He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah 6:8 KJV
I have been a born-again Christian for many years, but only in the past couple years have I begun to have a burden for the poor and vulnerable of our society. In fact, God told me to buy a building in Portland, a rough neighborhood on the west side of Louisville, KY, that one day would be used to minister to the disadvantaged, even before He gave me a burden for the poor and vulnerable. God was preparing the way for a new life that He would ask me to live, even before I was aware of it. God had to awaken this love for the vulnerable in my heart and once He did, then He gave me a burden and love for them that is so supernatural I have a difficult time articulating or explaining it to others.
There were two major outlooks that influenced my thinking and caused my apathy for the poor and vulnerable. First was an ignorance of God’s Word. The devil had deceived me into misinterpreting the Holy Scriptures. I was guilty of taking things figuratively that were meant to be taken literally. The second was an ultra-conservative political view that was formed as I continually paid taxes for social programs that did not work nor solve the social injustices of our society, but worsened them.
Our present America culture presents some very sharp political differences as to the role government should play in this arena of social justice. The root of the political divide is a disagreement over the cause of poverty in America. Generally speaking, conservatives believe the cause of poverty is a moral failure, a breakdown of the family, laziness, no discipline, and a lack of self-control. Many of them are angry and bitter over high taxes for the rich and our failed welfare system that demotivates people to find good jobs and enables the lazy. They believe that if a man doesn’t work, he should not eat.
Political liberals, on the other hand, are in support of social programs and want social justice. However, they want to tax the rich to give to the poor. They think the cause of poverty is racial prejudice, economic deprivation, and social injustices. Many of them teach and believe a social gospel. These two opposite views have caused America to be divided worse today than any time in our history since the Civil War.
As a conservative Republican, I have held a view for most of my life that poverty was caused by the government giving money to lazy people who don’t want to work. I saw this as a great injustice that unfairly stole from the rich to give to the poor. I detested hearing of someone who refused to work in fear of losing their government benefits. I even hated the story of Robin Hood, who stole from the rich to give to the poor.
Over the past few years, as my relationship with Jesus has grown substantially, I have come to view this matter completely differently than before. I understand that America is deeply divided, and it will probably get worse going forward. I also realize that it is not the place of government to take care of the poor. Instead, it is the role of the church. I believe the churches' failure in this area has left a vacuum that society demanded be filled by the government. Furthermore, as with most government programs, there has been a lack of wisdom from our lawmakers who produced programs in a system that is flawed and will never work the way it was intended to work. If every church in America would take care of the poor and vulnerable, then there would be no need for the US government's welfare system. Yet, that is not going to happen in our lifetime, so we should put aside our modern political & cultural views on social justice, and look at our Bibles to see what God’s Word says about our responsibility toward the disadvantaged, the poor, and the vulnerable.
Nicholas Wolterstorff coined the phrase, the quartet of the vulnerable in his book Justice, describing four groups of people in the Old Testament that were the weakest and most vulnerable in society. God gave Israel many laws and much instruction concerning how He wanted them to care for these four groups of weak and vulnerable people.
And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart. Zechariah 7:10 KJV
When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. It is the same with your grape crop - do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:9-10 NLT
When you are harvesting your crops and forget to bring in a bundle of grain from your field, don’t go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all you do. When you beat the olives from your olive trees, don’t go over the boughs twice. Leave the remaining olives for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. When you gather the grapes in your vineyard, don’t glean the vines after they are picked. Leave the remaining grapes for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt. That is why I am giving you this command. Deuteronomy 24:19-22 NLT
Israel even had a law, which required they bring a special tithe every third year to the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the Levities.
Every third year you must offer a special tithe of your crops. In this year of the special tithe you must give your tithes to the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows, so that they will have enough to eat in your towns. Then you must declare in the presence of the Lord your God, ‘I have taken the sacred gift from my house and have given it to the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows, just as you commanded me. I have not violated or forgotten any of your commands. Deuteronomy 26:12-13 NLT
God identifies with the vulnerable and cares for them greatly. He calls Himself a Father to the fatherless and a defender of widows. A careful study of the Scriptures would suggest that if anyone thinks they have a good relationship with God but have no concern for or any relationship with the vulnerable, their relationship to God should be called into question.
