june 27

Why Should We Serve the Poor?


I’ve just returned from a two month trip to North America. It was a great trip, although visiting 16 cities in that time frame is EXHAUSTING. Happy to be home to recover.

One of the things that my husband and I were doing while there is looking into the idea of TCT North America. Over the last few years, as we share the story of what has happened in Asia, we have been asked again and again, ‘What about us? Is there any way that churches in the USA could also see their communities move out of poverty?’ On this trip we tried to understand:

  • What’s holding the church back, if anything?
  • What do we have to offer?
  • Is there really any interest or were people just being polite?

Looking for the answers to these questions, we spoke to many pastors and church leaders in the cities we visited.

As a result of those conversations, we have decided to launch the program. John Warden will start leading trainings next month. However, one comment I did hear from a few camps was, “Is helping the poor really a valid thing for the church to be involved with? Aren’t we just making people more comfortable as they go to hell? Is that really what Jesus desires from us?”

In chapter 3, Keller addresses that very question. Keller reminds us that when John’s disciples were asking if he really was the Messiah, Jesus replied by sharing what he was doing towards the poor and needy (Matthew 11:4-5) “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosyare cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

Throughout his ministry Jesus consistently made space for the poor, widow, leper and children.

In Luke 14:12-14 Jesus challenged us to make space in our lives for those who are poor, crippled, lame and blind.

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

In the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), we are commanded to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, visit the prisoner, etc.—and told that, in doing so, we are serving Jesus.

And the apostles, when commissioning Paul, gave him one condition, ‘Don’t forget the poor’ (Galatians 2:10).

The Bible makes it clear, we as Christians are required to serve the poor. We need to be obedient rather than adding our own great analysis to the validity of that command. To those who ask, ‘Are we just making the poor more comfortable as they go to hell,’ I would say, we may be missing the point. As we wrestle with that question here’s a few things to think about.

  1. As we serve the poor we start to make God visible in our communities. Matthew 5:16 tells us, ‘In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’ As we, the Church, step out to love our neighbour, those around us pay attention. Sadly, at the moment the Church is too often known for what we stand against, not for our love. And yet we are called to be salt and light through our good deeds, not for our strident defense of the faith. In Asia we have seen many hundreds of times that people become open to learn about Christ after seeing the church care for the vulnerable.  When the church shows love, God becomes visible in our communities.
  2. As we serve the poor we grow spiritually. Much is being written today about the importance of discipleship. One of the most powerful ways to grow spiritually is to get out and do. When we move out of our comfort zone and start taking ‘risks’ for God we start seeing just how big God is. Walking into the messiness of life teaches us to pray at levels we may have not known before. Servanthood and sacrifice grow as we make space for others. And with it comes joy, the sort of joy that we don’t get to know until we step “out of the boat” for Jesus. In cross-cultural missions we often say the first few years have little to do with what you are doing for others and much to do with what God is doing in you. Serving the poor is similar. Maybe, yes they will never receive Christ, although that is always our desire. But maybe, in the very act of serving, you grow closer to God than you could ever have imagined. Maybe God’s command to us to serve the poor has more to do with what He wants to do in us and less to do with what He wants to do for them.

About Anna

Originally from New Zealand, Anna has spent the last 20 years living in Asia. On the road more than half of the time each year she would say the secret to successful travel is strong coffee, a full kindle and the ability to laugh in ridiculous situations.

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