I recently read that there are some in the Christian arena who do not believe that helping the poor and needy is a prime directive of Christianity.
They say that those who believe in helping the poor are neglecting the spreading of the gospel and that should be more important. Both are equally important and are required. This clearly is demonstrated in the Scriptures.
Matthew 25:32-46 presents a picture of Judgment Day, in which we find that those who helped their fellow man entered into eternal life and those who did not were sent to everlasting punishment. Jesus said to the ones who entered into life, “Come, you blessed of my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you took me in, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to me.”
The righteous asked Jesus when did they do those things to him, and he answered, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”
When he addressed those on the left hand who had not helped their fellowman, he was unforgiving.
He said to them, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave me no food, thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you took me not in, naked and you clothed me not, sick and in prison and you visited me not.”
They answered, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison and did not minister to you?”
He responded, “Inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
Ignoring the plight of the needy when you have the wherewithal to help them can be costly for you on judgment day. This also is demonstrated in Luke 16:19-31. Jesus is the one relating the events in both cases; therefore, we can deduce that this is something that is important to him. The rich man who refused to feed and clothe Lazarus, the beggar who sat at his gate every day, also went to hell. God will treat us no differently if we refuse to help those he places in our pathway.
John the apostle instructs in I John 1:9, 3:15 and 17-18, “He that says he is in the light and hates his brother is in darkness even until now. Whosoever hates his brother is a murderer: and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. But whoso has this world’s good and sees his brother has a need and shuts up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwells the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue but in deed and in truth”.
The Apostle James teaches us that when we do not help those in need, it shows that we lack faith in God because our faith is not buttressed by works of obedience. He admonishes in James 2:14-17, “What does it profit, my brethren, though a man says he has faith, and have not works, can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food and one of you say to them, ‘Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled;’ notwithstanding you give them not those things, which are needful to the body, what does it profit? Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone. Yea a man may say, ‘You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’”
If we understand these teachings, we would know that helping one’s fellowman is a prime directive of Christianity because it is obedience to the primary commandments: Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, love your neighbor as yourself, and love is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. First John 4:20-21 states, “If a man says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? This commandment we have from him that he who loves God loves his brother also.”
Therefore, we see that helping the poor and needy fulfills the law of God and the law of love. It does not upstage the spreading of the gospel in any way. As a matter of fact, believers are expected to do both.
Harn is the pastor of Victory Assembly of God and a member of the United Ministerial Alliance.