The Poor Lame Man and the Church

by Terry W. Benton

Just shortly earlier than the scene in Acts 3 is the story of the beginning of the church and the fellowship they had with each other (Acts 2:42f), the selling of possessions to divide among all the saints that had need (due to the unexpected overstay that they as former unbelieving Jews turned disciples of Jesus had now encountered). These disciples sold goods and divided out among the disciples as any had need and were with “one accord in the temple” and were among those the Lord was adding daily to “those who were being saved”(Acts 2:44-47).

The givers were believers (Acts 2:44) and the recipients were the believers who had need. It is noteworthy that the disciples did not see their mission as one in which they were seeking to collectively relieve the poor among the world of unbelievers in order to get their interest in the gospel or as an end to itself. In other words, the church did not begin seeking to relieve the poor among unbelievers.

If the church had set out on a mission to the poor of the city, there was a poor man that was “laid daily at the gate of the temple” (Acts 3:2), and this would have been a case for the brethren to address in their eager desire to help the poor by collective effort. But, the church did nothing toward this poor man that they had not been doing on an individual basis before. When Peter saw this man begging he had nothing to give the man, and he did not even think of the pooled collection that had been used among the saints from the start of the church.

Peter had a miraculous power to share in the name of Jesus as an individual, and he used that power to heal the man, but no thought of collectively supporting this man entered their mind. The miracle gave opportunity to preach the truth to the crowd of unbelieving Jews, but there was no mission to collectively seek out the poor of the city or country.

Again in chapter 4 all collective giving was toward the “multitude of those who believed” (Acts 4:32f) and there was none “among them” who lacked (Acts 4:34). But, what about the poor who were not “among them”? Well, that was not the mission and work of the church. Discussion of giving was only toward the needs of the “disciples” (Acts 6:1). Even then it was considered secondary, not primary to the mission of the church. While seeing that the physical needs were addressed among the “disciples”, they stressed the fact that serving such tables was such business that was secondary to “prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4). Thus, their concern for the world was not their physical needs but their spiritual needs.

When men get their lives right with God they will begin becoming personally responsible to “provide for their own” (I Timothy 5:6f). So, what the world needs more than anything else is the message of the cross, because when a man learns to be responsible before God and address his sin before God he learns to be responsible for himself and his family. When a person is taught of God and comes to the saving of his soul, he becomes responsible to work and provide for his own. Thus, the early disciples were not on a mission to address the physical needs of the poor of the world. They were on a mission to give all the world the answer to their inward needs, the needs of the heart, mind, and soul.

As individuals, we are to do good to all as we have opportunity and ability (Galatians 6:10), but we do not charge the church with everything that individuals are responsible to take care of (I Timothy 5:16). The case of the lame man and the early church illustrates this very point. If the church wanted to be known for collective work in behalf of social needs and causes, they missed a tremendous opportunity here with this poor lame man to show it.