Is Caring for the Poor Optional?


In his letter to the churches of Galatia the Apostle Paul records an abbreviated story of a meeting he had with Peter, James, and John in the early days of the church. The conclusion of the meeting was that Peter, James, and John would go to the Jews with the gospel and because of their recognition of Paul’s gift of “grace” that he and Barnabas should go to the Gentiles. They shook hands signifying their brotherhood in Christ and those ancient pillars of the early church simply asked them “to remember the poor“. (Galatians 2:9-11)

This would have been a great time to have given a sweeping theological discourse on the doctrine of justification or the biblical model for missions but their only request as they sent these two gifted men to evangelize the pagan masses was Remember the poor.

Another consideration along this line of thought is our practice of taking up a collection on the first day of the week (Sunday) in our churches. We do it because it is biblical and after all we do want to be guided by the Bible in all that we do don’t we? A careful reading of the text we base our practice on follows.

“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do.On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem” (1 Corinthians 16:1-3)

Now, to be people of the Bible we must be honest about this passage. It was not that people should bring tithes into the store house. It was not to pay for the church plant and it’s employees. It was simply a collection for the poor.

It was to be done, not only in Corinth but in the churches of Galatia as well, to provide funds for the poor saints in Jerusalem. And, it was to be temporary. Paul instructed that they should do it ahead of time so there would be no need to try to gather up the collection after he arrived.

Sorry to disappoint you but that is exactly the case. Do I think it is wrong for our churches to take a collection each Sunday. Absolutely not, but I do believe we have missed the main purpose of doing so, the poor.

I suggest we look closely at the ministry of Jesus. He was truly a holistic healer. He healed and he taught. He fed and he taught. And, it is clear that his early followers did the same. The first outpouring of Christian love by the newly born again folks in Jerusalem not many days after Pentecost is recorded in Acts 2.

And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:43-35)

The first observable proof of a new found faith was not evangelical zeal, or fascinating manifestations of the Holy Spirit, but rather their common concern and care for the needy among them.

In light of this clear teaching in the Bible I am astonished that some people are complaining that too much emphasis is being placed on helping the poor by churches and para church mission groups. I am saddened that so many are misguided and only see the need to preach the gospel while largely ignoring the poor they are preaching to.

May I explain my theological position on this matter by illustration? I love my wife Carol Jane. She is a bright, vibrant, talented, driven, godly woman. How do I love her? Do I love her by sitting in my recliner with a warm fuzzy feeling about her in my heart? Is that what love is? Certainly not!

I love her by doing the dishes, by complimenting her on a new outfit or hair style, by seeing to her needs when she is sick, by giving her pleasure, by honoring her, by seeing to every need possible for me to fulfill. That is how love works. Love is a verb!

“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?” (James 2:15,16)

You see, caring about one’s soul and having nice warm feelings and mushy thoughts doesn’t put food on the table or clothes on the bodies of the poor. Only providing for their needs in tangible ways counts in the end.

In conclusion, one way we love God is by caring for the poor, loving our neighbors, and the household of faith. We cannot honestly claim devotion to God and ignore the less fortunate around us and in the world at large. It is good to have reasons to love God based on solid truths from the Bible, and it is good that those truths evoke strong emotions at times and feelings of joy and satisfaction and result in praise. However, you can’t love God and not at the same time love others, and love is much more than an emotion.

Our missionary outreach should always and forever be a telling of the good news about Christ by any method or means available to every person possible. But, as we go we must care for the poor or our message will more likely than not fall on deaf ears. A fellow with a good meal in his belly will care more about what you tell him about a God who loves him than one who is hungry.

Agape’

Royce

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On Mission with God


The humble saints who worship at the Hemley Road church of Christ will probably never set foot in a foreign country. The economy in Bayou La Batre, Alabama is awful with unemployment at many times the rest of the nation. They are truly living by faith, trusting God day by day to provide the means to run church vans to gather children and those without transportation, pay utilities, and feed the hungry, etc. How then can this little flock carry out the great commission given to all believers?

They have been faithful with what they have been given and without realizing it have become a model of church ministry. They are salt and light in their community, loving the down and out folks, rebuilding homes and lives, feeding the hungry, and loving those who need love most. And, they are touching the world.

I noticed with admiration that soon after they became a local church they started to give to World Radio, helping to get the good news about Jesus to a needy world. Recently, their ministry became international. No, they have not been on a mission trip across the sea, God brought Bolivia to them.

When Carol and I visited Hemley Rd Easter weekend three men from Bolivia attended services. They had recently moved to Bayou La Batry to work in a sea food packing plant. None of the three men spoke English. So, they communicated with the universal language of love. Smiles and hugs, shared meals, and rides to Wal-Mart were some of the ways they loved these foreigners. At once they started to imagine ways to reach them with the good news about Jesus and they have.

One of the men, Roberto, was recently baptised. This past Sunday when I spoke at the church a young hispanic man stood with me and interpreted my message to those in the audience who only understand Spanish. This young man is the son of the Summerdale church’s hispanic minister. They have song books with both English and Spanish, side by side.

One expression of Roberto’s gratitude and affection for his new family is this beautiful mural he painted behind the baptistery where he reenacted the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

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This is a wonderful example of Christians seeing what God is doing and joining him in his mission. God’s agenda most often cannot be accomplished by plans and programs. By being faithful with what they have been given the church in Bayou La Batre has been able to touch Bolivia. Who knows what God will do in the lives of Roberto’s family and friends in Bolivia?

What is the lesson here? Become aware of what God is doing and join him in that mission. No program, no planning, is better than what God is already doing. When will you or your church have an opportunity to join God in his redemptive work. Your “Roberto” is waiting…

for Jesus,
Royce