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22nd November 2015
We can be really pleased to be part of a church that cares for the poor, but when it comes down to our own attitudes towards those in need, we can be no different to anyone else.
Caring for the poor is linked to apostolic mission: it’s linked to planting churches and reaching people for Christ. We see in Galatians 2 that the apostles wanted to ensure that the new churches being started would have the same DNA as the church in Jerusalem – that care for the poor would be at the heart of every church in every city. They wanted it to be in the foundations of every church.
In the Early Church there was a remarkable level of care for the poor (see Acts 4:34-35, for example). The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, and that is what motivated them to sell what they had to provide for those in need. Likewise we need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit if we’re to care for the poor in our town and be prompted to remarkable acts of generosity.
The Early Church is one of the foundations for our care for the poor; another is the nation of Israel. For example, God set out in the Mosaic Law that the Israelites were not supposed to add interest to money they loaned. They were not to do this because it would cripple people and trap them in debt.
God also instructed farmers to leave remnants in their fields so those in need could eat them. He also told the Israelites not to oppress the immigrants among them – actually He said to love them. God also set out that every seven years debts were released, and that every 50 years their land would be returned to them.
God’s Law provided a way out of poverty. People could not be permanently impoverished in Israel’s society. God designed the social structure in such a way that people would always have hope.
The third foundation for our care for the poor is Jesus’ ministry. Jesus identified with the poor in His own incarnation – He was born in a stable; He was a refugee; He died a criminal’s death. When Jesus was starting His mission – when He set out His manifesto – He quoted from Isaiah 61, saying He was anointed to preach good news to the poor.
That’s what Jesus came to do.
There are four things connected with the Kingdom of God coming – an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, preaching the good news, healing and deliverance, and the raising up of the oppressed and poor.
Isaiah 61 is a resurrection of hope – it talks about the poor becoming “oaks of righteousness” for God’s glory. Such a transformation takes place that those trapped in poverty end up displaying the splendour of God. It’s not a gospel of handouts; it’s a gospel of transformation.
If we’re going to see Hastings and the surrounding communities transformed by the gospel, we need to care for those in need. It's not an optional extra if we feel like it. If we don’t remember the poor, we’re not reflecting God’s heart. It’s what we’re called to do.
Our response as a church is important – we step in and make a difference corporately. But what is our response individually? How do I respond when I see poverty at whatever level, whether it’s injustice, oppression, financial need, hunger, exploitation?
We see it on the news every day; we see it in TV programmes and films. We can become desensitised to it. Our hearts have the ability to look at pain and brokenness and, rather than respond with compassion, they can respond with judgment or indifference.
Do I value others in the way that my heavenly Father has valued me?
God’s calling is to be generous in time, in kindness, in trust. Some people will take advantage of us. We’ve just got to get over it. Rich people are just as likely to take advantage of us as poor people are.
Jesus warned us that people were going to take advantage of us, but He expected a radical response from His people. Jesus said: "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from the one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them." (Luke 6:27-31)
We need to be wise, but don’t hide behind that wisdom and sit there doing nothing. There is a danger when considering the poor and oppressed that we sound more like the Pharisees than like Jesus. The Pharisees stood far off, didn’t help, but just judged.
We have a clear biblical mandate to care for the poor. As a church we have a responsibility to do it. But we cannot hide behind what we’re doing corporately and leave our hearts un-impacted. The Bible doesn't leave us any room to hide.
Posted by Paul Mann