He (God) defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. (Deut. 10:18; see also 24:19-21)
If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. (Deut 15:7-8)
“Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:10)
“Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” (Deut 27:19)
“If I have kept the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone, and the orphan has not shared it, if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or that the needy had no covering, and if he has not been warmed with the fleece of my sheep, if I have lifted up my hand against the orphan, because I saw I had support in the gate, [then] let my shoulder fall from the socket and my arm be broken off at the elbow!” (from Job 31:16-21)
“Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17)
This is what the LORD says: “Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3)
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:14-16)
We have a really wonderful ministry at Crossroads Bible Church called “Career Transition Workshop.” Taking place once a month during the school year, the “CTW” (as we call it) is a day-long seminar that has as its goal to help those looking for work or seeking a job transition. Run by human resource professionals, the CTW offers resume advice, job hunting tips, and ways to use social media and the internet to find employment. It’s a really awesome workshop that has helped thousands of individuals in its decade of operation. After every workshop, we receive a number of heart-felt thank you’s from participants. It makes a difference. We have a companion group, Career Network, that meets every Wednesday night at the church building. We don’t charge a thing for the outreach ministries. We even provide a free lunch to those attending the CTW.
The workshop isn’t free for the church, though. We make booklets for each participant, buy groceries for the meal, and keep the building open and air conditioned for a 10-hour period. We can easily spend a few thousand dollars each year on the workshop. But as a church, we long-ago decided to make it free for all who need its services. Even during these tough economic times. And the workshop is very popular in small part to the fact it doesn’t charge a fee of some sort. We draw 150-180 people every month, most of whom don’t go to Crossroads. Not all of our organizers, in fact, are involved at the church. Only a couple. But the leaders are believers with a heart for those in job-related distress. The workshop is opened in prayer but there is no evangelizing during it. No gospel message for a captive audience. It is help, freely offered, with no obligation.
There are some who have argued against offering such ministries without charge. Of what purpose is it to offer free everything when there is no gospel presentation, the participants don’t come to your church or — even worse — you don’t know if they even live near your neighborhood? What’s the return on the investment, they argue?
I’m not joking here.
I get infuriated by such an argument because it shows a lack of understanding of what ministry really is. What is ministry? It is the act of ministering to someone. Duh. What does it mean to minister? To attend to the needs of someone. To provide something necessary or helpful. A similar word to ministry is “charity,” which is “the voluntary giving of help to those in need.” Sometimes this is spiritual need. Sometimes it is physical need. And since human life is simultaneously lived in both realms — the spiritual and the physical — ministry is therefore much broader than evangelism or discipleship. It involves the whole body. (insert sermon on social justice here…)
There are many themes common throughout the Bible, one of which is charity. Charity is a word used quite frequently in Catholic circles but swept under the rug in most Protestant realms. We just don’t like using the same verbiage, for some reason. But the definition is the same — outreach, charity, benevolence, ministry. It is a giving of something we have to someone who has not. It is, as the Lord Himself said in Matthew 25, a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty. Bandaging the wounds of someone who is bleeding. (Think of the Good Samaritan here, a story found in Luke 10.)
Charity is helping someone who doesn’t have a job find a job. It is providing a free lunch to those who would otherwise dip into their precious savings to buy food. Some have even taken leftovers home to their families. I know a person who did just that. Charity is taking the time to listen to someone give a job pitch and offering feedback. It is taking a look at a resume and suggesting changes. Charity is a vital responsibility for any God-follower. And it is more than we think it is. Let’s look at the words of Christ Himself in Matthew 25. In talking about the great judgment that will take place at His Second Coming, Jesus said,
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
When we act in charity, whether it is clothing a naked person or providing a free meal to a job searcher, we are ministering to Christ. Picking up a lunch tab for someone drowning in debt. This is ministry. Helping an older lady unload heavy boxes from the back of her car. This is ministry. Making a waitress or waiter laugh when it looks like they’re having a bad day. This is ministry. This is charity. This is for Christ.
Along with great joy for the modern church I have great worry as well. I fear that some church leaders have narrowed their definition of ministry when Christ sought to broaden it. He not only broadened the definition of sin but also the definition of grace. He not only warned us of the judgment to come but also offered Himself as salvation. Just like the Pharisees and scribes, we have put everything in a box so we can define it and do it. But Jesus took things out of the box. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the meek. A cup of cold water is ministry.
I quoted a number of verses at the start of this post to, hopefully, remind us about one of the major elements of the character and will of God. He is particularly interested in the poor, the foreigner, the orphan and the widow. Why these things? All four are at a disadvantage in our society. Poor can’t feed themselves. The foreigner can barely understand the language and customs. The orphans have no parent to protect them. The widows have no husband to provide for them. In steps the Body of Christ — those who fear God and are called by His Name in Christ. Whether it is a workshop, a network, a support group, paying someone’s rent, or simply taking them out to lunch, we can minister to Christ by ministering to others. You do it as long as you are able. As long as you are able to provide what someone needs. No strings attached.
So why reach out in charity to those who may — or may not (aka the foreigner) — know Jesus? After studying the Scriptures a while this morning, I put together these bullet points:
We are being Christ to those in distress, an answer to their prayers for help or deliverance. We provide…
- A cup of cold water for the thirsty (Matt 25)
- A cloak of warmth for the naked (Matt 25)
- A loaf of bread for the hungry (Matt 25)
- A shelter from the storm (Psalm 107)
- Acceptance for the stranger (Matt 25; Heb. 13:2)
- An offering to the Lord (Acts 10:4)