embracing the poor
embracing the poor
‘Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom promised to those who love him? (Jas 2:5). For the Apostle James, the answer to this question was self-evident as he looked around the members of the young church. Has God chosen the poor? Of course he has chosen the poor! God is passionate about the poor.
It is with the poor that Jesus humbly identified in His incarnation. Jesus clearly saw His mission as bringing good news to the poor. He began His public ministry by declaring that He has been anointed ‘to preach the good news to the poor’.
We see this truth coming again and again in the gospels and the epistles. Once at the house of a Pharisee, one of those at the table with Jesus who had heard all Jesus’ teachings said to Him, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God.” In Luke 14 Jesus replies to him with a parable of the great banquet. In it Jesus speaks about the Master who decided to give a great banquet but those whom he invited gave excuses. So he tells his servants ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Again, he says to his servants, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full’.
God is passionate about the poor
The scripture leaves us with no doubt as to God’s heart for the poor. Both the Old and the New Testaments paint a picture of our God who is merciful and compassionate and one who cares passionately about those in misery and distress.
Jesus fully reflected that heart of compassion when he travelled throughout the towns and villages and saw the crowds. We are told ‘he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (Matt 9:36). Wherever he went he opened his arms and heart to the poor and needy, sick and oppressed.
Ps 113 has truly blessed my heart as I see poverty and oppression every day in the city of Mumbai. We see God’s heart for the poor and needy vividly displayed in these scriptures.
“Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people. He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children.”
This truth about God’s compassion for the poor is a recurring theme in the scriptures. He celebrates the uplifting of the weak and downtrodden.
Many ask the question, who are the poor among us? John Stott in his book, Issues facing Christians Today, is particularly insightful. He classifies this into three categories. The indigent poor – those who lack necessities of life such as food or clothing or shelter. Secondly, The oppressed poor – those who are powerless victims of human & religious injustice or oppressive life circumstances. Thirdly, The Humble poor – those who acknowledge their helplessness and look to God alone for salvation. They are everywhere and God is passionate about them.
Is God on the side of the poor?
If God is passionate about the poor, does that mean that he is on the side of the poor? Some speak of God’s bias, or preference for, or solidarity with the poor. Is it appropriate to speak like that in this context? First, God is not biased. ‘There is no favouritism with him’ (Eph 6:9) God does not care more about the salvation of the poor than the rich. Secondly, material poverty is not the biblical ideal. Scripture upholds the ideal that there should be no poor in the land (Deut 15:4). Thirdly, being poor and oppressed does not in itself make people members of the church. The poor need to repent and be saved by God’s grace just as much as the wealthy.
God is concerned about justice, and so, while God shows no partiality, he is also not neutral in situations of justice. Specifically, because God is not biased pursuing justice, God favours the poor who are either victims of injustice or find themselves in a position in which they are powerless to resist the oppression of the powerful.
In that sense, God is on the side of the poor. He has a special concern for them because of their vulnerability.
An Apostolic mandate
We have been powerfully provoked by Paul in Galatians to ‘Remember the Poor’. This is an apostolic mandate to us as a family of churches, if we have to fulfill our God-given task to disciple all the nations of the earth.
Simon Pettit’s message on ‘Remember the Poor’ at the Brighton Conference in 1998, was one of the most powerful and significant sermons ever preached in the family of churches we represent. Simon argued that this scripture speaks of the poor in general terms, poor everywhere without any geographical restriction. Jerusalem Elders and Paul the apostle, their exhortation to ‘remember the poor’ applies to all of us who have heard the call to mission, and is for the benefit for all the poor in the world.
The world is increasingly becoming a difficult place to live, especially for the poor. The Gospel has the power to change lives and bring joy & hope to those who are hopeless, helpless and homeless.
The poor must participate as co-equal partners in world mission.
This is a value we hold dearly. Every church in the Regions Beyond movement must endeavour to reach out to the poor and embrace them as part of our world mission. We want to see the poor lifted up to participate as co-equal partners in world mission.