Tuesday, July 14, 2009

God's Concern for the Poor

16 He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 22:16 NIV)

In the last few weeks God's Word has really got a grip on my heart. I have been impressed (again) with the emphasis in scripture of God’s concern for the sick, the poor, and underprivileged. All through the Bible, in both the OT and the NT, God cries out against injustice, demands justice for victims, mercy for the repentant, and compassion for the suffering. He called His people to action - to do something about the bad state of affairs in society. The kingdom of which Christ spoke about was one in which the poor, the sick, the grieving, cripples, slaves, women, children, widows, orphans, lepers, aliens – the “least of these” – were to be lifted up and embraced by God.

Last Sunday’s message (God is For You) was an overflow of what’s been happening inside me.

Proclaiming the ‘whole gospel’ means more than having a holy huddle for believers only. It also encompasses providing tangible help for the poor, and the sick. It also includes efforts to right the wrongs that are so common in our world. God is concerned about the spiritual, physical, and social dimensions of people. The ‘whole gospel’ is truly good news for the poor and underprivileged, and it is the foundation for social change in our community.

In Jeremiah 22:16 (above) God clearly communicates that helping those who suffer is WHAT IT MEANS to KNOW GOD. Yikes! Can we honestly say 'we know God' if we do nothing for others? Or perhaps it is telling us that we experience the heart of God when we help the needy. Either way, it is clear that knowing God and helping others cannot be separated.

If it was Jesus’ mission and ministry agenda to preach the gospel to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, and to release the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19), then it is also the mission of all who claim to follow Him. It’s MY mission. It’s YOUR mission. And it is the mission of the CHURCH.

More and more, our view of the gospel has been narrowed down to a simple transaction for salvation, like checking a box on a bingo card at a prayer breakfast, or coming forward during an altar call. In our efforts to make the good news accessible and easy to understand, we have boiled it down to a kind of “fire insurance” that one can obtain. Then, once the policy is in effect, the sinner can now go back to the life he was living. As long as the policy is in the drawer, we don’t have to concern ourselves with the plight of others. We’ve got our “ticket” to the next life.

There is a real problem with this kind of view of Christianity. It’s not the whole gospel. It’s only part of the gospel. The other part is our obligation to give to others what we have freely received ourselves. Christianity was meant to be spread – but not through coercion. God’s love was intended to be demonstrated, not dictated. Our job is not to manipulate others into agreeing with our boiled-down-sound-bite-Christian-clich├ęs. Our charge is to both proclaim AND embody the gospel so that others can see, hear, and feel God’s love (through us) in tangible ways. When we are helping the poor, feeding the hungry, and assisting the sick, then God can use our actions to give others a glimpse of HIS love and character. It is God – not us - who works in the hearts of men and women to forgive and redeem. God is responsible for the harvest – but WE are the ones who must plant, water, and cultivate the seeds by showing compassion in tangible ways.

Jesus always cared about the whole person – one’s health, family, work, values, relationships, behavior towards others, and yes, their eternal soul. His view of the gospel went beyond a bingo card transaction; it embraced a world being transformed by a transformed people. Those words from the Lord’s Prayer, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” were a clarion call to Jesus’ followers to not only proclaim the gospel, but to BE the gospel here and now.

The whole gospel not only means personal salvation. It means social involvement in human suffering.

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