The Gospel and Ministering to the Poor

City Outreach,Ministry to the Poor,Urban Ministry | Posted by: Editors

By Diana Lisle

Note: Diana Lisle is a member of FBC Durham and has spent many years ministering in the urban context of Durham, often leading Bible clubs for children in nearby neighborhoods around our church building.

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Two Possible Wrong Responses to Poverty: Pity and Pride

If you minister in an area of poverty, it can be easy to err in two very different ways: pity or pride. The gospel teaches us to set our minds on things above, not on things on earth. The gospel teaches us apart from Christ we are hopeless, all things are given by Christ not gained by the strength of our own hands. The gospel teaches us that the most pressing need of every man, woman, and child is to be reconciled to God. God gives all spiritual fruit. We were once God’s enemy, but now we are adopted into his family and coheirs with Christ. This is not based on any merit of our own, but only by the merciful, pursuit of Christ. It is with this understanding that we must minister. It is out of the knowledge of our past condition and God’s mercy that we must share the good news with those who are still, like we once were, dead in their trespasses and sin.

Keeping this right perspective, can be a struggle when we are ministering to people from our own culture (i.e., those who look like us, think like us, and live like us). When we minister cross-culturally, whether across ethnic or economic lines, this struggle can be increased if we don’t fully understand and live out the gospel. In other words, as we minister to others our practical theology comes to light. What do we really believe about the gospel? How do we view the places we minister? How do we view the people we minister to? How do we view other peoples’ circumstances?

1. Pity

Working in areas of poverty can be a distraction from the gospel for many Christians. When they see others without things that they have come to depend on as daily provisions or comforts, often it produces a response of pity. They may hurt for those in such conditions and want to help. It can be hard to see others without the comforts that you are used to or at times without their basic needs met. This can make one pity the families in this situation and begin to find solutions to their financial or material woes. Some people are so overwhelmed by entering a culture of poverty that they leave emotionally paralyzed. Others return with a determination to change the earthly situation of those they met.

There is a time for providing for those in need. Having compassion and providing for others in need is an important godly response. We should be generous in doing so. However, pity can be used to distract us from what’s not physically seen: their spiritual condition. I can become more concerned about the living conditions of others than spreading the hope of the gospel. My concern for providing material wealth for others can be used to distract me from the gospel.

2. Pride

Another wrong response to poverty can be pride. It is easy for one to be thankful they would never be found in a situation of poverty because of their own hard work and faithful service. Some start to judge those in poverty. While following patterns of biblical principles can lead to stable or fruitful lifestyles, all people living in poverty have not been the cause of their situations. Consider those who were born in poverty, many for generations, sometimes because of unjust societal structures or oppression. This may have left them without the resources and knowledge to get out. Consider also what the Bible tells us about wealth and material possessions: “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth …” (Deut 8:17–18). If one falls into the trap of taking credit for their material possessions or wealth, this can also hinder one’s gospel witness.

If I let pride cause me to think I have gained material wealth by hard work, then I am failing to truly understand the grace of God, and I might judge myself more highly than I ought and might judge others lower than I ought. This can damage any ministry in which I am involved. If I let pity drive me to focus on changing the lifestyle of my friends, those I minister to, I can be distracted by valuing the temporary over the eternal. The same God who provides me with every good and perfect earthly gift (common grace) provides me with eternal life with Christ (saving grace), and I don’t deserve either one. If I compare my life with that of another without the correct view of the God’s grace, I may walk away with misguided pity or unmerited pride. 

Self-Assessment

When you think about ministering in an area of poverty, what do you think? Do you think someone needs to go rescue those poor people? Do you view those living in poverty as in a more desperate situation than your unbelieving neighbors next door? Are you distracted from the gospel by the effects of poverty and wealth? Does one’s earthly condition cause a stronger emotional response in you than their spiritual condition? 

Do you think of all people in poverty as unbelievers? Or do you believe there are co-laborers and co-heirs of Christ, people saved by grace just like you living in poverty? Are you distracted from the gospel by thinking too lowly of others or too highly of yourself based on material possessions?

Do you believe that some of the next church leaders are living in neighborhoods of poverty? Do you believe that God is at work pursuing, saving, and growing believers living in a variety of life’s circumstances? Do you believe that the greatest rescue that can be made is not from a life of poverty, but a life of sin? Do you believe that God has rescued you by unmerited favor from his wrath and made you his child and he will do that for others?

Poverty in Light of the Gospel

Believing that all material gain I have comes from God and not from my own self-worth means I must humble myself and give all credit to God for my earthly possessions. Believing God offers his grace freely to all who believe, completely without merit gives me the best strategy for rescuing others in poverty. We have the glorious privilege of joining the father in ministering to others in a variety of life circumstances within the body of Christ and throughout the world. By remembering God’s sovereign role in our lives, we can minister humbly and compassionately with great joy sharing the same hope of the gospel that has rescued us.

Balancing Gospel Priorities in Ministry to the Poor (Part 4)

Ministry to the Poor | Posted by: Editors

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

Editor’s note: This is the final post in Dr. Davis’s series on Balancing Gospel Priorities in Ministry to the Poor. You can find the first three posts here, here and here.

