Matthew 25:33-46, And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Psalm 82:3-4, Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
James 1:27, Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
1 John 3:16-18, Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? 18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
Over our last six posts, we have looked at this matter of God’s people being concerned about and for“the least of these.” As we have mentioned repeatedly, even with the most casual reading of the Bible, especially the New Testament, one will soon come to the conclusion and conviction that, while God loves everyone, there is a special place in the heart of God for the poor and the needy, the helpless, and the marginalized.
I refer to these different groups of people as “the least of these” because this is how Jesus referred to them in Matthew 25!
Again, as I have mentioned previously, despite all of the differing opinions concerning the passage above, I have often said, “It doesn’t matter how we slice and dice Matthew 25:31-46, there just is no way of getting around the fact that our Master, the Lord Jesus, is concerned about the poor, the sick, the needy, the hurting, and the marginalized of a society, and He expects His people to be concerned for them also!”
In today’s post, I would like to give a few practical things we can do as individuals and/or as churches to get more involved with obeying the word of God’s many commands to care for the poor, the needy, and the marginalized, or “the least of these.” But first let’s take a few moments and talk about the great evangelist John Wesley.
John Wesley preached a lot about money. And with probably the highest earned income in England, he had the opportunities to put his ideas into practice. What did he say about money? And what did he do with his own?
As a child, John Wesley knew grinding poverty. His father, Samuel Wesley, was the Anglican priest in one of England’s lowest-paying parishes. He had nine children to support and was rarely out of debt. Once John saw his father being marched off to debtors’ prison. So when John followed his father into the ministry, he had no illusions about the financial rewards.
While at Oxford University, Wesley had a life-changing experience, an incident that changed his perspective on money. He had just finished paying for some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a cold winter day, and he noticed that she had nothing to protect her except a thin linen gown. He reached into his pocket to give her some money to buy a coat but found he had too little left. Immediately, the thought struck him that the Lord was not pleased with the way he had spent his money. He asked himself, “Will thy Master say, ‘Well done, good and faithful steward?’ Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money which might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?”
Perhaps as a result of this incident, in 1731, Wesley began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor. He records that one year his income was 30 pounds and his living expenses 28 pounds, so he had 2 pounds to give away. The next year his income doubled, but he still managed to live on 28 pounds, so he had 32 pounds to give to the poor. In the third year, his income jumped to 90 pounds. Instead of letting his expenses rise with his income, he kept them to 28 pounds and gave away 62 pounds. In the fourth year, he received 120 pounds. As before, his expenses were 28 pounds, so his giving rose to 92 pounds.
Wesley felt that the Christian should not merely tithe but give away all extra income once the family and creditors were taken care of. He believed that with increasing income, what should rise is not the Christian’s standard of living but the standard of giving.
This practice, begun at Oxford, continued throughout his life. Even when his income rose into the thousands of pounds sterling, he lived simply and he quickly gave away his surplus money. One year his income was a little over 1400 pounds. He lived on 30 pounds and gave away nearly 1400 pounds. Because he had no family to care for, he had no need for savings. He was afraid of laying up treasures on earth, so the money went out in charity as quickly as it came in. He reports that he never had 100 pounds at any one time.
Wesley limited his expenditures by not purchasing the kinds of things thought essential for a man in his station of life. In 1776, the English tax commissioners inspected his return and wrote him the following: “[We] cannot doubt but you have plate for which you have hitherto neglected to make an entry.” They were saying a man of his prominence certainly must have some silver plate in his house and were accusing him of failing to pay excise tax on it. Wesley wrote back: “I have two silver spoons at London and two at Bristol. This all the plate I have at present, and I shall not buy any more while so many round me want bread.”
Another way Wesley limited expenses was by identifying with the needy. He had preached that Christians should consider themselves members of the poor, whom God had given them money to aid. So he lived and ate with the poor. Under Wesley’s leadership, the London Methodists had established two homes for widows in the city. They were supported by offerings taken at the band meetings and the Lord’s Supper. In 1748, nine widows, one blind woman, and two children lived there. With them lived John Wesley and any other Methodist preacher who happened to be in town. Wesley rejoiced to eat the same food at the same table, looking forward to the heavenly banquet all Christians will share.
For almost four years, Wesley’s diet consisted mainly of potatoes, partly to improve his health, but also to save money. He said: “What I save from my own meat will feed another that else would have none.”
In 1744, Wesley had written, “[When I die] if I leave behind me ten pounds … you and all mankind [may] bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber.” When he died in 1791, the only money mentioned in his will was the miscellaneous coins to be found in his pockets and dresser drawers.
John Wesley, accordingly, offered four questions to help his hearers decide how to spend the money. They were:
- In spending this money, am I acting like I owned it, or am I acting like the Lord’s trustee?
- What Scripture requires me to spend this money in this way?
- Can I offer up this purchase as a sacrifice to the Lord?
- Will God reward me for this expenditure at the resurrection of the just?
Needless to say, God did a special work in Wesley’s heart and he took this matter of caring for the poor, the needy, and the marginalized very seriously, and so should we!
In addition to Wesley’s four questions above, let me offer a few practical considerations that might free us up to do a little bit more for Christ and the cause of Christ among “the least of these.”
A FEW PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS:
- Pastor and pastoral staff do a thorough study on “the least of these.” Prayerfully study to see what the Bible has to say about our responsibility towards to poor, the needy, and the marginalized.
- After the pastoral staff does this study, take a few days for prayer and fasting, seeking God’s guidance concerning your church and “the least of these.”
- Do a Midweek Bible Study or a series of Sunday night messages on “the least of these.”
- Start challenging the pastoral staff, then the rest of the staff, and finally, the church family to set aside a certain percentage of their income for “the least of these.”
- Look over the church budget and see where cuts could and possibly should be made to have church funds available for “the least of these.”
- Set up a “least of these” budget item in the church account.
- Before building or adding on, have a serious time of prayer and fasting and ask God if it’s really necessary, at the moment, in light of “the least of these.”
Just Reflecting on the Least of These!