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Decompartmentalizing the Mission: Caring for the Least

Posted by on Nov 28, 2011 in missional | 2 comments

Decompartmentalizing the Mission: Caring for the Least

In the introduction to this series, I explained how I thought that people today tend to compartmentalize their lives. Because of this, we often compartmentalize what we consider the mission of God as well. In a previous post, I considered proclamation of the gospel as part of the mission of God as demonstrated and taught by Jesus and Paul. In the last post, I looked at their example of strengthening believers as part of their mission. In this post, I consider whether or not caring for the least – the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, etc. – was part of Jesus’ and Paul’s mission.

There are many examples in the Gospels of Jesus serving people, primarily by healing them or castint out demons. While Jesus often healed people in response to their faith, or he healed people who then followed him, there is at least one occasion in Scripture in which the people healed may not have followed Jesus:

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19 ESV)

In this story, although Jesus cleansed 10 people of leprosy, only one of them returned to thank him. Similarly, Jesus told his followers to serve others as well. On the night before he was crucified, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. He then told them:

You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. (John 13:13-14 ESV)

Of course, I did not use the obvious passage from Matthew 25 where Jesus specifically say that the righteous will be those who care for the least.

Similarly, caring for the least was part of Paul’s mission as well. On several occasions, he stopped what he was already doing to carry support to people in Jerusalem who were suffering because of famine or poverty. For example, this was his response to the request from Peter, James, and John that he take care of the poor:

Only, they [James, Cephas, and John] asked us [Paul and Barnabas] to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (Galatians 2:10 ESV)

Paul also instructed others to take care of the least as part of their mission. When he traveled through Miletus and spoke to the elders from Ephesus, he told them to work with their hands. Why? This is what he said:

You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:34-35 ESV)

Not only does Paul want the elders to work to support themselves, but also so they can help others. He even sees this kind of help for others as a way to obey Jesus.

Again, with both Jesus and Paul, helping the least through various means was a part of their mission.

So, I’ve concluded that proclaiming the gospel, strengthening believers, and caring for the least are all part of the mission of God as demonstrated and taught by both Jesus and Paul. In the next post, I’m going to consider a few passages in which these three aspects of the mission of God are combined.

What would you like to add to my discussion of caring for the last as part of the mission of God?


Decompartmentalizing the Mission of God Series:

  1. Introduction
  2. Proclaiming the Gospel
  3. Strengthening Believers
  4. Caring for the Least
  5. Putting it all Together
  6. Emphasizing without Neglecting
  7. Extreme Emphases
  8. What to do and when


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 11-28-2011

    Whether to care for the least of these isn’t the hard question. Scripture resounds with a “yes!” The question in my mind is: “HOW?” What is the best way to care for those in need?

    Just give ’em stuff? Tough love? Requirements before receiving help?

    Handouts enslave to dependency, but requirements can seem judgmental and unloving. Is there a middle ground?

    I’d love for you to tackle this one! We don’t have it figured out yet.

  2. 11-29-2011


    I agree. There are different ways to give and serve and care. At any point in a person’s life, some of those ways are beneficial while others are detrimental. Tackling the whens and wheres and whys and hows of those distinctions would be a big task.