“My dear friends, pay attention. God has given a lot of faith to the poor people in this world. He has also promised them a share in his kingdom that he will give to everyone who loves him” (James 2:5).
God’s grace is what makes the world go round. Grace trumps everything. An absence of grace in God’s people is offensive to him. When I was growing up, our family dog was named “Sam.” Sam loved being on the farm. One time he tussled with a skunk. I could barely get close enough to him to clean him up because he stunk so badly. Favoritism toward those with means over those who don’t, stinks, and God has a hard time getting close to us when we show partiality to others. And he is going to clean us up when he smells the stench of discrimination on us. Showing favoritism to some over others is evidence that the dog is running away from the bath of grace. In order to develop relationships and interact with people the way God wants us to, we must be free from prejudice.
God cares about persons trapped in poverty. The poor are important to him. When Jesus began his ministry he pointed people to Isaiah 61:1 – The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor (Luke 4:18). In the Old Testament, there are seven different words for the “poor” because poverty was such a pervasive reality (and still is across the world!). The range of meanings includes those who are poor because of laziness, those born into poverty, being poor because of inhuman oppression or slavery, simple beggars, and the pious humble poor. These spiritual poor persons are the Hebrew anawim. The anawim are humble persons who are caught in grinding poverty, having no choice but to put their trust in God.
God has a lot to say about such persons because they are dear to his heart. The law was quite clear about how to treat the poor. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward the poor and needy in your land (Deuteronomy 15:11). Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin (Deuteronomy 24:14-15).
The mistreatment, exploitation, and just plain inattention to such persons were a chief reason God sent the prophets to Israel. God had something to say concerning them: Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?” – skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat. The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done” (Amos 8:4-7). Instead of being generous to the poor and allowing them to forage for grain at harvest behind the harvesters, they kept “those people” away from the fields so that they could turn a profit at every little bit they could. And God thought it all stunk to high heaven.
We must be reminded that it is only the poor in spirit who will enter the kingdom of heaven. Only those who trust in God alone, and not in their stuff, will he accept. The real issue here is the humility that demonstrates grace to people who cannot offer you something in return. It is easy to be merciful to people who will turn around later and scratch our backs. But it is altogether a different thing to be gracious from a place of humility and service to God. God cares about the condition of our souls and not the balance of our bank accounts. Inattention to the needy only betrays a heart far from him. If God were to audit you, would he find your finances reflecting a spirit of humility and concern for the anawim? God does not judge people on face value and the state of their finances, and neither should we.
We are to speak and act with mercy to all persons, without prejudice. The only way to rid ourselves of the stench of showing favoritism is to receive the cleansing bath of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. The shampoo of grace is available, if we will let God apply it. God is the expert in:
Ø Turning people from only associating with those they are comfortable with, to lovingly reaching out to people very different from themselves;
Ø Changing people from the stinking thinking about what they can continually obtain and consume, to people who are loving and generous with their words and their physical resources;
Ø Putting to death a proud spirit that looks to get ahead and accomplish an agenda by any means possible, to giving new life through humble repentance.
Ministry to the poor is a non-negotiable for the Christian church. Beyond only dispensing benevolent funds, the poor need relationships, connections, resources, and a chance to give back in ways they can contribute. It’s just part of being attentive to them, and extending them grace. How does your church show their concern for the poor in your city and/or region?