“The Poor You Will Always Have With You…”
The church I pastored for seven years in Fort Smith, Arkansas, had a wonderful Thanksgiving tradition of benevolence. Each year, the week prior to Thanksgiving Day, we would give the needy of our community a full-bird turkey and a box of food – everything a family of 6+ would need to prepare their own Thanksgiving feast.
Our event involved a community Thanksgiving worship celebration where the Gospel was presented and people saved and baptized. Following the worship service, the distribution of the food would take place in the church’s gym. Hundreds of church members engaged to welcome our community guests. This included walking with them to their cars to carry and load the food. The event was a holiday highlight for all involved.
But a curious thing began go happen a few years into the event.
One story I heard went something like this: A couple of church members were helping carry a guest’s turkey feast, not to their car, but to their apartment. They lived within a couple of blocks from the church. When they arrived, the volunteers were shocked to see another turkey and box of food from one of our earlier services sitting on the kitchen table! They said nothing, of course, but left disillusioned. Then there were stories of members carrying food out to nice cars. I mean REALLY nice, newer model SUV kind of cars. And guests chatting away on iPhones while picking up their benevolence Thanksgiving meal. Oh, these were by no means the majority of our guests, or even close to it, but just enough to leave a sour taste in the mouth and cause one to perhaps re-think the sacrifice to provide the blessing.
Not wanting to see the whole program derail just a few years into its inception, I called a volunteer meeting the following year prior to the big event. I met the criticism head-on and referenced Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000.
Let me ask you, the reader, to consider: As lunch was being passed out, a FREE lunch mind you, and as the endless baskets of fish and loaves were flowing through the crowd, don’t you imagine that at least one person snuck a little extra under their tunic to take home? Or maybe it was more than just a little extra. And maybe it was more than just one person. In fact, I wonder really how much the situation bred perhaps hundreds to “take advantage” of the situation. We are, after all, talking about human “sinful” nature. Even for people who lived 2,000 years ago. But this did not stop Jesus from feeding the hungry. In fact, in another instance he feed 4,000 more.
It was Jesus who also told us that “the poor you will always have with you….”
For a good Jew listening to that statement, they would be reminded of the Old Testament teaching from the 15th chapter of Deuteronomy on taking care of those who live in a state of poverty:
“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’.”
Notice that as much as the command to take care of the poor is present and clear, so equally, if not more so, is the exhortation to meet the needs of the poor with a pure heart.
Or as the Law states, when you give, “you shall not harden your heart.”
Why does God go out of his way to speak to the attitude of our hearts when giving to the poor? I believe it is because God knows that it is the nature of our heart to:
- Be stingy,
- To judge the condition of the poor,
- And to question the motive of the poor.
My point is this:
- People end up in a state of poverty because of many reasons, not merely laziness,
- And some people will seek to take advantage of those who seek to give,
- But since there will always be the poor among us,
- And since God has a heart for the poor (Ps. 35:10),
- And since he has called us to care for the poor among us, regardless of their motive or why they ended up in poverty,
- We should care for the poor with a cheerful and uncondemning heart.
It’s really as simple as that.
Some have drawn a mistaken dichotomy between social justice issues and the evangelization of the lost, as if the church must pick between the two.
And many churches do pick. Some have sacrificed evangelism for social causes. Some social causes for evangelism. Both kinds of churches face extinction because neither will grow in today’s religious climate. All the surveys and studies tell us this.
But it does not have to be an either / or proposition. In fact, Jesus lived out a both / and ministry.
He fed 5,000 people – then he preached the Kingdom to them.
And so should we….
Note: This coming Sunday, October 12, is World Hunger Sunday. Every 5 seconds someone in this world dies of starvation and enters eternity. May this be totally unacceptable to the Church of Jesus Christ. Please consider giving a gift this week to aid in the relief of world hunger. A wonderful organization is Baptist Global Relief.