May 19, 2014

Are Our Churches Really Keeping the Poor at Arm's Length?

“You thought you’d like to save the world so you decided to stage a jumble sale for the poor, for the poor.” So the song says.

What the Lord Sees and Does When He Sees the Poor

When the Lord saw their poverty and suffering he was moved. The angel of the Lord came, the one sent from the Father, “Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt,” (Jude 1:5). The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God who has found a way of conquering death, the God of the living not the dead—he considers the poor and needy and he has a plan. This is a solution that makes Moses’ first plan and all other plans that have followed look pretty pathetic.

He is going to redeem them from slavery, death, and God’s wrath. He’s going to take them to the unseen Father (3:18, 19:16–19). He is going to lead them himself (23:20ff).

Then and only then is he going to gather them to be his people and show them how they should be as his people; how they should help the widow, the fatherless, the foreigner, the slave. This is done in huge detail. There is to be no barrier between them. All are to enjoy the tabernacle, the priesthood, the sacrifices, the feasts. No one is allowed to be left out. Nobody is to keep themselves apart or be priced out of anything.

This witness to the outside nations is not exclusive. It is real hope for everyone in the world who is in need. Anyone who is needy from the world can join them if they trust Christ as does Caleb, later Ruth and David’s mighty men. And there is a great deal on how the foreigner (alien) should be treated who has joined the people of God. Look at the way Boaz treated Ruth. The finest example is the first to be added as they enter the land—Rahab the prostitute. Her salvation is like theirs. She is to be passed over when judgment comes. She is to become one of the heroes of the Bible. She is mentioned with honour in the line of Jesus (Matthew 1), held up as a hero of the faith (Hebrews 11) and the one alongside Abraham explaining faith and works in the book of James (2:25). She is always seen as one with God’s people. There is no poor or rich here, educated or uneducated, they are one in Christ.

The hope for the poor in the nations is always to join the people of God and have life where Christ lives. There is no mention of helping the nations under judgement whether Babylon or Ninevah when there is famine. Their great hope for the nations is “Come and join us. Praise the Lord with us”.

How angry the Lord is with them when they neglect the widow and the fatherless. What shame it brings on them. They were never saved to build barriers. They were saved to show off God and to bring in all who are in debt and distress. The people of God didn’t help the poor, they welcomed the poor, preached good news to the poor, and largely were the poor.

The problem of the poor is that the wrath of God abides on them, and they know it. Only Christ can take that away. So preach him, and show that in Christ there is neither rich nor poor.

This leaves us with big questions. All the time there is talk about helping the poor while pricing them out of activities. There are conferences which cost over £900 to attend. How can the poor not feel left out? There are camps whose prices exclude the poor. Some have bursaries to help, but are they being used? There are camps run which only the cream of society can go to and children from most of society are excluded. Thousands of pounds are poured into student ministry, and other projects which are for the educated classes while ministers in poor areas can hardly survive. It’s time to stop misquoting the sermon of the mount (I’ll come to that again) and start taking the beam out of our own eyes. Social justice around Christ is the issue of the Old Testament and New. How are we treating the widow, the fatherless, the refugee in our churches? How are we making sure they don’t feel second class? The same goes for wealthier churches. Are they pouring money into churches in needy areas, into churches which welcome prostitutes like Rahab and place them in a position of honour? I know, ensuring that churches in poor areas are well supported is not cool and trendy, and there’s no reward on earth, but that is the Bible’s view.

We must look at ourselves and stop misquoting the sermon on the mount or the story of the good Samaritan. Really look at ourselves and ask, can a poor refugee like Ruth look at our church and say“Your people will be my people, and your God my God”?If not, forget about everything else, this is what the poor need. Repent and read Moses. But don’t do it your way or man’s way. You’ll feel good about yourself, but you’re just making matters worse.

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