The early church was known for its justice, kindness, and mercy – both towards those who were part of the church and towards those who were outside the church. Though they were not rich by worldly standards, they took care of the elderly, the poor, even unwanted babies. This seems to be consistent with biblical teachings:
Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Render true judgments (justice), show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” (Zechariah 7:9-10 ESV)
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:37-40 ESV)
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. (James 2:14-17 ESV)
Well, there are many who suggest that the church has given up its service to the poor, the fatherless, the widow, and the foreigner, by allowing the state take this on. Here are a few blog posts that examine this issue:
- Ray at “Observations and Opinions” asks “Programs or People?“
- Ben at “Complete Unity” discusses his “Connections“, even with the homeless.
- Geoff at “Along the Shore” asks if “Too Much Structure” can hinder our service to those in need.
- Ted at “the Jesus community” discusses “being poor in America“.
- Scott at “Turning it Over” suggests the church should be “Taking it to the Streets“. (By the way, Scott was homeless until a week ago.)
So, what is God doing here? He keeps reminding me that he wants me to care for the poor, the fatherless, the widow, and the foreigner. I know how to care for those within the body of Christ, but what about those who are poor, fatherless, widows, and foreigners who are not part of the church? This is a lesson that I want to learn, but also a lesson that I’m not sure how to begin following. I haven’t had this modelled for me. Instead, I’ve been taught skepticism and doubt. I’ve been taught to question anyone’s motives if they ask for money or food. I’ve been taught that there must be something wrong with someone who is less fortunate than me. (I was not taught this last point verbatim, but it was certainly intimated.)
I have been encouraged by the path that God is leading Brandon and Heather in the Atlanta area. He is showing them how to serve those who are in need. I’m not sure how God will lead me and my family down this same path. At times, I’m concerned about it. At other times, I’m ready to dive in head first.
More than anything, I desire to follow God wherever he leads. I confess that I have not done “for the least of these”. So, in fear and trembling, I ask God to change my heart in this area.