What is the Mission of the Church? Part 8: Alms for the Poor
May 6, 2021 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
It is very clear in Scripture that God cares for the poor and wants his followers to care for the poor. Take for example Proverbs 14:31, “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him;” and Galatians 2:10, “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”
In light of God’s heart for the poor, Jesus makes an intriguing statement in John 12:8, “The poor you always have with you.” This is in the context of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet as an act of worship and gratitude for Jesus raising her brother from the dead. John tells us that Judas considered this act to be wasteful, that the perfume could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. Matthew tells us that Judas’ attitude was shared by the other disciples as well (Matt. 26:8). Why would Jesus respond this way? Wouldn’t Jesus want to see poverty irradicated? What do we learn from Jesus’ response about the poor always being with us?
For one, we need to understand what the Bible teaches about the cause of poverty. Tragedy is one cause of poverty. Think of Job, an incredibly wealthy man who loses all of his wealth in a single day. Orphans and widows suffer poverty because of the tragic nature of their status. Injustice is another cause for poverty. Micah condemns evil doers who “covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away” (2:2). The sinful, unjust actions of some leave others in poverty. Third, sloth is a cause of poverty. The Proverbs confront sloth frequently. In 6:10-11 we read, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” The fourth cause of poverty is sacrifice for ministering in God’s kingdom. Paul gives testimony to the poverty he endured during his ministry, “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil. 4:12).
When we take into consideration the causes of poverty, we understand that until Christ returns and puts away all sin and tragedy, poverty will always be present in this world. We cannot end poverty this side of glory. Only Jesus will do that when he returns. When considering the church’s responsibility to the poor, we must keep this bigger reality in mind.
What is the mission of the church, then, regarding the poor? Jesus’ response in John 12:7-8 is similar to the apostles’ response to poverty in Acts 6:2-4. There is a priority for ministry attention. In Acts 6, there was an unfair distribution of resources for widows. The apostles respond, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables…” The primary mission of the church is the making of disciples of Jesus Christ through the preaching of the Word. Meeting the needs of the poor must never supplant the ministry of the Word. But that doesn’t mean we become complacent and ignore the needs of the poor. The Apostles appointed men to oversee the distribution of resources for the widows (the first deacons).
What we see here is the church institutional prioritizing the ministry of the Gospel and then directing members of the church to facilitate the care of the poor. Did they alleviate all poverty in Jerusalem? No, they did what they could (remember Gal. 6:10). Financially, followers of Christ are called to support the ministry of the Word (Gal. 6:6) and also have means to help people in need (Eph. 4:28). Let’s be people who are generous in meeting the needs of the poor, but let’s not do that at the expense of prioritizing the ministry of the Gospel.