The mandate to care for the needy and the oppressed is thread woven throughout the entire fabric of scripture. Deuteronomy 15:7-11 informed the recently emancipated Israelites that they were responsible to care for the poor and needy. Many years later the prophets of the Old Testament repeatedly rebuked the people for putting on a religious show all the while social injustice was allowed to go unchecked. The prophets told the people that providing justice for the oppressed was as important as their “religious” practices. In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus taught his followers that their love and care for him would be demonstrated by their love and care for others. In the epistle of James we are taught that faith without works is dead.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
In other words, words alone are not enough. I was once told that we don’t need to feed homeless people, we just need to teach them “how to believe.” This kind of thinking flies in the face of James 2 and countless other scriptures that command us to provide for those in need. The gospel needs to be demonstrated; it needs to be lived out. To put it as simply as I know how, if Jesus is Lord then we must do what he commands and we have been commanded to care about social issues. If all we do is preach the Word then we are neglecting half of our job and we are deceiving ourselves.
On the other hand, however, if we think that we can really make any real and lasting social progress without preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ then we are just as deceived. When someone is a hungry they need to be fed. A free meal, however, will only fill an empty stomach for a few hours, but it will never forgive a person’s sins. An emergency shelter can provide temporary protection from the elements, but it will never provide the everlasting hope of eternal life. Awareness campaigns for human trafficking may help rescue a few women and children, but they will never eliminate the problem so long as there are predators willing to exploit them for profit and perverts hoping to purchase them for pleasure. A new well in an African village may provide safe drinking water but it will never quench the thirst for righteousness. On their own, these “solutions” only temporarily treat symptoms but they will never address they root cause, a person’s heart. The good news of Jesus Christ is the only true and lasting remedy for the ills of the world. We will make the greatest, longest lasting impact for the kingdom of God when the actions we take communicate the same message as the words we speak, when the gospel of Jesus Christ is served along with a plate of food or provided alongside a place to sleep or preached in tandem with calls for justice.
Very well written Thomas, as you know in our zeal for spiritual knowledge we can be amiss in its main heart and intent of application, Hebrews 10:24 says we are to spur or motivate one another not to more knowledge, but toward love and good deeds. Ephesians says we were created in Christ Jesus to do GOOD WORKS, (yes it needs to be yelled lol) Jesus said that the light should shine in such a way that men see our good deeds (Matt 5:16) Paul said we are to be “rich in good deeds” which includes being “generous and willing to share” (1Tim 6:18) Some of the dominant themes of scripture have to do with God’s heart for the poor, the weak, the defenseless, and the less fortunate members of society. He even made it part of the Law that debts were to be forgiven on a regular basis and instructing people to harvest their crops in such a way that the disadvantaged members of society could gather the “gleanings” (Lev. 19:9; 23:22) One of the most fundamental things Jesus confronted the religious leaders about was that their teachings were more concerned for rules and standards of outward behavior than about good deeds, that included justice and mercy, which they neglected (Matt. 9:13; 12:7) Like the Pharisees, it is easy to ignore the needs of others, thinking that somehow they are needy because they have rejected God or worse yet that they deserve it . We might even be tempted to run verses through our head like “the poor you will always have with you” but we would be wrong, the very fact they are poor is a need crying out! Matt. 25:34, 40 says, “Come you who are blessed; take your inheritance….I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Sometimes it is not another class we need but to get out and help, the poor, the widows, the orphans etc. this tells people much more about what we believe than anything we could ever say. People may not always agree with our knowledge but they will always agree with our good deeds. Titus 2:14 (ESV) “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity.” 2:14 says, we are to be “zealous for good works” there many references to doing “good works” that God sets clearly in His Word, 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every GOOD WORK.” The temptation is to think this means anything other than what it says, and we dare not compare ourselves with those who are “worse off” 2 Corinthians 10:12 sets us straight on that. We are not to let knowledge “puff us up” so that we do nothing to help others; thankfully we have been equipped for every good work. The trap we fall into is complacency because we slip into a member’s only club thinking that lulls us to sleep concerning the spiritual decay and great need around us. Jesus Christ did not invite us to join a member’s only group at the exclusion of others but a diverse and multifaceted body with him as the head. Where do we start? Why not ask the Lord, as the thinker of the body he is best qualified to direct us if we will ask him (Rom.8:14) because without his input the task can be daunting. 2 Cor. says to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith, to test ourselves, a significant way to do this is by extending ourselves to help others. Now where is that soup line……