I am firm in my belief that God will continue to meet my every need, I also realize that Jesus said “the poor you will always have among you”.
Poverty is often transient. A brother in church may have just lost his job, and the family is thrown into jeopardy; a single mum’s business may have suffered a momentary set back; a new convert who happens to be a recovering addict may just be trying to find their financial feet while overcoming an expensive addiction; in short life happens.
I serve in a small church which location in the middle of a very affluent neighbourhood belies the deep poverty of many of the parishioners. For our church, living this reality means that we are daily confronted with the question of whether we believe that the church is strictly a spiritual, and not a social safety net.
My unequivocal answer is that we must be both. I arrive at this answer not merely by looking at the example of Jesus (which is adequate), but by looking through all of Scripture to understand the intent of God through the ages.
What I find as I do this is that God’s clear intent in spiritual, and social redemption is, to borrow a relatable phrase, “that none should be left behind”.
In settling the children of Israel in the promised land for instance, Moses insisted that the children of Reuben, and Gad who got their own inheritance before Jordan must cross over, and help the rest of the tribes get theirs, before returning to settle with their families. He extracted this promise from them.
We will not return unto our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance. (Numbers 32:18 KJV
And as Moses taught the congregation of the children about holiness in Leviticus 19, we find that this concept of ‘the church’ being a social safety net is intertwined with the idea of holiness.
And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very corners, neither shall you gather the fallen ears or gleanings of your harvest.  And you shall not glean your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather its fallen grapes; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:9-10 AMP
Holiness as was taught in this chapter included a deliberate effort to make provision for the poor and the stranger. By the way, because land in Israel was passed down by inheritance, non citizens did not have access to land, and were largely excluded from the agrarian economy. They were left little option but to be servants, and share croppers, and more likely to be poor.
To contemporise this, people in our churches who have no access to participate effectively in the economy are the equivalent of the strangers, and we are mandated to leave a remnant of our harvest for them. In simple terms, don’t appropriate all of your income; deliberately leave some of it for the poor, and the stranger.
In fact, and your pastor may not like this, under the law the unemployed and the poor had as much right to the tithe (in this case a triennial collection) as the clergy.
And the Levite that is within thy gates; thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee.  At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates:  And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest. Deuteronomy 14:27-29 KJV
So this idea of not leaving any behind was a pretty well developed concept for how God wanted his people to live. By the time Jesus came, he lived it out in full. On one occasion, his disciples were trying to send away a large crowd to go find food after a crusade, but Jesus insisted otherwise.
And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.  And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals.  But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat. (Matthew 14:14-16 KJV)
This disciples acted in much the same way as the church acts today. We are happy to do healings, and deliverances, but people have to at least feed themselves we think. Jesus though won’t have any of that. Even in “desert places”; when the economy is bad and the church is broke, he says, feeding is still a priority.
Of course, it should be noted that there are career applicants who have no real intention to work and earn their own living. The church is not obligated, or even encouraged to continue to support such people. The bible teaches that; “…If anyone will not work, neither let him eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10): the condition being that if he will not, rather than can not.
For those who are willing to work but have no opportunity, there is a responsibility on the church (individual and collective) to share their provision with them. As we see in the early days of the church.
Now the company of believers was of one heart and soul, and not one of them claimed that anything which he possessed was exclusively his own, but everything they had was in common and for the use of all. (Acts 4:32)