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.
Ezekiel 16:49, Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.
2 Timothy 4:1-4, I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; 2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
Isaiah 58:1, 6-7, Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. … 6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? 7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
In his book, The Hole in Our Gospel: What does God expect of Us? The Answer that Changed my Life and Might Just Change the World, Richard Stearns shares a testimony of how God broke his heart for the poor, the needy, and the marginalized, or “the least of these,” while on a survey trip of sorts in Africa:
Yet this was to be the moment that would ever after define me. Rakai was what God wanted me to see. My sadness that day was replaced by repentance. Despite what the Bible had told me so clearly, I had turned a blind eye to the poor. Now my heart was filled with anger, first at myself, and then toward the world. Why wasn’t Richard’s story being told? The media overflowed with celebrity dramas, stock market updates, and Bill Clinton’s impending impeachment hearings. But where were the headlines and magazine covers about Africa? Twelve million orphans, and no one noticed? But what sickened me most was this question: where was the Church? Indeed, where were the followers of Jesus Christ in the midst of perhaps the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time? Surely the Church should have been caring for these orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27). Shouldn’t the pulpits across America have flamed with exhortations to rush to the front lines of compassion? Shouldn’t they be flaming today? Shouldn’t churches be reaching out to care for children in such desperate need? How could the great tragedy of these orphans get drowned out by choruses of praise music in hundreds of thousands of churches across our country? Sitting in a hut in Rakai, I remember thinking, How have we missed it so tragically, when even rock stars and Hollywood actors seem to understand?
It seems that many of us have become, at best, indifferent to loving and meeting the needs of the poor, the needy, and the marginalized of our day. And, the sad thing is, God’s word, which we claim to be our Final Authority for faith and practice, has a lot to say about the topic of loving and caring for the poor, the needy, and the marginalized.
Christ’s command, coupled with the depth of poverty in the world, and the reality of wealth in our lives, has huge implications for the way we live. For when our eyes have been opened to conditions in the world around us, our ears must be open to God’s Word:
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.
To be clear, this is a specific reference to followers of Christ caring for other Christians in need. However, the command of Christ in Luke 10 to love our neighbors as ourselves surely includes care not just for the believing poor but also for the unbelieving poor. Such neighborly love is the natural overflow of men and women who know God. If the love of God is in our hearts, then it is not possible for us to ignore the poor in the world. The gospel compels Christians in a wealthy culture to action—selfless, sacrificial, costly, countercultural action—on behalf of the poor.
As we have made clear in previous posts, this is no small matter in the eyes of the God we claim to serve. This truth is presented clearly, both in the Old and New Testament – both to God’s Old Testament people, as well as God’s New Testament people. It is very clear that God EXPECTED His people to be a generous people, especially when it came to meeting the needs of the poor, the needy, and the marginalized (“the least of these”) peoples of the world. In fact, as one author put it, “You can always identify the righteous by their attitude and activity toward the least of these. Always!”
Yet, here’s my question and the thought for today: “Why are our pulpits so silent?”
In the past 12 months, how many sermons have we preached on the topic of helping and caring for the poor? How many messages have we heard on the topic?
In far too many ways, our silence is deafening and at the same time, our silence speaks volumes!
It seems most of us who are preaching have a lot to say about a lot of issues. Some of them very important and timely issues, and some of them not nearly as important, and some are even frivolous. Yet, when it comes to this topic, in which the Bible has much to say, we have become silent. In fact, very silent!
I’m just thinking out loud. And asking you to do the same!
Just Reflecting on the Silence!