God's Plan for the Poor
debate a hundred years ago was not about contemporary music or
whether we ought to have seeker-driven services. The great debate a
hundred years ago was all about the Social Gospel.
Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) was a Baptist minister among the poor and
the industrial workers of New York City. He proposed the idea that
Christianity is not just about preaching about how people can be
forgiven from their sins and go to heaven when they die. It is also
about feeding the poor, caring for the sick, and looking after the
less fortunate in society. The classic text of the Social Gospel is
Matthew 25: 31 "When
the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he
will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.
32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will
separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the
sheep from the goats.
33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his
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.
35 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,
36 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.'
the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and
feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or
needing clothes and clothe you?
39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit
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.'
he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are
cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was
thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed
clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you
did not look after me.'
also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a
stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help
will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one
of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to
The other side
fought back, "What good does it do to feed them if their soul is
headed for hell?"
I remember a
line from one of my seminary classes: it seems that both sides
walked away from the table with half of the gospel.
this era, there seems to be a wedding of the social gospel and the
other side. Many of us are realizing that God called us to feed the
poor AND tell them about Jesus. I am reading Bob Roberts new book on
Transformations. He says we need BOTH Billy Graham style proclamation
and Mother Theresa style caring. Well said.
Stick around Willowcreek for any
time at all and you will hear them speak of the importance of caring
for the poor in ways I never heard growing up. Rick Warren is
engaged in PEACE plan which includes planting churches, but also
assisting the poor:
Equipping Servant Leaders
Assisting the Poor
Caring for the Sick
Educating the Next Generation
Saddleback is applying this
concept to the individual, as well as the small group and the church. Your Sunday
School class or small group could get involved in the peace plan at
all five levels. (See
Bruce Wilkinson has spent
the last several years establishing a ministry called Heart for
http://www.heartforafrica.org/ ) and has invited teams of people
to plant Never Ending Gardens all across Africa to help create
a permanent solution and feed the hungry in Africa. The idea is that
they plant a small garden and give to someone, teaching them to care
for it. Because it is theirs, it appeals to their entrepreneurial
interest to take care of it. It is theirs. If they do take care of
it, it will feed not only them but their kids and their grand-kids. See
http://www.dreamforafrica.com/neverending.htm In addition, they
are in a campaign to teach abstinence to teenagers to help stem the
tide of AIDS in Africa. It is called Beat The Drum. (Recently, Bruce
has come home and turned this ministry over to someone else. See
These are just a few
examples of evangelicals who are not just preaching the gospel but
preaching the gospel and feeding the poor. It is a good thing, too,
because the needs are overwhelming.
Time magazine featured a
cover story by Jeffery Sachs last year. Here is an excerpt. As you
read it, remember the words of Jesus quoted above, "I was hungry and
you fed me."
Currently, more than 8
million people around the world die each year because they are
too poor to stay alive. Every morning our newspapers could
report, "More than 20,000 people perished yesterday of extreme
poverty." How? The poor die in hospital wards that lack drugs,
in villages that lack antimalarial bed nets, in houses that lack
safe drinking water. They die namelessly, without public
comment. Sadly, such stories rarely get written.
Nearly half the 6
billion people in the world are poor. As a matter of definition,
there are three degrees of poverty: extreme (or absolute)
poverty, moderate poverty and relative poverty. Extreme poverty,
defined by the World Bank as getting by on an income of less
than $1 a day, means that households cannot meet basic needs for
survival. They are chronically hungry, unable to get health
care, lack safe drinking water and sanitation, cannot afford
education for their children and perhaps lack rudimentary
shelter--a roof to keep rain out of the hut--and basic articles
of clothing, like shoes. We can describe extreme poverty as "the
poverty that kills." Unlike moderate or relative poverty,
extreme poverty now exists only in developing countries.
Moderate poverty, defined as living on $1 to $2 a day, refers to
conditions in which basic needs are met, but just barely.