Father to the fatherless, defender of widows - this is God, whose dwelling is holy. Psalm 68:5 NLT
He gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry. The Lord frees the prisoners. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are weighed down. The Lord loves the godly. The Lord protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows, but he frustrates the plans of the wicked. Psalm 146:7-9 NLT
For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:17-19 NLT
Cursed is anyone who denies justice to foreigners, orphans, or widows.’ And all the people will reply, ‘Amen.’ Deuteronomy 27:19 NLT
You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. “You must not exploit a widow or an orphan. If you exploit them in any way and they cry out to me, then I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will blaze against you, and I will kill you with the sword... Exodus 22:21-24 NLT
When we help the poor, we actually honor God. On the flip side, when we oppress the poor, we insult God. When we give to the poor, we are giving to God.
Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but helping the poor honors him. Proverbs 14:31 NLT
If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord - and he will repay you! Proverbs 19:17 NLT
In the book of Micah, there is a verse of Scripture that lays out very plainly what the LORD requires of His people.
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah 6:8 KJV
The word justly here in Hebrew is Mishpat which means: to treat people equitably, a verdict, justly, justice, including rights or privileges, judgment, right. The word mercy here in Hebrew is Cheçed which means: kindness, goodness, loving-kindness, favor, merciful, good deed, kindly, mercy, pity, (Grace). Tim Keller writes that Mishpat is the action and Checed is the attitude. To do justly and to love mercy means to reach out to the vulnerable of society with God’s loving-kindness, mercy, and grace, and give them generous justice.
When one looks in the Bible to see what God says about social justice, there are a few things that are apparent. The first concept to note is that God is talking about social and racial equity. We see in the Mosaic Law that Israel had to use the same standards in their judgments to the strangers or foreigners as was applied to the Jews.
This same standard applies both to native-born Israelites and to the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 24:22 NLT
Secondly, the Bible tells us not only to give to and care for the vulnerable but also to defend them or to be an advocate for them. This goes way beyond caring for them; we should speak up in our community on their behalf.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice. Proverbs 31:8,9 NLT
Many verses of Scripture in the Bible teach us to give generously to the disadvantaged, to feed the hungry, to share our wealth, and to care for the oppressed and vulnerable.
In the book of Isaiah, God was rebuking Israel for their backsliding condition and instructed them at the end of the rebuke to get rid of their sins, to clean up their act. He then described what it would look like if they repented and got back in a right relationship with God. They would seek justice, help the oppressed, defend the cause of orphans, and fight for the rights of widows.
When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting—they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them! When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. Isaiah 1:12-17 NLT
In Isaiah 58, God was rebuking Israel again for their impure motives when they were fasting. If you read the entire chapter, you will see that even though they publically were fasting, their hearts were far from God. As God rebuked them, He again told them that if their hearts were right, they would take care of the vulnerable.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Isaiah 58:6,7 NIV
In the New Testament, when Jesus began His ministry, He read from the book of Isaiah, and in doing so established His mission while on this earth which began by preaching the gospel to the poor and ministering to the disadvantaged.
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 brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. Luke 4:18 KJV
Jesus gives us a picture of the judgment seat in Matthew 25 where He uses a metaphor of sheep and goats that He will separate on judgment day. In this scripture, He delineates the reasons for one group going into the Kingdom of God, and the other into an eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. This passage of Scripture should get every believer's attention and cause us to examine our lives in this area of social justice.
But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46 NLT
All believers need to read these verses and become keenly aware that faith without works is dead. We are justified by the grace of God, through faith unto good works. If we say that we believe but have no love for our brothers or sisters who are in need, vulnerable, or disadvantaged, then we need to take an honest look at our relationship with God. Jesus said clearly that when we reach out to help feed the hungry, clothe the naked or shelter the homeless, then we are actually doing it unto Jesus Himself. This is what I keep in my mind when I am reaching out to the vulnerable. The outcasts of society are in many instances a hard group to love. They may have addictions, be mentally unstable, or emotionally wounded to the point that they have little to no social skills. So, I never minister to them expecting anything in return. Never do I look for gratitude or an expression of thanks from them. I always love them and care for them with the mindset that I am serving and ministering to Jesus Himself when I serve and minister to the vulnerable.
In my opinion, the Apostle James sums this issue up better than anywhere in the Bible when he teaches us that faith without works is dead.
