You Will Always Have the Poor...
This past Sunday, Pastor Vic taught from Psalm 41. He showed us that "how we treat the poor, weak, and marginalized reflects our view and value of the Gospel." He shared a story of his youngest son, Levi, showing pure and reckless (in a good way) generosity towards a stranger in need who approached their family in the Academy parking lot.
Now, I know you, because I know myself. One part of you was deeply convicted by this, desiring to be more generous in your own life and maybe going so far as to make some personal goals and vows to yourself to do so. Another part of you said, "OK, great story, but are you telling me that to be a Gospel-valuing Christian, I need to give money to every homeless dude who asks me for it? I guess I'll just avoid downtown Athens from now on..."
It's OK. You can be honest. In some ways this not just a simple, cut-and-dry conversation.
- Aren't we enabling the poor when we just give money?
- What if they go spend it on drugs?
- I don't carry cash, and I don't want to get anyone's hopes up, so I'll just avoid eye contact.
- Or, to be honest, I just don't think about poor people until they approach me on the street, at which point I do my best to pretend I don't notice them because I wasn't prepared for an awkward social situation.
But that's not really the point, is it? Vic's sermon, and Psalm 41 for that matter, is much more about heart evaluation than external application. The former must lead to the latter.
I can't tell you what to do in every interaction with someone in need. And the truth is, there's need everywhere! Orphans, widows, refugees, homeless - where do we even begin? Well, let's start with what God says in Deuteronomy 15:
...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.’
There will always be people in need, and the response of the Christian to this reality should be reckless generosity. A wide open hand. But generosity is about much more than money. What God is really interested in is a wide open heart.
- Are you generous with your time? Are you willing to stop and hear someone's story, whether or not you can give them $10?
- Are you generous with your emotions? Are you willing to weep over the realities of our broken world - global poverty, rampant undernutrition, lack of access to clean water, sex trafficking, exploitation, child soldiering, persecution and war?
- Are you generous with your money? Are you willing to sacrifice your own comforts for the sake of those in need, whether in monthly, strategic donation to a gospel-centered organization or in random, impulse giving to someone who asks?
Remember, God is not interested in duty-driven, obligatory obedience. Anyone can give to the poor, with or without the Holy Spirit. In fact, followers of other faiths generally do it better because they believe they are earning their salvation by it.
The early church understood this, to the point that they caused the evil, pagan Roman emperor of their day (Julian) to admit in disgust that he couldn't stop the church from growing no matter how many he jailed or killed because "those internal Galileans feed our poor in addition to their own." Historian Eberhard Arnold notes:
"Most astounding to the outside observer was the extent to which poverty was overcome in the vicinity of the communities...Christians spent more money in the streets than the followers of other religions spent in their temples." 1
OH that our church would be seen this way in our community! That we would be known by our generosity, that people would see how we treat the poor and marginalized in our communities and around the world and see the hands and feet of Jesus.
Because only a follower of Jesus can respond in gospel-driven generosity to the poor, weak and marginalized; only a follower of Jesus can reflect the nature and character of God in the way we love, care and provide for the poor; only a follower of Jesus can be guided by the Holy Spirit to know when to give money, when to give time, when to mourn with those who mourn, when to just listen, and when and how to act.
So, the question is not, "How much do I need to give to the poor" or, "How often do I have to do this?" The question is, "Am I willing to stop, listen to the cries of the poor, listen to the Holy Spirit, and follow His lead?" "Am I willing to open wide my hands, my hearts, my very life to those in need?" Are we willing to ask the age-old, retro-trendy question: What Would Jesus Do?
Which leads to the final point: Jesus quoted part of Deuteronomy 15 in a somewhat unexpected way in Matthew 26. A woman poured really expensive oil on him, and the disciples got upset because, they said, "that could have been sold and the money given to the poor." This is logical, and I would say a pretty valid point. But Jesus responds with, "Leave the woman alone. You always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me."
Jesus is more important than anything we can "do for Him." Nearness to Him, pursuit of Him, must be primary. The beauty of it is, the closer we get to Him, the more we know what He would do, and the more often we will respond in life with a Gospel-driven generosity that points back to Him, which is the whole point of our lives anyway, isn't it? To show the world the generosity of our Savior, who, though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that we by his poverty might become rich.
So, Gospel-driven generosity is guided by the Holy Spirit, reflects the heart of God, and points the world to Jesus Christ.
O God, make us generous, for your Name's sake.
1. Gaining by Losing, (pg. 126) by J.D. Greear