Friday, December 21, 2007

Daily Bread: Justice for the Poor

Today’s Reading:

  • Zechariah 1:1-21
  • Revelation 12:1-13:1a
  • Psalms 140:1-13
  • Proverbs 30:17
Today’s Thoughts:
12 I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted And justice for the poor. 13 Surely the righteous will give thanks to Your name; The upright will dwell in Your presence.” (Psalms 140:12,13)
Perhaps one of the more apparent problems in modern Western Christianity has to do with the corporate dealings with those in poverty. I think that this observation is being keenly highlighted with various parts of the emergent movement even if their way of dealing with this issue is wrong. That being the case, I still think that it is generally Christians, or those who would fall under the umbrella of Christendom, who give more to the poor, volunteer, adopt children, and do various other actions displaying their concern for those less fortunate than themselves. So I don’t want to agree with a large amount of people in our culture who think that Christians just don’t care about the poor. A common assault on our stance on abortion is that we are pro life until the child is born, and then they need to fend for themselves.

Although that thought is based largely on a straw-man understanding of what Christians believe, I can’t get away from the thought that there might be a grain of truth in some of the accusations. Not enough to validate the unfair characterization, but enough to make me sit back and ponder it a bit. Could it be that much of my socially apparent thoughts about the poor and about the needy are governed more by my political persuasion than by the Bible? Conservative politics has a touch of grace but is very rigidly a “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of mentality. Conversely, liberal politics tends to be gracious to the point of enabling bad and destructive behavior with a more limited “get up and work” mentality with very little teeth.

As an aside, though, because of our current societal conditions, I hesitate to afford very many people the label of “poor” or “needy”. I worked with a guy who asked if I knew of any food shelters that didn’t ask for information on your current income before giving out food. Now I really love this guy, but we both worked the same job and were making between $40k and $60k each year. I have other friends, co-workers, and relatives who constantly complain of money problems or state some form of “we’re not poor, but we don’t have much money.” The problem is not with the amount of money that most Americans have, it is what we choose to do with it. For goodness sake, probably the vast majority of the “poor” in America have cable TV, high speed Internet, their own home (or apartment), air conditioning, refrigerators and microwaves. We need to take care of them, but the poor that I think the Bible is primarily talking about are the destitute, those who have no means, no supplies, no home, nothing.

We should be more conscious of the needs of those in our community and in our nation, and I think that we Christians need to make a large effort to reach out and help. We must not do that instead of preaching the gospel to them or fall under the false idea that doing that is preaching the gospel to them, but the gospel message of salvation from sin by Christ’s blood that we preach must be seasoned with love and good deeds.
“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)

We must reach out to the poor and take care of the widows and orphans. We can do that, and we can make that difference. But the second part of James’ statement about “pure and undefiled religion” is to remain “unstained by the world.” That is impossible for anyone to do. The gospel must be preached so that it can be believed. Only then can the hearer become unstained by the world. And in the preaching of the cleansing gospel of Christ, we can show our love and the love of God in Christ by serving the needy and helping them so as not to be offensive by only saying “be warmed” or “be filled” without giving them what they need for clothing and food (cf. James 2:16).

Is there a problem that needs to be addressed with how the majority of Western protestant Christianity interacts with and thinks of the poor? I believe there is. Is the answer to stop preaching the gospel of salvation from sin and death while turning to noble social programs? Never! The answer is to align our hearts and minds with Christ’s by reading and applying His Word. Only then will we have the mind of Christ and the motivation to do what Christ did when He cared for the poor and the outcast and still proclaimed the gospel with unwavering fervor.

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