Matthew 25:37-40 “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.”
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.
Over our last few 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!”
And yet, it seems that even Bible-believing Christians often neglect “the least of these,” especially when it comes to the poor, the needy, orphans, widows, the marginalized [i.e. immigrants, refugees, racial minorities, prisoners, etc.]. In fact, it often appears that so-called conservative Christians are the most calloused when it comes to “the least of these.” For many of us, if we do anything at all, we simply pass the responsibility off to the government, and then, when the government does do something about it, we complain that the government is using our tax money unwisely! 🙂
When you read the Book of James, it doesn’t take long to see a lot of similarities to the Christians that James was writing to and the vast majority of us today, especially, when we read passages such as these:
James 2:1-5, My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. 2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; 3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: 4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? 5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?
James 2:14-20, What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. 19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
As I consider what the scripture teaches, what we have seen throughout church history, and what we are witnessing today in a wholesale fashion, in my opinion, our prosperity, prestige, and power have, like leaven, slowly and subtly been destroying us, especially when it comes to having compassion for “the least of these.” As one man wrote:
“I used to think when I was a child, that Christ might have been exaggerating when he warned about the dangers of wealth. Today I know better. I know how very hard it is to be rich and still keep the milk of human kindness. Money has a dangerous way of putting scales on one’s eyes, a dangerous way of freezing people’s hands, eyes, lips, and hearts.”
If you look at the church today, it appears we are far more concerned about political power, our comfort and convenience, and making a name for ourselves than we are to becoming servants, to serve “the least of these.” As one author noted:
The church has forgotten the incisive words of Jesus in the parable of the sheep and the goats: that Jesus is most likely to be found among the poor, the hungry, the unclothed, and the imprisoned — not necessarily in the places of worldly power: Congressional offices, courtrooms, or the hallowed halls of the White House.
The same author wrote these words:
Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he told us to serve the least. He knew that if we would serve them, we would become agents of change. Despair would change to hope. The reputation of his bride would change. And along the way, our hearts and minds would change. We need that in the church today!
And another author wrote:
Do we take Jesus seriously today? When the least of these are hoping to pick up the crumbs that fall from the Church’s table, I wonder what kind of gospel we are preaching. Let me say this as clearly as I can: The gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be separated from caring for the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the sick, the prisoner. … Preaching the good news of eternal life while ignoring present pain is an emaciated and impoverished gospel. True righteousness means that we feed, we heal, we touch. It’s the kind of faith that cannot be practiced in isolation. To truly love the orphan, the child prostitute, the widow, and the prisoner requires relationships, and perhaps this relationship aspect is what we have lost as a Church. … Truth be known, my experience is that those who have met the child of the streets face-to-face, those who have hugged the orphan in the slum, those who have looked into hungry eyes, those who have held the child of the prostitute become far more generous. I know it impacted me that way; tithing simply wasn’t enough anymore. But true Christian charity—in the 1 Corinthians 13 usage—begins not with our pocketbooks, but with our hearts. Bottom line: You cannot be intimate with God and distant from those he loves. … As C. S. Lewis says, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought the most of the next. . . . It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” This is the concept: Out of intimacy with God our hearts are filled to the point of overflowing, and that gush of God’s love overwhelms every need we encounter. We become the hands and feet to do what Christ did when he walked this earth. We heal, we fill, we are the salve for a hurting world.
Let’s consider two very important numbers when it comes to “the least of these” that one author shared:
The first number is 2.5 percent. That’s the percentage of income that self-identified American evangelicals give to Christian causes—their churches, mission organizations, Christian colleges. Not 15 percent, not even the biblically mandated 10 percent tithe. Just 2.5 percent. My experience tells me that there are a lot of Christians out there for whom the tithe is just a starting point; their gifts put them well above the 10 percent threshold. Factor them in, and this means, overwhelmingly, we as believers are giving back to God in a 0- to 2-percent range. Unfortunately, that 2.5 percent is not the really devastating number. This is: 97 percent of that tiny 2.5 percent we give goes primarily to benefit other Christians. This basically means that of every $100 of income earned by American evangelicals, about five cents touches those who have not heard that Jesus loves them. A nickel.
And, then he adds these sobering words:
Do you know that the average American church spends around $330,000 for every conversion? And that is defining conversion very loosely, including the children of church families who become church members. Three hundred and thirty thousand dollars! What could a church in Mozambique do for its AIDS-stricken community with that same $330,000? Or how many sex-trafficked girls in Thailand could be given the hope of a future where they do not sell their bodies? Or how many children in a Mexican village could learn to read, master a vocation, and also learn that Christ died for them with what it takes to secure one conversion in the U.S.? Does God value American souls so much more?
So, the issue isn’t that we don’t have the resources to care for the poor, the needy, the helpless, the widow, the orphans, the immigrants, and the refugees, along with funneling much more money to reach out to the over 7,000 Unreached People Groups around the world. No sir! That’s not the issue. We have the money and the manpower to make a huge impact “around the corner” and “around the world” among the least of these.”
Here’s the issue: IN MOST CASES, WE ARE SPENDING IT ON OURSELVES!
In 1890 Frederic Huntington wrote, “It is not scientific doubt, not atheism, not pantheism, not agnosticism that in our day and in this land is likely to quench the light of the gospel. It is proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity.”
“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians . . . pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.”
Just Reflecting on The Least of These!