Usually when I write a blog that references a lot of scripture I do not get any comments. This has always bothered me, and I have never fully understood whether I failed in my writing attempt or if people generally avoid discussing scripture. Clearly, I am not the best writer on the planet, but I do feel that Biblical scripture makes some people nervous or is interpreted as ‘preachy’. So, as a general rule scripture is avoided by even the most faithful believer. Needless to say, today I use scripture, like it or not, because I believe in scripture and I am not ashamed to quote or discuss it.
Did you know that the Bible speaks on the less fortunate, or poor, more than 300 times? I have heard many a preacher discuss how many times the bible mentions the word ‘love’, (I believe it is around 800 depending on the version you read.) but seldom in my life have I heard a sermon on the poor or Christ’s mission, dare I say vision, for the what the church should mean to the less fortunate.
I feel that if scripture notes a topic hundreds of times it merits my consideration, don’t you?
Here are a few verses that I want to mention today, especially during this season of giving…
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. ~James 1:27
Easy enough, right? We do that, right?
James immediately takes this discussion of “pure and faultless religion” to the importance of providing for the poor in chapter two. James discussion on faultless religion includes this…
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. ~James 2:14-17
What I don’t want to discuss today is politics. I have absolutely no interest in your politics. I also have no interest in excuses or explanations why corporate expressions of charity are wrong in your opinion. Please do not bring semantics into this discussion about what social justice means or whether government has a role to play in providing for the poor. Friend, if these are the notions you get hung up on before you open you wallet or serve the less fortunate, then you have grossly missed the point of Christianity and the role of the church.
What I do want to point out is that a true and faultless religion not only pays attention to the poor, but does something about it. Three different gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) tell about a time a faithful follower of the law came searching for salvation from Christ. Jesus told him simply…
“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." ~Mark 10:21
I will be honest with you. I am not ready or willing to sell everything I have. This definitely points to my lack of faith in God’s provision. I know that. What I do learn from this verse, and Christ’s direction, is that providing for the poor is not to be an afterthought in our Christian walk. Providing for the poor is what we do. It is who we are and it is the religion we should be keeping. It is Christ's priority and is ours.
This man who came searching out Christ was a good man. He kept the commandments. He was not called a sinner. He was loved by Christ, but he was lacking one thing. His religion was missing one thing, charity.
I don’t know about you, but these verses tell me that I can be the best worshiper, the best scripture quot-er, have the most well-behaved children, a terrific marriage, attend services three times a week, and practice a daily prayer routine, but if I’m not giving to those in need, there is something crucial missing in my ‘so-called’ religion.
I know you feel pulled in a hundred different directions this month. I know you feel the pressure to buy and buy for every teacher, postal worker and fourth cousin twice removed for Christmas. I feel that, too. I also get bills in the mail, just like you. But if just a little at time we change how we spend, if just a few more people each year give less to those who have and give more to those who don’t, then we are slowly becoming what we should be to the world.
Until we see fully Christ’s mission, His vision for the church, our religion, our faith walk, our Christianity is lacking. Until we learn that church is NOT about
uplifting worship services,
brand new buildings,
new dynamic ministries,
competing with the church down the street,
insulating our members from the uncomfortably socially unacceptable,
playtime for our children,
fancy dinners or retreats,
or networking opportunities...we are lacking.
We are missing one thing, charity.
Some food for thought:
According to UNICEF in 2005, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world... or the church.
Less than one percent of what the world spent in 1999 on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen. (State of the World, Issue 287 - Feb 1997, New Internationalist)
Here is an eye opening article that includes the above quotes and more…
If you are setting an agenda to make resolutions for the new year, include a change of heart for this season and throughout the year. Include charity in your Christian walk.
Deut. 15:7. If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.
Jer. 22:3. Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.
Prov. 29:7. The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor; the wicked does not understand such concern.
Luke 12:33. "Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys."
Luke 3:11. And [John] would answer and say to them, "Let the man with two tunics share with him who has none, and let him who has food do likewise."
Mt. 5:42. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
1 John 3:17. But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?