Fred A. Shewmaker
A generally accepted rule among brethren is that ability plus opportunity equals responsibility. As given, this appears to me to be a good rule. However, there seems to be a tendency on the part of some to make this rule say something else altogether. We are so very much aware of mathematical equations that some are apparently trying to apply this equation as they would in mathematics. The reasoning seems to be that responsibility equals opportunity plus ability. But thus stated the equation is not always and in every circumstance true.
In Acts 3, 4, and 6 we see that the local church has a responsibility to provide for the physical needs of her members. In these chapters the Jerusalem church had the opportunity plus the ability to provide relief of the physical needs of some of her members. Thus she was responsible to do it.
Years later when the church in Jerusalem had poor saints among her members, did she still have a responsibility to provide for their physical needs? If our equation would work backward, we could say that Jerusalem now had no responsibility to provide for the physical needs of her poor members. WHY? Because if responsibility equals opportunity plus ability, the Jerusalem church being without ability would be absolved of responsibility. We can occupy a position or have a relationship in which responsibility is inherent. What I am saying is that the loss of ability does not necessarily absolve us of responsibility.
Why were the saints in Jerusalem in need? They did not have the ability to provide for their own physical necessities. These poor saints were responsible to provide for themselves food, shelter, clothing, and medical supplies as required. But they had lost the ability to provide these things for themselves. They were in the condition of being responsible to do a thing that they did not have the ability to do. Their need was for the ability to be supplied. A church has the responsibility to provide her members with the necessities they can not provide for themselves. The Jerusalem church had the opportunity to provide her poor members with that which they could not provide for themselves: ABILITY. The responsibility of the Jerusalem church to provide her, poor members with the ability to fulfill their own individual responsibilities was inherent in the relationship that existed between her, as a church, and her members.
The Jerusalem church did not have the ability to fulfill her responsibility to her poor members. The Jerusalem church thus became a needy church. She did not need some other church to take over her responsibility. She needed ability to be supplied her. Those churches in Macedonia, Achaia, and Galatia that could help supplied Jerusalem with ability. Jerusalem could then supply her poor members with ability, fulfilling her responsibility to them. With ability the poor saints could fulfill their individual responsibility of feeding, housing, clothing, and supplying medicine for themselves.
Some have suggested the following hypothetical situation to show that the church may and does on occasion relieve non-saints.
"There are two families in a congregation each with a fifteen year old son. The parents are members of the church and one of the boys is a member but the other is not. Each of these boys is stricken with a serious disease. The hospital bills have consumed the savings of each family and are still piling up. Now according to the saints only contention the church could only help the family where the son is a Christian. To help the other family would be helping, a non-saint."
NOT SO! The church is not responsible to relieve either of these boys. Neither boy is financially obligated in any way. Therefore neither boy is in need of financial relief. The fathers of these boys are the ones responsible for the hospital bills. If you think that I am wrong, just try to get a fifteen year old boy admitted to any hospital on his own financial responsibility. Now both these Christians who are the fathers of these boys are lacking in ability to fulfill their individual responsibilities. A church can supply her members with the necessities they can not provide for themselves. The church can supply both fathers with that which they need: ABILITY. When the ability is supplied, it is supplied to saints. The idea that non-saints are relieved in the situation described is altogether incorrect.
The benefit derived by a non-saint in such circumstances is not the result of the church helping a non-saint but due to the relationship that the non-saint has with a saint. In the case considered, the relationship would be that of son to father.
It seems that we have learned how to determine new responsibility but have failed to understand inherent responsibility or how to determine the duration of responsibility.
Consider the following:
1. We have responsibility because it is inherent in our position or relationships.
2. New responsibility is acquired when we have an opportunity plus ability.
3. Responsibility legitimately acquired is not absolved by a lack of ability.
4. Responsibility ends when the opportunity, position, or relationship ends.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XII: 11, pp.21-22