One benefit of getting older is being able to watch decades of time and changes that come into vogue. Reading widely and following many Christian Leadership type journals, I watch the church “Fashion Show.” The cool, young, hip conference speaker types, who also then become the book writers and “fashion shapers,” take the church through the same cycle as fashion designers take us on clothing by determining what is “In” and what is “Out.”
Yesterday, I heard an interview on Janet Parshell’s America talking about alleviating poverty. The guests were talking about their book titled, “The Least of These.” The title comes from Matthew 25:40 and what scholars call the sheep and goat judgment of the nations. The context of Matthew’s writing can be seen in chapter 10 when Jesus sends out the disciples and tells them not to take any money but rather to depend on others kindness. If a family gave the messenger of Christ food and shelter they were to declare God’s blessing on that home, if they did not, the messengers were to shake the dust off their feet and move on! Even in the immediate context, Matthew 24:9 Jesus says, Then you will be arrested, persecuted and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers.” He is preparing his disciples for what is to come and how they will be mistreated, then He moves to chapter 25 and shows that He has their back and people will be judged for mistreating them, because ultimately, when you mess with His messengers, you are messing with Him!
The American experience, has been one of the few times in human history the church, true believers who are spreading their faith have also had wealth. That was pretty foreign to disciples and ministers in the early church. In fact, in Matthew 10, Jesus warned the disciples he sent out they where being sent out as sheep among wolves. He said, get your big boy pants on because you will be flogged, betrayed, arrested, stand trial and persecuted. Jesus said, the servant is not greater than the master!
The missing link to an accurate understanding of the Matthew 25 passage is, “The least of these MY BROTHERS! In the famous passage when Jesus says, you get to be with Him because you fed, clothed, visited in prison, etc. has nothing to do with the American Church caring for homeless people!! It is a passage that is judgment on the nations and how they responded to Jesus followers who are spreading the gospel message. The Christian Servant is an extension of the Master, and how you treat them is how you treat Him!
There are plenty of other references to use to take care of the widows and orphans, but using this passage in a general way to indiscriminately make caring for non-believing destitute people in 21st century America is Bible abuse!
To make caring for the poor the main mission of your church superseding the sharing of the Gospel message may be in vogue today but it is in error! Churches have historically had benevolence ministries caring for the less fortunate. Today, churches call benevolence ministry, missions! This is a subtle shift of focus based on a faulty interpretation of the New Testament!