Monday, September 13, 2010

The Poor

A survey from the Barna group some time ago rated the importance of different things a church would be involved with.  While worship and learning about their own faith were tops on the list of things important to the church, there were some troubling results.  54% of those surveyed said that helping the poor is very important, but only 44% said that sharing their faith was very important.  God has certainly called us to help the poor (so 54% is way too low), but being that most in the church feel that is more important than sharing the Gospel there is another issue that needs to be addressed as well.  What does the Bible say about the poor?  And is it more important to help the poor rather than to share the Gospel?

The Bible is clear that we are to help the poor.  First, it is part of our good works as Christians to help the poor. 
"Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 'for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 'I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 'When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 'Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.' Matthew 25:34-40 NKJV
The Bible is clear here that helping the poor is an integral part of our faith.  We are to give a drink to those who are thirsty, we are to give food to those who are hungry, and we are to clothe those in need of clothes. Whatever we have in life, we have by the grace of God and it is for us to share that provision, not hoard it.  In fact, our ministry to the poor is well-pleasing to God.
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, "Cornelius!" And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, "What is it, lord?" So he said to him, "Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.  Acts 10:1-4 NKJV
Giving to the poor was also established in the early church.  When Paul was sent out to the Gentiles by the leaders of the early church, they game him one special instruction in their ministry of the Gospel:
They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.  Galatians 2:10 NKJV
Helping the poor is rewarded by God:
Then He also said to him who invited Him, "When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid."But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just."  Luke 14:12-14 NKJV
We are to treat the poor with the same respect we treat everyone else:
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  James 2:1-9 NKJV
And, finally, we are told to help the poor regardless of how we feel about them or how they treat us:
Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:20-21 NKJV
So we see now that helping the poor is an integral part of our faith.  We are not to hold back our generosity as we have that faith and trust in God that He will provide our needs.  We are also to treat the poor with no less respect and dignity then we treat anyone else  We are also to help the poor regardless of our personal feelings about them or how they treat us.  So we see that the 55% of Christians who rate helping the poor as very important is a bad number. It should be 100%.  What is more troubling, though, is the fact that only 44% felt that sharing your faith is important.  It exposes a sad trend in Christianity that we can separate our faith from what we do and who we are to the world.  It also shows a lack of real faith in God because if truly believe the good news of the Gospel and truly know that others will go to Hell without accepting God's free gift of grace, how can we possibly hold back from sharing it.  That is a whole message unto itself, though, I want to speak of helping the poor in relation to sharing the Gospel.  Many churches get into agreements with government organizations or other charities where the poor are helped, but preaching is not allowed.  First of all, the Bible is clear that we are not even to get into agreements with nonbelievers, but even more the Gospel needs to be a part of all that we do, especially in ministry. 
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.  1 Corinthians 13:3 NKJV
Ministering to the poor is nothing if we do not have love, and that love spoken of here is the love of Jesus.  Our ministry is meaningless without the Gospel.  The poor may be fed, but they are still bound for Hell if they do not know Jesus.  We are expected to help the poor, but we are commanded to preach the Gospel.  It is the Great Commission.  It is the reason for His church on earth.  We are not just some social program meant to help those in need.  We are to fill those temporal needs as a means to showing them their eternal needs.  As Christians, we have an individual personal responsibility to share out faith by words and actions. Part of that ministry is our ministry to the poor.  They hold a special place in the heart of God as we saw by His Word.  God loves them and so should we and serve them according to our calling.  We need to not only serve them food and drink to nourish their bodies, but share the Bread of Life and Living Water to save their souls.   One satisfies the body for a short time, the other saves their soul for all eternity.
And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.  John 6:35 NKJV

1 comment:

  1. I've been thinking about social justice lately, and this post is good food for thought.

    As Christians we are called to assist the poor, but if in doing so we don't share the Gospel with them then we do them a grave disservice. We might meet a temporal, physical need (for food, shelter or clothing), but we neglect their eternal, spiritual need for a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. If that is all we are going to do, then why bother? The government or the United Way do as much.