The total number of
people living in extreme poverty, the World Bank estimates, is
1.1 billion, down from 1.5 billion in 1981. While that is
progress, much of the one-sixth of humanity in extreme poverty
suffers the ravages of AIDS, drought, isolation and civil wars,
and is thereby trapped in a vicious cycle of deprivation and
death. Moreover, while the economic boom in East Asia has helped
reduce the proportion of the extreme poor in that region from
58% in 1981 to 15% in 2001, and in South Asia from 52% to 31%,
the situation is deeply entrenched in Africa, where almost half
of the continent's population lives in extreme poverty--a
proportion that has actually grown worse over the past two
decades as the rest of the world has grown more prosperous.
A solution that WON'T work
The Bible offers two
seemingly contradictory perspectives on the poor. The first one,
stated above is summarized in Gal 2:10 "All they asked was that we
should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to
do." The other view is stated succinctly in 2 Thessalonians 3:10
"For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'If a man
will not work, he shall not eat.'"
A similar balance can be
found in these two passages from Galatians. As you read these
passage, look for who is supposed to carry my load/burden--me, or
- Carry each other's burdens, and in this
way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 (NIV)
- for each one should carry his own load.
Galatians 6:5 (NIV)
In the Greek there is a subtle difference
between these two words that the translators have tried to
communicate by using two English words, burden and load. The burden
is the overwhelming disaster that comes our way from time to time.
The load of verse 5 is the daily responsibilities of life. It is
this load that is spoken of in the 2 Thessalonians passage that says
"If a man will not work, he will not eat."
One of the things that has cooled some of our
hearts to the plight of the poor is seeing some who refuse to work.
Some. And indeed, we are called upon by scripture not to feed them.
But, the situation in much of the world is not a matter of
able-bodied men refusing to work. It is indeed and overwhelming
burden, the kind that Galatians 6.5 calls upon us to do something
The Bible offers an ingenious solution to this
dilemma in the Old Testament practice of gleaning. Who says there is
nothing practical in Leviticus?
When you reap the harvest of your land, do
not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings
of your harvest. 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 19:9-10 (NIV)
The idea is that we feed the poor, but they
have to work to get the food. We don't offer a hand-out to people
who refuse to work. But, we put doable work within reach of anyone
who is willing to do it. Unger's defines gleaning this way:
GLEAN. Moses provided a liberal treatment of the poor at
the harvest season. In reaping the field the owner was not to
“reap to the very corners,” etc. (Leviticus
19:9-10); i.e., he was not to reap the field to the extreme
edge, or gather together the ears left upon the field in the
reaping. In the vineyard and olive plantation the fallen fruit
was to be left for the distressed and the foreigner (cf.
Deut. 24:20-22), hence the proverb of Gideon (Judges
8:2).—New Unger's Bible Dictionary.
Gleaning, in a modern sense, would be the
practice of creating jobs that unskilled people can do and earn
enough to eat for today. We make it possible for people to eat, but
we never, never, never give healthy, well-bodied people something
for nothing. Giving people something for nothing damages them and
cripples the economy. (For more on this, read Brian Tracy's book by
that Title: Something for Nothing.)
It is kind of like this. Suppose a mom has the
practice of leaving a little cake mix so her son can lick the bowl.
One day, the son is vegging on the couch and says, "Mom, I don't
want to get up and carefully scrape the bowl. Would you mind getting
the last of the cake mix out, putting it in a parfait dish and
bringing it to me on the couch?The appropriate response is, "What
part of 'NO' do you not understand?"
Sometimes, the poor can be just this
ridiculous. Because they have received hand-outs before, they begin
to expect and demand them. The something for nothing approach has
already damaged their soul. When I was on church staff we gave a mom
some money for some disposable diapers. Her response, instead of
gratefulness was, "But this amount will only pay for the generic
brand." Generous, well-meaning people have enabled that kind of
But, the really sad thing is this. We hear a
few stories like that or stories about food wasting on the docks in
Africa because of political skirmishes, and, if we are not very
careful, we become hardened to the plight of the poor. We become
jaded. May it never
be. God, keep our heart tenderly aware that we care for Jesus by
caring for the poor. But, let us do it in a way that gives people a
hand up, not a hand out.
The modern application of this may be a little
tricky. I would like to ask for your help. What are some creative
ways we could apply the principle of gleaning in a modern world? Go
http://joshhunt.blogs.com/blog/ to submit you answer.
ONE thing we can all do is to join the ONE
Campaign. See www.one.org for