"Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but helping the poor honors him." - Proverbs 14:31 (NLT)
"For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land." - Deuteronomy 15:11 (KJV)
"He that despiseth his neighbor sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he." - Proverbs 14:21 (KJV)
"Blessed are those who are generous, because they feed the poor." - Proverbs 22:9 (NLT)
"He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again." - Proverbs 19:17 (KJV)
"Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed." - Proverbs 28:27 (NLT)
"She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy." - Proverbs 31:20 (KJV)
I’m embarrassed that I am 54 years old, have been a Born Again Christian for many years and until just recently I have had a numbing apathy or a gross insensitivity toward the plight of the poor. I was raised thinking that poor people were lazy, and if they really wanted to do better, all they had to do was to go to work. I was also raised with a belief as a tax paying U.S. citizen, that the Federal Government had lots of programs for the poor, so if they didn’t want to work, they were still taken care of. I believed it was the responsibility of the US Government to take care of the poor and through my taxes I was paying my fair share. I saw people take advantage of the welfare system, and it even made me angry that my tax dollars went toward supporting the lazy. After all, doesn’t the Bible teach that if a man won’t work that he shouldn’t eat?
Then to make matters worse, in my Christian experience, I believed we were to spiritualize many of the Scriptures in the Bible, and when God was talking about the poor, what He really meant was only the spiritually poor. Or if the Scripture speaks of the naked, it meant only the spiritually naked, or when it speaks of the hungry, it was speaking only of the spiritually hungry. In fact, the Bible speaks often and clearly about the naturally poor. In the Old Testament Law, God made provision for the poor, the strangers, the orphans and the widows.
"And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the LORD your God." - Leviticus 23:22
I was led to believe this was just a spiritual experience; that as we grew in God we would need to reap the four corners of the field in order to pick up the portion of the LORD’s Name that could only be found in the four corners. So God, at various times and seasons, would make us feel poor, or we would feel fatherless, or like a stranger, or we would feel like a widow; and all of these experiences were to help us become more Christ-like. I bought into this theology so much that it deflected away from me personally any responsibility toward helping the actual naturally poor person. From my spiritually superior vantage point, I thought it was my mission instead to only help the spiritually poor, which I viewed as a higher calling.
In the book of Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did say, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." But in Luke’s Gospel, He simply said, "Blessed be ye poor…. Blessed are ye that hunger now…."
"And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh." - Luke 6:20-21
I get the spiritualization of the Bible because the Bible is a spiritual book. But, it is wrong to spiritualize away the bread and butter of Christianity to the point of thinking that God’s Word doesn’t really mean what it says. The Bible is a spiritual book, but the Bible also needs to be taken literally. And we need to understand that if the Bible says that we need to have compassion on the poor, then we need to have compassion on the poor. Plain and simple.
Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision, wrote a tremendous book entitled, “The Hole in Our Gospel”. In this book, he states: “The idea behind The Hole in Our Gospel is quite simple. It’s basically the belief that being a Christian, or follower of Jesus Christ, requires much more than just having a personal and transforming relationship with God. It also entails a public and transforming relationship with the World. If your personal faith in Christ Jesus has no positive outward expression, then your faith, and mine, has a hole in it.”
The Scriptures substantiates this way of thinking with the Words of Jesus when He was asked what is the greatest of all the commandments.
"And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these." - Mark 12:29-30
In a nutshell, Jesus is simplifying what God expects from us to “loving God and loving people (our neighbor).” But we must understand that our neighbor is everyone. I think my spiritual life had narrowed down the definition of my neighbor to my family, friends, and brothers and sisters with whom I went to church. This kind of thinking is nothing but pure selfishness. Even the world can love those that love them. Even the heathen can do this, as the bars are full every Friday night with friends who get together because they like each other’s company. But we as Christians are to love everyone, which includes friends and foes, rich and poor, millionaires and homeless, believers and non-believers, lovely people and unlovely people.
A few months ago, as I was praying and seeking God’s face, the LORD started to give me a new burden for the lost. So much so that I bought some training videos of how to witness on the streets and lead someone to Jesus. We showed these videos on Friday nights at church. Then soon afterward, several of us went to the streets of Portland, a rough neighborhood in western Louisville, and started sharing our faith on the streets on a weekly basis. As we would give away Bibles, witness for Jesus, and talk to the residents of this poor neighborhood, God opened my eyes to a brand new way of thinking as I came to realize that every one of these people are just as valuable to God as I was to Him. I came to realize that every one of them had an eternal soul, and all of them had a portion of the LORD’s Name in them, and that Jesus died on the Cross for each of them. I also learned that many of them are not lazy, but many of them are poor because of various circumstances way beyond their ability to control. Since these recent experiences, my heart has been filled with a compassion for the poor. I realize that a reader who has not walked with me during these past eight months may be thinking, "Come on, man; this is basic Christianity 101." But in my life, it is like I’m now sailing in uncharted waters. It is as if I had just awakened, and I find myself on a different planet, because I am seeing the world through a completely different set of lenses. I used to see the poor as someone lazy who didn’t want to better themselves. Now I see a precious soul for whom Jesus died. I see someone that Jesus wants to pour His unconditional love upon, and I realize that He wants to do this through me.
