Serving the Poor: Second Thoughts (41 minutes), click on the play button below:

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  • Mission
    • Just as disciples of Christ are called to spread the word—to seek and save the lost—so we are also called to seek and serve the poor. Both are part of what it means to follow Christ.
    • Some Christians know this and in fact live such a life. But all too often the world dictates our priorities; serving the poor becomes an afterthought. Or maybe it becomes something we “outsource.” That is, though willing to donate money to worthy causes, we aren't personally involved with the poor
    • How unlike Jesus this is. He interacted regularly with persons in all strata of society. In fact, he sought them out!
  • How do we present the gospel to others?
    • Through a study series?
    • We are unaware of a single lesson in any church's evangelistic study series on the biblical imperative to serve the poor.
    • We feel this is a glaring omission.
  • It is difficult to see how one can claim to be a disciple while ignoring the hundreds of verses that deal with meeting physical needs, being generous, resisting one’s own materialism, and helping the needy.
    • Once again, our mission as disciples is twofold: to preach the good news and to help the poor. Matthew 28 does not trump Matthew 25!
    • The good news is more than just a formula about how to be saved. It is good news for the whole person. For God himself cares deeply about our “whole spirit, soul, and body” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
  • Qualification: Poor is not the same as needy. A needy person does not have his basic needs (as in Matthew 6:25ff) met. Most Christians are poor, since most people in the world are poor. Acts 4:34, 2:45
  • With all these things in mind, a new study has been constructed. Its purposes:
    • To highlight the biblical imperative to serve the poor.
    • To confront excuses that tend to isolate us from the needy.
    • To illustrate how such service is part of what it means to follow Christ.

A new study

  • Psalm 82:3-4
    • So many passages in the Old Testament urge God’s people to compassion and action on behalf of the poor. See, for example, Isaiah 58.
    • God’s people are called to care because God cares (Exodus 34:6, Psalm 113, etc). In Psalm 82 defending the needy is commended.
    • We need to do something!
    • But is this just an Old Testament teaching?
  • 2 Corinthians 8:9
    • God’s care is exemplified above all in the incarnation of Christ.
    • He sacrificed position and status, connecting with the poor. In Jesus’ lifestyle he reached out to people of every social stratum. In him there was no favoritism (James 2:1-13), nor should there be among his followers.
    • This passage lies at the heart of Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to have a heart for the poor – in this case, needy Christians in Judea.
    • So…caring for the poor is not only Old Testament doctrine, but a thoroughly biblical teaching!
  • Luke 10:29
    • Most of us we should love others. Both testaments teach we should love God first, our neighbor second.
    • And yet we can define and redefine “neighbor” to the point that we’re scarcely involved with the needy. Jesus challenged such thinking in the parable that follows: the Good Samaritan.
    • As happens so often in the Bible, it is not the “insider” who “gets it.” It is the outsider. Which is why Jesus told the parable. In this case the neighbor is an enemy…  Should be do good to our enemies?  That’s what the Lord taught.
    • The truth is, there are no valid excuses. Anyone is potentially a “neighbor.”
  • James 1:27
    • Not all human beings are equally needy. In scripture there is a special place for the hurting—those who have suffered significant loss. Such persons include orphans, widows, foreigners, and the oppressed.
    • Our religion is unacceptable to God if we do not share this concern. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful.”
  • Galatians 2:10
    • The apostle Paul is known as a powerful evangelist, taking the good news where it had never been proclaimed before and establishing communities of believers.
    • And yet, like Jesus, he had a passion to change the world: to preach the gospel and to encourage the poor.
    • When he met with the Jerusalem leaders, their concern was the same as his. See what he wrote in Galatians 2, in 48 AD.
  • Further passages on poverty and materialism:
    • Psalm 39 – Chasing riches is a vain pursuit. Don’t be lured by the materialistic message of the world.
    • Proverbs 19:17 – One of many passages noting that the Lord blesses those who remember the needy.
    • Ezekiel 16:48-49 – Materialism numbs our social conscience and blinds us to the needs of others around us.
    • Matthew 10:8b – Since we have received freely, we ought also to give freely.
    • 1 Timothy 6:17-18 – While it is not necessarily wrong to be rich, those with wealth must be generous, not stingy. After all, Jesus said it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23). To be balanced, however, all of us are called to share what we have, not just the rich (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32). Selfishness and materialism are not only a disease of the rich. The poor are affected, too.
    • Hebrews 13:5 – When we keep our lives free from the love of money, we will be in a much stronger position to be a source of spiritual and physical blessing to others.

Some areas in which we can serve:

  • Feed the hungry. Both testaments urge us to see to this need, even when the hungry person is our enemy!
  • Visit prisoners. Hebrews 13 -- presumably Christians in prison for their faith, though compassion for fellow human beings is never limited to people of faith.
  • Clothe the naked. Naked means insufficiently dressed.
  • Help build a house. Groups like Habitat for Humanity are doing a great job in this area.
  • Adopt a child. There are approximately 150 million children ready to be adopted, and perhaps as many again who need adoption but are not in the system.
  • Encourage the elderly. Needs will only increase as many western nations see aging populations with increased longevity.
  • Sell possessions and give to the poor.
  • Visit a country in the developing world. Why not take a week or two out of your schedule this year and devote yourself to serving the poor or preaching the gospel in a poor nation?
  • Take your children with you on such a visit. Escalates their world vision and gratitude.
  • Assist in disaster relief. Every month there are several opportunities.
  • Invite the poor into your home.
  • Fast and pray for the needy. This is in the spirit of Isaiah 58.
  • Comfort widows.
  • Provide medical care to the poor.
  • Reach out to refugees.
  • Offer children foster care.

Piercing questions

  • Do you think the Lord is pleased with us when always we serve the poor at a distance? To what extent can giving money to a good cause substitute for active involvement?
  • Do you agree with the statement, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”?
  • When was the last time you ate in a poor person’s home? Or had a disadvantaged person into your home?
  • Are you ready to study out what the Bible says about this essential topic? Be sure to read Luke and Acts, as poverty and possessions is one of the major themes of these books. See also Proverbs, as well as the prophets.
  • Are there any lifestyle changes you need to make as a result of this study?



You fed my food to your pigs

You blamed it on the markets

You blamed it on the Marxists

Your told me the poor were blessed

You really did mean to write to your congressman

You used me as a dumping ground for your food mountain

You promised to pray for me

You were sure I could manage on welfare

You switched the channel to avoid the sight of me

You paid a pittance for my harvest

You sold my government arms to keep me quiet

You used my land to grow flowers for your table

You told me to get lost.

(I Was Hungry, a British poem, has been adapted for a primarily American readership.)


Final notes:

  • In a number of ministries I have visited, people are not accepted as church members if they are unwilling to help the needy – to personally serve the poor. (Even poor members are expected to actively serve others.) This is phenomenal!
  • Few congregations, however, have such high expectations. If you have a conviction about these matters, please speak up. But first, study the scriptures, come to your own convictions, and pray.
  • When this is part of our evangelism, our church life, and our personal lifestyles, then the gospel message, lived out in the disciples of Jesus Christ, will make more sense to the watching world. It will be the good news today just as it was in the days of the birth of Christianity.

Recommended reading:

  • R. J. Sider, Rich Christians Living in an Age of Hunger. The classic work.
  • Craig Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches. Urges balance and sacrifice.
  • D. A. Jacoby & D. R. Arthur, I Was Hungry! (out of print, but ask around!)
  • Shane Claiborne, Irresistible Revolution. Popular and powerful.
  • David Platt, Radical. Ideas for how churches can inculcate compassion for the poor.