As we’ve been doing a series on caring for the poor, we cannot forget about the foreigner. We are in a political climate where a lot of attention and emotion is being poured out on account of foreigners. Immigration is nothing new. Right now in the United States we have almost 50 million immigrants living among us. These are people who were not born in the United States but are now residents. As Christians, we need to look at what God says about how we welcome and treat foreigners.
In Isaiah 56:1, God reminds Israel to “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.” When foreigners resided in the Promised Land, Israel was commanded to take care of them and instruct them with God’s word. “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people'” (Isaiah 56:3). The godly foreigner shouldn’t live in fear that they will be separated. God grafts them into the holy family.
God is clear that foreigners who obey the commandments are honored: “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds to my covenant–these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:6-7).
We are commanded to care for the foreigners and sojourners who are in need, just the same as everyone else. With nearly 50 million immigrants living with us, we should consider it an honor to treat them with care.
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The message is clear that there is a great cost of being a disciple of Jesus. Christians are promised persecution and there is so much we need to sacrifice. One of the costs (and great blessings!) is taking care of the poor. With the cost comes reward. Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:32-34 ESV).
The Bible is pregnant with references to caring for the poor–to those in desperate need. Those who are sojourners, poor, oppressed, and destitute, are described in the Bible as our neighbors. We are commanded to love and care for our neighbors, to lend to them and not expect anything in return.
Caring for the poor comes with a cost, but is not meant to be burdensome. In fact, over and over we are told to give joyfully and to lend with an open hand. When we store up treasure in heaven, we do so by helping those in need. Jesus took it so seriously that, in a scathing dialogue, he specifically mentioned the sorting of the sheep and goats by whether they cared for the poor and sick or not. These are not suggestions in the Bible.
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When we think of caring for the poor we probably get a picture of taking up collections and distributing the proceeds to those in need. Certainly this is a biblical concept, as we see it throughout the Bible. Paul took up a collection for the people who were greatly impacted by a famine (1 Cor. 16:1-4, 2 Cor. 8:1-15, Rom. 15:14-32). In Acts 2, Christians were selling possessions and laying the money at the apostles’ feet so that nobody was with need. They broke bread together and ate in each others’ homes.
But there is a deeper aspect to caring for the poor that is often missed. The Bible instructs us to stay connected with one another, to help out, and to pursue justice. Isaiah 1:17 (ESV) says, “. . . learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widows cause.” It wasn’t just about open-fisted giving to the poor. It was about correcting oppressors and shielding the poor and oppressed from people who would wrong them.
Jesus said that the poor you will always have among you. This is not a descriptive statement telling us to resign ourselves to the idea that people will always be poor. No, he was quoting from Deuteronomy 15:11: “For there will never cease to be poor in the land.” In the context of Deuteronomy 15, there were poor because the Israelites were unfaithful in caring for the poor. In fact, the latter part of verse 11 says, “Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'” Just a few verses before, God says, “But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess” (Deut. 15:4).
But caring for the poor was not just giving handouts. In the context of justice, it was about giving people dignity. Israel was expected to provide jobs for people and let them use their skills to bless others. There are people who physically cannot work, and they were to be taken care of. But for the ones who were poor and could work, it was expected that they work. It’s interesting that Jesus never (to our knowledge) gave money to beggars. Instead, he healed them. Why? Because Jesus was just! He was restoring their dignity and their right, honor, and blessing to work. We often only view Jesus’ miracles as a demonstration of his power and revelation. But we’re completely missing the point. He healed people because of justice! He healed people so they could go back to work. He healed them so they could bless other people.
When this godly cycle happens, there are no poor in the land.
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We’ve all heard it at some point: “Make sure you clear your thoughts and think about Jesus and the cross so you’re not taking communion in an unworthy manner.” The passage referred to is 1 Corinthians 11:27-28, which reads, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
A stern warning, indeed, but is Paul talking about self-reflection here? We often miss both the context in Corinth and the overall context of the communion meal. First, we must realize that the Lord’s Supper that Christians celebrated was an actual meal. They sat down and dined together in the evening. But in Corinth, the church turned the Lord’s Supper into a typical Greco-Roman meal. Second, the meals commemorating Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross were linked to the meals of Acts 2:42 and 2:46. Third, they are linked by sharing “all things in common” through the bond of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice.
In John Mark Hicks’ book Enter the Water Come to the Table, he says concerning division in the Lord’s Supper, “This scenario emerged at Corinth’s meal (1 Cor. 11:17-22). The rich divided themselves from the poor so that they ate and drank without them. The poor, perhaps slaves or lower class workers, arrived later when the food and drink were gone. The poor, then, went hungry while the rich were well-fed and some of them drunk.”
This is important for us to understand. God’s acts unite man through saving grace. Imagine if the Israelites were shoving each other and leaving others behind when they crossed the Red Sea. God wouldn’t have tolerated it for a second. In Acts 2, imagine if the poor were uninvited from the breaking of the bread. That kind of behavior is “eating in an unworthy manner.” The Lord’s Supper unites believers at the foot of the cross, with Jesus as the host. It’s a time of selfless giving, sharing, and partaking. It’s a time to invite the poor and downtrodden in; to feed them, share in fellowship with them, and enjoy the celebration of grace with them.
We need to work with each other so that we are not eating and drinking in an unworthy manner. We must celebrate together and remain unified at the foot of the cross!
I recently watched the 2013 Netflix documentary on trafficking called “Tricked.” It follows both former trafficking victims and current pimps who go on camera to talk about the industry. Human trafficking is a multi billion dollar industry that has increased exponentially in recent years. Because of the threats to prostitutes and the dehumanization of the victims, it’s virtually impossible to catch the pimps and incarcerate them. Police departments are completely overwhelmed and, because they are losing ground, governments are cutting money from the departments.
One District Attorney’s office said, “We’ve cut $1 million per year for three years. So they’re asking us to do more with less and with fewer people. At some point I have to weigh, can we continue to handle all these cases at the normal level? When somebody brings me four or five times the number of cases, I may not have the staff to handle all those cases.”
One of the detectives in the documentary said that pimps used to scout for women and young girls who came from broken homes or who had a past of abuse. With the advancement of technology, they said that everyone is a target, no matter how stable their home life is. He said that this is why trafficking has gotten uncontrollable so quickly. Trafficking is called “modern slavery” for a reason. Nobody goes into this “work” because they want to.
But it’s not just trafficking that has people distraught. There is a crisis at our southern border. Thousands of people every day are risking their lives to desperately cross into the US because they are running from dangerous gangs. There is a global crisis of oppression. The questions are “How did we get here?” and “What do we do about it?”
Many people will be packed into church buildings across the world on Easter Sunday to celebrate the risen Christ. I know there is a real temptation to use Easter as “outreach” in order to grow the church and reach those visitors. But maybe a better way is to talk about the desperation in the world and how Jesus came to redeem it. There is so much oppression, poverty, and sickness. The world needs redeemed from it. People need a refuge–a safe fortress. Isaiah 41:14 says, “Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.”
A few verses later says, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them.” God feeds and waters the poor. He is a fortress and a refuge for the oppressed and weary. There is hope in the resurrection. We need to share in this hope. We need to let people know that only in Christ can there be restoration and redemption from the pain and suffering of this life. And Christians need to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the people who are suffering to remind them that God is the one who helps us.