Poverty can be of a material, physical, mental or spiritual nature. As followers of Jesus, what should be our response to poverty in all of its various forms? It is clear in Scripture that we are to care for those in need. A quick reading of the parable of “The Sheep and the Goats” (Matthew 25:31-46) reveals that we are to feed the hungry, provide water to those who don’t have access to it, give shelter to the homeless, clothe those who are in need, care for the sick and minister to those in prison. It’s a rather comprehensive picture of the poor and outcast in our society. These are the things we must do if we would be a true follower of Christ. This is the mission He left for us to pursue. Not only that, but it is the mission He modeled in His own life. Do you want to live a life that reflects the beauty of Jesus? If so, our mission to those in poverty has been clearly laid out for us.
To carry out our mission will require sacrifice on our behalf for those we find in need. Ministering to those in prison will require giving up some of our time and perhaps will force some of us to drop a sense of fear towards those who are incarcerated. Despite the reasons they are there, those in prison are some of the most vulnerable and desperate people on the planet. They need to hear of the hope offered by Jesus and to feel the nonjudgmental touch of unconditional love.
Caring for the sick requires us to not only sacrifice our time but also to possibly forfeit our own health. Mother Theresa endured many illnesses contracted while carrying for the sick in Calcutta. She was not deterred, and neither can we become so. To touch one who is sick, to visit them in their illness will do wonders for their psyche and resolve. Simply demonstrating the love of Jesus to them will often speed their recovery by that simple act alone. Love is a wonderful healer, and letting a sick person know that someone cares may be just the boost they need.
Giving food and water, clothing or shelter to those who lack these things can be as simple as sharing from your excess. Most of us who live in the West have more than enough food in our cupboards and access to a virtually unlimited supply of clean water. By simply being a people content with “just enough” for ourselves (Proverbs 30:8-9), we would discover a tremendous abundance that we could give to someone who did not have enough. We could also give our money to organizations that are involved in getting food to famine stricken nations or drilling wells in places that have no access to clean water (two excellent ministries I highly recommend that are doing work in this area are Persecution Project and Living Water International). Perhaps you may even consider sacrificing further and actually going to the poor of the world, whether that means a third world country far away, or an inner city just around the corner. Giving your life in service to those in need is giving your life to live out the Gospel. This is a life, if done with the proper attitude and spirit, which certainly looks like Jesus.
We are called to serve those in poverty. Throughout much of the New Testament we find passages that admonish us to care for those who are in need and to share what we have with one another, so that no one lacks anything. Jesus gave all that He had, ultimately His own life, in order to give a better life to all those around Him. He did this out of love and obedience to God. He sacrificed freely and completely. Our response must be the same, so that we too can live lives that are a fragrant sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:2). Poverty surrounds every one of us. To those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, the challenge is clear. How will we respond?