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well,” but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” James 2:14-18 NLT
As saved, justified believers, we need to have a heart toward the poor, the vulnerable, and the disadvantaged. In fact, we should be willing to disadvantage ourselves in order to advantage the disadvantaged. It should not be something that we are shamed into doing. Rather, helping others should come as natural to the believer as breathing does to a human. We should not help others out of obligation, but instead out of gratitude. When we live our lives from the new identity that God gives us when He put us in Christ, loving others comes naturally. It takes little human effort, as we simply need to show up and allow God’s love to flow out of our hearts to others.
The second outlook I faced as a Christian, who had little or no compassion for the vulnerable, is that I was taught to spiritualize this issue away. In fact, I was deceived into believing that certain scriptures were figurative instead of literal when conversely, God meant them to be taken literally. This is one of the devil's biggest tricks. If he can get us to take the Bible figuratively when God means it to be literal, and in other places take it literal when God means it to be taken figurative, then he can cause us to form a deceptive ideology as we believe a lie instead of the truth. The enemy can build spiritual strongholds in our minds that resist the truth without us even being aware of it. For example, when Jesus says “I am the door,” He is not saying a literal door made of wood with hinges and a knob, but rather He is saying figuratively that we must go through Him (the door) to get to the Father. But in Matthew 25, when God says to feed the hungry, He literally means to feed the hungry.
True, there are always different streams of truth flowing from different levels of revelation that can be applied to many passages of Scripture in the Bible. Using the same passage in Matthew 25, for example, we are, of course, to spiritually feed the hungry the bread of life and give the thirsty the waters of life. And yes, we are to help clothe people spiritually. Although the quartet of the vulnerable (the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the stranger) were literal groups for whom God wanted Israel to take care, there is a spiritual application as well when we feel poor in spirit, like a spiritual stranger or orphan in our relationship with God. Yet, just because we look at a spiritual application of this, we are not to ignore the natural or literal application. Let’s take a passage from the book of Revelation for another example.
And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb. Revelation 14:1-4 KJV
This entire passage is figurative, but some make the mistake of thinking that the 144,000 redeemed people are a literal number of people. Let’s take a look at every component of this text and see what is figurative.
The Lamb: Is a figurative picture of Jesus Christ.
Mount Sion: This is obviously spiritual Mt. Zion and not literal Mt. Zion.
Father's Name written in foreheads: A figurative analogy of God’s Name or Nature coming out of our heads or minds.
Voice: many waters, great thunder, and Harpers: Figurative of what the voice sounded like.
Four Beasts and Elders: Obviously this is figurative as the four beasts and twenty-four elders are spoken of in other places in Revelation. These are different groups of people.
Not Defiled with Women: Figurative.
Follow the Lamb: Figurative of people living their lives walking in the way of God, following Jesus Christ.
First Fruits: Obviously not talking about a literal crop of corn or wheat, but a spiritual or figurative first fruit.
It’s quite clear that this entire passage is a figurative analogy. Therefore, it would be a great mistake to take 144,000 as a literal number. I know the Jehovah Witnesses think that only 144,000 people will go to heaven, and the rest of the believers will live on the new earth. They are wrong as well as other groups that believe this is a literal number. In the context of a figurative analogy, I would suggest that they learn a few rules of hermeneutics before assuming what God is saying in this passage.
The Bible is clear that if we have a good relationship with God, then we will have a relationship with the vulnerable. If you are like I was and have not been taught this, then ignorance is simply preventing you from doing what God wants you to do. Let’s forget what we have been taught, lay aside our modern political and cultural ideologies and go to our Bibles to see what God says about social justice.
I believe that every believer should be loving and caring for someone who is weak, poor, or vulnerable. We live in the midst of a great abundance of wealth and prosperity in America, and we all need to learn to give generously. The churches of America are responsible for social justice, not the government. The LORD identifies with the poor and vulnerable. Jesus was born in a manger, raised by poor parents, and throughout His entire ministry, He was homeless. He left the riches of glory to come to this earth in poverty so that through His poverty we might be made rich.
Ask God to awaken His love in your heart and then ask Him to lead you to the person or persons He wants you to give to and care for. I can promise you one thing; you will be the one who is ultimately blessed the most. For it is more blessed to give than to receive.