One of our spiritual disciplines as Christians is to care for those who are in need, both within our circle of acquaintances and among strangers. Different churches and church groups handle this type of ministry in different ways. At Mt. Haley, we have a benevolence committee which functions as an advisory group for most of our charitable gifts to people in desperate situations.
Over time, in multiple churches, I have heard several people suggest that poverty is such a rampant problem in our society – rich though we all are, by the world’s standards – that we can never eliminate poverty completely. People will always come asking for help with rent payments, electric bills, empty gas tanks, hungry children, and so forth. Perhaps, though, we ourselves have asked (or will ask) for help in similar ways! By helping those who are in need, we are putting into action Jesus’s so-called Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31 NIV).
Sometimes, people will cite Jesus’s words in Matthew 26:11 as suggesting that our devotion to him is more important than our care for the needy: “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me” (NIV). But I don’t think that’s the best understanding of what Jesus meant. He often helped the poor himself, particularly through miraculous feedings and healings. His teachings are perfectly in line with the Old Testament standard, which I recently rediscovered and would like to share with you here.
Take a few minutes to read Deuteronomy 15:1-11, and notice how many times the words “needy” or “poor” appear. The final verse of this passage says something startling: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land'” (NRSV).
Precisely because there will always be people in need around us, we should continue to look for ways to serve others. Our work will never be complete. Friends, don’t be discouraged by the poverty that surrounds us; instead, look for ways to be a blessing! And don’t settle for allowing our benevolence committee to handle all our care for people in need; find ways to be benevolent yourself! Let us each open our hands to our poor and needy neighbors, and in so doing share with them the love of Jesus Christ, which he has graciously given to us.