Back in the 1970s, the founder of the Sojourners community in the US, Jim Wallis, and a friend, decided to conduct an experiment. They wanted to find out what the Bible said about poverty and injustice. So they took a Bible, and a pair of scissors, and proceeded to literally cut out all the verses they could find that spoke of those concerns.
As Wallis described it later, what they were left with was a “holey Bible”. It was a Bible full of holes, such were the vast amount of verses they found and cut out. The point he has since made is that too many of us metaphorically cut out what the Bible says about the poor. We ignore it because it makes us too uncomfortable.
It has since been well documented that there are more than 2,000 verses in the Bible that speak about God’s concern for the poor. From the creation story in Genesis, right through to new creation in Revelation, we see a theme of God’s heart for treating the poor well and for justice to be done.
When Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, found this out himself, he lamented about how he could have missed all these verses after all his years in Christian leadership.
Christians throughout the ages have followed the call of Jesus to go where he was sent and serve those living in poverty. For the first 300 years of the church, they were known for their care of the poor and destitute. History shows that it is one of the major reasons for the explosive growth of the church. In Acts chapters 2 and 4, we see how the early Christians lived, that they shared everything they had, that no one was in need.
In the church I grew up in, memorising Bible verses was hugely important. I’m enormously grateful for that as it gave me a great love of the Bible.
The most famous verse we were taught was John chapter 3, verse 16: “For God so loved the world…”. But we were never taught the equivalent chapter and verse from John’s first letter, and the couple of verses following. They ask the confronting question of how the love of God can be in us if we don’t provide materially for our brothers and sisters in need.
What does our faith mean?
What does our faith mean if we don’t live it out in action and love of others? The greatest commandment is not to preach the Gospel, but to love God and neighbour. Jesus said the entire law and prophets are summed up in those two commands. What we have called the ‘Great Commission’ is really the Great Omission. Matthew chapter 28 says we are to make disciples. A disciple is one who sits at the feet of their master, learns from them and follows them.
Jesus sent his disciples to go where he was sent. Where was he sent? He was sent to the poor, the outcast, the ‘sinners’, the tax collectors and prostitutes, all the people who no one else thought were worthy of being loved. But Jesus showed them they were blessed and loved. That’s why they flocked to him.
Preaching though is still equally important. I am an evangelical, and part of my paid job is to preach in churches about 20 times a year. I love it; I come alive when I preach Jesus. But verbal proclamation is not all there is to being Christian.
This is also not about being a ‘leftie’ or a ‘liberal’ or any political label that people might put on it. I deliberately avoid such distracting labels. This is about being Christian, a follower of Jesus. No less than 87 times in the gospels does Jesus say “follow me”. It was of central importance to him.
It was also of central importance to millions of Christians throughout history. One of them was Charles Finney, inventor of the altar call. What many people don’t realise is that when Finney called people up the front to give their lives to Christ, he also made it compulsory for them to commit themselves to the anti-slavery cause. For Finney, being Christian and seeking justice were inseparable.
Seeking justice for the poor is an expression of our relationship with God. Jeremiah chapter 22, verse 16 says that this is what it means to know God. And in the end, this is how we will be judged. Matthew chapter 25 is the only description we see in the gospels of the last judgment. The questions we will be asked on that day concern how we treated the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoner, the refugee. Because when we do it to them, we do it to Jesus himself. Jesus wants us to see him in the poor and the outcast, and to feed them, to love them.
Commitment to the poor and seeking justice is simply not an option for the Christian. Serving the poor is to be in our very DNA, as it was for Jesus and the early church. Let’s be sure to keep our Bibles holy and not holey.
Nils von Kalm is from Melbourne, Australia and has a passion for showing how the Gospel is relevant to life in the 21st century. He can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/nils.vonkalm and at http://soulthoughts.com/
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