Historically, charity has been the duty of the church, yet today much of that responsibility has been abdicated to the government. A large portion of the federal budget, and hence of the taxes we pay, is allocated to social programs, such as providing assistance to the poor. Yet, Jesus made it clear that caring for those in need is a primary responsibility of His church.
In Matthew 25: 31 – 46, Jesus talks about the end times. He tells His disciples that at the judgment He will separate the sheep and the goats. The sheep will be rewarded with eternal life and the goats will be condemned to eternal punishment. Who are the sheep? The sheep are described as those who have provided food and drink to the hungry and thirsty and clothing to those in need, those who extended invitations to strangers, those who cared for the sick, and those who have visited prisoners. The goats are the people who did not do these things.
This teaching taken by itself seems to indicate salvation by works. Yet, we know from a thorough reading of the Scriptures, that we cannot achieve salvation by our works. Salvation is a free gift bestowed on those who will accept it through belief in Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. We can never do enough good works to be ‘good enough’ for Heaven. Only if we acknowledge our sin and inadequacies and allow the blood of Jesus to pay the price for our sin can we be saved and receive the gift of eternal life.
What then was Jesus trying to tell His disciples? I believe that He was emphasizing how serious it is for His church to carry out His work of ministering to those in need. As a church, the body of Christ must: (1) feed the hungry, (2) provide clothing to those in need, (3) reach out to strangers and make them feel welcome, (4) care for the sick and lonely, and (5) visit those who are incarcerated. These actions are not voluntary; Jesus mandated them as the primary work of His people.
Jesus came to minister to those in need. When the Pharisees criticized Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus told them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) Jesus went out of His way to interact with those who were in need, whether the need was physical, financial, or spiritual. After their immediate needs were met, they were receptive to Jesus’ message of grace and redemption.
The church should do no less than Jesus did. Charitable outreach cannot be something we do randomly or haphazardly. It must be done regularly and with a plan. To paraphrase a popular saying “no one cares what you believe until they believe you care.” We will only be able to reach the lost, the hurting, the lonely, and the needy if we reach out to them with the love of Jesus and minister first to their physical needs. If the church truly fulfills this mission, sinners will flock to churches and many, many people will receive salvation.
I am happy to be a part of a church that believes in ministering to those in need. We do this specifically by providing food to anyone who calls us and asks for help. Most of the people we assist do not attend our church. We are happy to share Christ’s love through providing food for them. It is our prayer that many of these people will want to fully experience Christ’s love and will seek out a Bible-believing church to attend. We also visit visit the sick and elderly in the hospital and nursing homes. And, of course, many other churches in our community do their part to fulfill Christ’s mandate to serve the poor and needy. Still, there is more that needs to be done.
Each church needs to step up and take primary responsibility for the needy in their communities. If they did, the government could reduce or eliminate many social programs and the church would have the influence it should rightly have in the world.
What are you and your church doing to share Christ’s love with those in need?