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.