This past winter, we had unusually cold weather for the Mid-Atlantic region of the US. Some nights, temperatures plummeted below zero. Dashing from a warm car through the cold into a warm house, I thought of the dozens of people in Lower Bucks County, near our University, who had no warm place to sleep. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be to try to survive overnight in the cold. The physical cold might be unbearable, but for me, the more painful reality would be that no one loved me enough to invite me inside on such a cold night.
I grew up in a Christian environment, but as a child and teenager, I heard very little about God’s heart for those in need.
I’m not sure how we missed it, because the Bible is full of passages speaking about God’s justice, compassion, and faithful love for those who have nothing, who are marginalized or oppressed. God is pleased when His church acts like Him, showing compassion for those in need, and God can use this generosity to lead those who don’t know Him to a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Social justice is not the gospel, but it is a natural consequence of the gospel taking root in our hearts. Jesus’ half-brother James says that true faith produces godly action (James 1:22). He further explains that true devotion to God results in taking action to care for those who could never repay us: “orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27, ESV).
The kind of sacrifice that God desires from His people is not meaningless ritual, but action that demonstrates reverent gratitude, generosity, and kindness. Giving of ourselves to care for those who could never repay is a sacred act of worship that imitates the kind of generous love we have received.
In Isaiah 58, the children of Israel are rebuked because of their lack of response to the oppressed, the hungry, and the homeless. The children of Israel were repeatedly commanded to care for those who were displaced or in need, because the Israelites themselves were once immigrants in need. Now they were practicing outward religious activities such as fasting, but they were not demonstrating any evidence of a heart like God’s heart. Their actions may have looked impressive to those watching, but God saw their intentions, attitudes, and motives.
“The motivation to serve others, especially those in need, comes from Jesus’ love for us when we had no way to repay Him.”
When we care for those in need, we better understand the sacrifice made on our behalf: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). The proper response is to then participate in that sacrifice by sharing the same kind of generous love with others. The motivation to serve others, especially those in need, comes from Jesus’ love for us when we had no way to repay Him.
In the parable of the Great Banquet, the Master said, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame” (Luke 14:21). One of those poor, blind, lame people was me.
So I was grateful to know that on these cold nights, believers all over Bucks County were working together to provide a warm, safe place for those without a home. Thanks to the Advocates for the Homeless and Those in Need, these individuals were provided with more than just a meal and a place to sleep, but also a living picture of God’s generous love. Volunteers, including many believers, gave of themselves to care for others in much the same way that God lavished His grace on them. It was thrilling to see dozens comfortably sleeping in our church’s fellowship hall and to know that the church of Jesus Christ is alive!
May God use His church to point many to the wonderful grace of Jesus by sacrificially living out the incomprehensibly generous grace that was given to us
God challenges each of us: What are we doing for those in need who cannot repay?
Dr. Matt McAlack serves as director of Cairn’s Youth and Family Ministry program, professor in the School of Divinity, and Pastor of Youth and Outreach at Calvary Baptist Bristol. Each year, his students lead an on-campus poverty simulation for the University and local communities in partnership with the Bucks County Opportunity Council.