Thursday is for Discipleship
Yesterday, I posted a simple comment on Facebook about an observation I made of related to the Presidential debate. Two hours later I checked back in to see a comment stream between some of my more politically conservative friends and some (actually, one) of my more liberal friends. I’m not sure, but I think my more liberal friend believes that government has a formative role protecting and providing for the poor and that it should use the power to tax to garner the resources to accomplish that task.
My more politically conservative friends, (I know this is not true because I know them personally, and I know each of them to be compassionate, loving and generous people) sound like they don’t care about the poor and just want the government to let them decide how to use their resources and see a much more limited role for government in terms of directly providing for and protection and support of the poor. I am going to bring over the comment thread from Facebook and place it as the first comment on this blog post so that the whole discussion is in one place. I would love to encourage my conservative commenters to read over their comments and analyze them not for whether or not they communicate their political perspective clearly but for the tone and the unintentional consequence of focusing more on political outcomes rather than kingdom outcomes.
With that as a backdrop, let me turn to the Scripture, the Church and the Poor.
As Tim Keller has written, “Churches grow best not when they aim at church growth as much as when they serve the peace/shalom of the whole city.” Why? Two reasons:
One, it is the biblical model of ministry.
Jesus, Paul and the early church all seemed to give significant attention to the poor and the downcast of the culture. Luke 4:18-19 gives us Jesus’ own summary of his ministry:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The apostle Paul gave the Corinthians his analysis of where the early converts of Corinth had come from in 1 Corinthians 1:26-28:
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.”
Earlier, Paul wrote to the Galatian Christians that the one thing the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-35) asked him to impress upon all the Gentile churches was that they remember the poor (Galatians 2:10). Likewise, the New Testament writer, James, gives his summary of how the gospel has gone forth in the first-century world. In James 2:1-7 he exhorted the church not to dishonor the poor by preferring the rich:
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? (ESV)
A second reason: The New Testament model of ministry seemed to thrive in the good soil of poverty and oppression.
One commentator translates Proverbs 4:19 as “the way of the wicked is hard.” People who have found the hard end of wickedness are often most receptive to the gospel story. The New Testament model seems to focus on the unclean, the unrighteous, the broken, and despised. This should not be surprising when we look at what Jesus taught in the “Parable of the Sower” (Mark 4:1-20). While there is no mention of the poor per se in the parable it is clear from the description of the “thorny soil” that it is the “deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things [that] enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:19).
This is a theme that is echoed in much of Jesus’ teaching. The beaten (think of parable of the Good Samaritan), the oppressed (think of the women who had suffered much at the hands of physicians), the poor (think of the widow’s mite), the broken (think of the paralytic), the despised (think of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the Temple and the lepers and the woman caught in adultery) are held up in a sympathetic light. One could make a good case that Jesus concentrated his most personal and hands-on ministry to the least, most despised, and poorest of the land. We who call him Lord, who are eager to “have Christ formed in us” (Galatians 4:19) ought to follow in his footsteps.
How can we not care for the poor and oppressed and still call him “our Lord?” Is it not a mockery of Christ to abandon the poor?
The Church needs to step up big time, no matter who gets elected in November, to live a radically focused and sacrificial lifestyle and to enter into the lives of those who have the least among us. We need to be a people who bridge the political divide between the political right and the left, while maintaining a firm and yet a “lovingkindness-infused” compassion for those who are in many ways trapped in a cycle of poverty and lack. Many simply can’t escape that cycle without someone from outside becoming a rescuer in some way. The liberal left thinks that should be the government. I don’t know exactly what the conservative right thinks that should be.
But the Christian, the follower of Christ, the blood-bought slave of a risen Savior knows that his greater citizenship is in heaven and his treasures are best stored in heaven. The richest treasures there are gained when he lives for the sake of others here. That’s why we pray that “his will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
 Timothy J. Keller and J. Allen Thompson, Church Planter Manual, (New York, N.Y.: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2002), 3.  Jay Adams, in Godliness Through Discipline, (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Puritan and Reformed Press, 1999), 6.  This “desire for other things” of course is not only a temptation of the rich but of everyone else as well.  Respectively the references are: Luke 10:25-37; Mark 5:25-34; Mark 12:41-44; Luke 18:9-14.