My past view of the poor was tainted by my upbringing both naturally and spiritually. But when we simply look at our Bible and take God at His Word instead of allowing mankind to taint our view, then it becomes crystal clear that God wants us to view the poor with compassion. Look at what God tells us in the book of James.
"If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 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? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." - James 2:15-17
"For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." - James 2:26
Gary Gulbranson said it well when he said: “It is not what you believe that counts; it’s what you believe enough to do.”
Faith without works is dead. If we say that we love God and love people, but we continue to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the poor, do we really love people the way that God commands us to love people? I don’t think I will ever be able to drive by another poor neighborhood again without wanting to help the people. God has totally changed my perspective on this.
The question that needs to be asked is this: “What does God expect of us? What does He ask of us?” We will find the answer is much more than church attendance, more than prayer, more than tithes, more than belief, more than self-denial. God asks for everything. He requires a total commitment from those who would be His followers. He wants everything. He wants us to give Him not just our time, our money, or even our hearts. God asks us to give ourselves.
"And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." - Luke 9:23
After much study, reflection, consideration, and prayer, I am ready to obey Him, for I have counted the cost. I have considered the requirements, and I understand what God expects from me. God is sending me to the mission field of the poor. The church is the Body of Jesus Christ as we are His hands, and His feet. And the only way that Jesus can or will go into the rough neighborhoods and touch, feed, clothe, heal the poor and needy will be through the lives of His Church. We need to get outside of the four walls of the church building and reach out to the poor. Pastor Morgan Chilulu said, “A church that lives within its four walls is really no church at all.”
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord." - Luke 4:18-19
The ministry of Jesus was all about reaching out to the poor and ministering to their needs. In fact, if Jesus had a mission statement written in the Bible it would be Luke 4:18-19.
This is what Jesus did while He was on this earth. And it wasn’t just a one-time occurrence, but He did it the entire three and one-half years of His ministry. Read the four Gospels, and you will see Jesus feeding the hungry, preaching to the poor, healing the sick, touching lepers, healing the broken hearted, and setting the captive free.
"Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached." - Luke 7:22
Jesus had compassion on the poor and the needy. That was His ministry. He was constantly full of compassion, tender mercies and gracious deeds. He wasn’t governed by need. Instead, He was governed by the Father's will. But, the Father's will required Him to spend a huge amount of His time reaching out to the poor.
"And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest." - Matthew 9:35-38
I’m not going to try to spiritualize this Scripture away anymore. Let’s look at what it takes to be a true follower of Jesus again.
"And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." - Luke 9:23
That is a call for a total commitment, even if it means interfering with my comfortable life. It means changing what I do each day from what I want to do into what Jesus wants me to do.
The words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 25 should shake us to the core of our being, unless of course, we spiritualize the true meaning away in order to try to deflect the arrows of truth from hitting the bull’s-eye of our hearts.
"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: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 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. 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? 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. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal." - Matthew 25:41-46
Saint Francis of Assisi understood the power of faith put into action to change the human heart, for it was he who said, “Preach the gospel always and when necessary use words.”
"My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth." - I John 3:18
It is so easy to study our Bibles and to teach the grace and love of God, but God doesn’t want just our words. Instead, He wants our action. Faith without works is dead. Now I am not saying to try to find your redemption in works, for no man is justified by the works of the law. But what I am saying is that if you are absolutely in love with Jesus and not merely an enthusiastic admirer of Jesus, if you are a true follower of Jesus, then have the courage to ask Him each day what He wants you to do. And I’ll guarantee you that He will say, "I want you to love all people.
If we are disciples or true followers of Jesus Christ, then we should do as He did while He was walking and working here on this earth.
"He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked." - I John 2:6
I realize that we cannot possibly reach every one person in need, but that is OK because Jesus is not asking us to do so. He is asking only for our obedience. He is asking for us to turn our wills over to Him and let Him govern our lives. We should begin with loving whoever He puts in our pathway. Then we should advance by praying and asking Him to send us to where He wants us to go and to reach out to whom He wants us to touch.
I believe that God is calling me personally to reach out to the poor in a way that I never imagined. He is putting a love in my heart for the poor and needy that I once thought only a liberal democrat could possibly possess. I now realize that this has nothing to do with politics or our broken, inefficient welfare system. I realize that Jesus is not a democrat or a republican. But Jesus loves everyone. I now realize that Jesus values the life of a poor person, a drug addict, an alcoholic, a prostitute, a gang member, a thief, or a homeless person as much as He values my life, or the life of a president, or the life of a billionaire. Jesus died for everyone, and His grace runs all the way down to the gutter.
Yes, people will laugh and scorn. Yes, people will say that we are preaching a social gospel. People will minimize our efforts, thinking that we have succumbed to a lower calling, while they stay within the four walls of their religion and look down on us with disdain. That’s OK, for I will be outside in the cold dark world, working hard and believing God to transform a rough neighborhood, or even an entire city for the Glory of God. This will happen by touching lives one by one with the love and grace of Jesus Christ. People will predict that we will fail in our efforts, but I will not be deterred by the scorn of the religious world.