Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” Then they themselves also will answer, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?” Then He will answer them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. – Matthew 25.41-46
In an earlier article I wrote about 9 things that Jesus said that should influence the way Christians should approach politics. Should Matthew 25.41-46 be added to that list? Did Jesus intend for Christians to become involved in political means to help the poor?
It is imperative that Christians help the poor. Helping the poor must never become just as small side project that Christians do when it is convenient. If Scripture ever clearly identified an issue as a “salvation issue”, this is it. Our decision to help or neglect the poor is directly tied to our eternal destiny.
Not only that, but Christians should go to whatever extent they possibly can to help the poor. Notice Jesus’s words in verse 45: “To the extent that you did not do it to the one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” Think about those words, “To the extent…“. That is a very broad challenge.
The church doesn’t have the power and resources to help all the poor everywhere. Shouldn’t Christians at least vote to help the poor? Shouldn’t they at least do their part to pressure government to enact compassionate economic policies? If we really want to defend the poor and disadvantaged, shouldn’t we seek to use government to defend them from the injustices they face?
No. Emphatically, no, they should not. I can totally understand why some Christians would choose to take this course of action, and I recognize that they do so with righteous motives. Yet I hope that you will consider some thoughts in response to this idea.
Which Version of Government is Best?
I write this to passionately encourage Christians not to think they are doing God’s work when they try to rally others around the particular version of government that they think is best. Like anyone else, I can imagine how governmental decisions impact the poor and disadvantaged. I don’t find it that hard to recognize how minimum wage laws increase the pay for some at the expense of others who are left unemployed. It is easy to see that all the government interference in health care markets has reduced competition, lowered quality, and driven health care costs to a point where it is affordable for many to pay for the care they deserve. It hurts me to think about how many jobs are destroyed through the high taxation and heavy regulations that businesses face, and how this has a big impact on the lower classes. And I’m not alone. There are lots of really bright people out there who understand that regulating free markets is, in the long haul, the worst possible thing you could do to the poor.
What if I were to take Matthew 25.41-46 as instruction to get Christians active in politics for the sake of the poor? Now that I’ve decided to get Christians involved in righteous political causes, I stand in my pulpit next Sunday and encourage the church do everything in their power to help the poor, which includes getting out there and stopping those liberals from regulating free-markets.
At the same time, you are encouraging Christians to get out there and help the poor by supporting minimum wage laws, wise regulations on big businesses, increasing funding to compassionate welfare programs that support the poor, and funding those programs by taxing the top 1% of earners. You wouldn’t be very happy with me, and I wouldn’t be very happy with you. We both agree that we should help the poor, but instead of using our pulpits to actually encourage Christians to help the poor, we are driving a wedge of division into the church with our message.
As a result, the left and the right argue over which particular kind of government is best for the poor. We spend our time, energy, passion, and sometimes even our money arguing over what our rulers should do about the poor (something the Bible never commands us to do), instead of working together in unity to actually help the poor (which is precisely what we are commanded to do). This leads to one more important point.
The Church Must Do More To Help The Poor
If Christians were to take all of their time, energy, passion and money that they currently invest into political arguments, and were to put that same level of passion into actually helping the poor, the church could make a huge positive impact on the poor, not only in their community, but throughout the country and throughout the world. And what’s even better, when the church works together to help the poor, the glory is given to God rather than to some particular style of government (2 Cor. 9.12).
There is no doubt in my mind that the church needs to do more to help the poor. One of the big reasons we don’t is because we are too busy arguing over what Caesar should do about poverty. This will only change when Christians stop thinking that it is their job to tell the authorities how to rule and start to do what Jesus commanded us to do. We must trust that God who makes all kinds of bad things work together for good (Rom. 8.28), will use even the worst rulers for good (such as Nero, who was the ruler when Romans 13.1-5 was written). Therefore we can simply submit to our rulers, trusting that God will somehow use them for the good He has promised. Only when we learn to trust that they are God’s ministers, and not ours, will we stop clamoring for greater political influence, and actually start working to serve the poor.
Ultimately, the hope for the poor, as well as anyone else, doesn’t hang on which party gets put in power. It hangs on the power that God has given to the church. The church’s power isn’t a power that we release every four years when we unify together and make our voice heard in the voting booth. It is a power that we release when we unite together to show God’s love by how we live, by how we share, and by how we sacrifice to serve the poor.