Do what the word says
I have a passion for poverty alleviation, but have never been on a short-term mission trip. Some of you might be thinking, “that’s nice, dear” (the granny version of cool story, bro), but others of you will be wondering how I got such a passion without this all important experiential factor. Well, as trite as it may sound, I gained my passion through reading the Bible.
My life verse is James chapter 1, verse 22, which says: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says”. The reason I love this verse (and much of the book of James) is its succinct clarity. What it says, it means.
This has been a good challenge for me as a person prone to intellectualise Christianity. The passage uses the word ‘do’, which reminds me that Christianity is not simply a cognitive activity housed solely in the thought life, rather it is an all-of-life affair. Christian faith does engage our minds, to be sure, but it also calls us to action. It calls us to ‘do’ what it says.
The Bible and poverty alleviation
When it comes to caring for the oppressed and those in poverty, the Bible has a lot to say about what we ought to do as Christians (in fact, it’s hard to turn the page without coming across some discussion about the poor).
In Luke Chapter 4, verse 21 Jesus gives his maiden speech, proclaiming what his ministry would be about: proclaiming good news to the poor, freedom to the prisoner, recovery of sight for the blind, and setting the oppressed free. Jesus’ ministry was aimed at a specific demographic: the poor, marginalised, down-trodden, and the oppressed. If we are to be doers of the word, this same demographic should be important to us as well.
“Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none” in Luke chapter 3, verse 11 means exactly what it says: instead of being greedy, share your wealth equitably, helping those in need. The challenge of the sheep and the goats in Matthew chapter 25, verses 31-46 is clear: feed those who are hungry, give a drink to those who are thirsty, and clothe those who are naked.
This is the most challenging verse for me at the moment. Perhaps when Jesus says in Luke chapter 14, verses 12-14 that, instead of only inviting our friends and family over to our house for a meal, who will no doubt repay the favour by having us over for an even bigger and better meal, we should invite the poor and the downcast, who will never repay us.
Sometimes doing what the word says means getting outside our comfort zones just a little bit. (Side note – I recommend following basic safety procedures in choosing which friendly neighbourhood homeless man to invite to your house. The safety of you and your children is important to me!)
Having dwelt on James chapter 1, verse 22 for a number of years, and then having read the Bible and what it commands me to do in relation to the poor and oppressed, I have become zealous about this ministry of aid and development. Basically, I realised that sometimes, ‘do what it says’ means, literally, ‘do… what… it says’.
Not oversimplification, certainly interpretation, but also implementation
Now don’t hear me wrong, I’m not saying that we should oversimply the Bible unduly. I understand that it is necessary to understand the context in which Jesus lived and in which the Bible was written. I realise that our culture can be so alien to that of Jesus that sometimes, interpretation of scripture is required for us to appropriately apply it to our lives.
What I am saying, though, is that we ought not forget, in our deep-thinking, educated culture, that the Bible is supposed to be implemented practically. Sometimes I think we need to be reminded that it’s time to avert our eyes away from our navels and pound the pavement, practicing giving as Jesus commands us. Sometimes we Western Christians need to not merely listen to the word, and so deceive ourselves. We need to do what it says.
Brent is the Queensland State Representative for Baptist World Aid Australia and is a registered pastor with the Baptist union of Queensland. He completed a Bachelor of Theology with honours in New Testament through Malyon College in Brisbane, where he now lives with his wife, Jane. Like all good advocates for the poor, in his downtime, he likes to pretentiously drink overpriced coffee out of mason jars and other quaint glassware.
Brent Van Mourik’s previous articles may be viewed at