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1. Physical Ministry to the Lost an Eschatological Sign
 

All of Jesus’ physical ministry to the suffering around him was described as “signs.” This significant word gives a sense of the limitation of Jesus’ miracles to produce lasting physical effects. The miracles were foretastes of an eschatological reality that the consummation of the Kingdom would usher in: a world where “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”  (Rev 21:4).

Downtown Durham, NC

Until the “final enemy” of death is destroyed, all physical ministry is temporary, a sign of greater things yet to come. For the eyes of the man born blind that Jesus opened in John 9 were closed again through death; the lame beggar that Peter and John healed near the temple gate called Beautiful is paralyzed again by death; the five thousand stomachs Jesus fed on that hill in Galilee are all dissolved in corruption. Lazarus died and was buried a second time. All of Jesus’ miracles were temporary signs of a future reality. Jesus acknowledged the temporary nature of his miracles when he spoke of His ministry of exorcism in Judea and Galilee in Matthew 12:43–45.

Knowing that the Jews were rejecting him despite his signs and wonders, Jesus in effect, said the demons will be back even worse than before He came: “the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation” (Matt 12:45). But the miracles of Jesus are signs pointing ahead to the New Heaven and New Earth, where bodies will be raised perfect and incorruptible. 

For me this speaks to the issue of “doing good to the city.” This famous phrase, so significant for urban ministry, was written by Jeremiah in his letter to the Judean exiles:  “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer 29:7). Yet amazingly, in the same book of Jeremiah, we find this clear prophesy: “Babylon will be a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals, an object of horror and scorn, a place where no one lives” (Jer 51:37).

In a similar manner, the “good’ we do to the cities of this world must be seen as merely signs, portending a future consummation when the creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. The stuff we have to work with is part of a cursed physical order that will be consumed in the end, for “the elements will melt with fire!” (2 Pet 3:12).

Thus physical ministry to the poor and marginalized must take on the nature of a sign—not meaning something miraculous, but something pointing ahead to a new reality. A Christian homeless shelter in the center of the city should be clean, beautiful, orderly, well-organized and filled with eschatological hope and the gospel message of the cross of Christ. If vandals should break in and steal valuables and spray obscene graffiti on the walls, the hope-filled ministry should restore it again as an island of eschatological hope in a sea of desperation. But they should do this knowing full well that those walls will all be destroyed in the end.

2. The Soul-Searching Command: “Spend Yourself on Behalf of the Poor”
 

One final verse stands over me and challenges me both as a man and a pastor. It is a phrase in Isaiah 58:10: “… if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” What hinders me in ministry to the poor and needy is the tendency I have to spare myself, protect myself, save myself.

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Ministry in Durham, NC

This verse commands me to spend myself in behalf of the poor and needy. Not just give some of my money … spend MYSELF. Learning to do this is the essence of the Christian journey we call sanctification; to deny myself, take up my cross and follow Jesus. This is how we become conformed to Jesus, the poor man, the man who poured himself out completely in ministry and on the cross.

This is also how we become conformed to the heavenly Father, who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Once I learn to die, utterly die to myself, my possessions, my time, my pleasures, the questions become simpler: how much should go to alleviating suffering among Christians worldwide, how much to ministering to poor non-Christians in my own city, how many of the forms of physical suffering in this life we will seek to address, how long-term we should help a single individual or family, etc.

The same God who gives faith to face these issues will give wisdom to overcome them.  And by faith, I will no longer be looking for an air-conditioned bubble or a neat exegetical formula to escape suffering, as I mentioned in part 1 of this series.

To spend myself for the poor and needy, and to lead my congregation to do the same, is at the core of the sanctification journey. Learning to love another person completely—their soul above all, but their body as well—is to be conformed to Christ. And then no one could accuse us of hypocrisy if, while meeting temporal needs, we risk sharing the gospel as well.

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Image Credits: (1) Downtown Durham, NC; (2) Ministry at Liberty Street Apartments.

Balancing Gospel Priorities in Ministry to the Poor (Part 3)

Ministry to the Poor | Posted by: Editors

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

Note: This is part-three of a series on balancing the priorities of the church and ministry to the poor. We’ll end this series with part-four early next week.

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1. The Priority of Caring for Christians Above Non-Christians
 

The New Testament establishes the priority of caring for the Christian poor above the non-Christian poor. The key verse is Galatians 6:10: So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” The first half of the verse exhorts us to a general ministry to the poor and needy who are not of the household of faith. It focuses on providential opportunities God raises up, such as in the Good Samaritan found by the side of the road to Jericho. But the priority structure is clearly toward Christians, as shown by the word “especially.”

And the weight of the New Testament falls in this direction. It is not primarily ministry to the poor of the world that proves whether or not we have been born again, but ministry to Christian brothers and sisters. 1 John 3:17 tells us, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” The consistent use of “brother” in 1 John is of a fellow Christian, and failure to love a child of God proves you are not born of God yourself.

Many other such passages exist as well. In the “Sheep and the Goats” passage, Jesus identifies completely with the Sheep and calls them “the least of these my brothers.” Those are the hungry, naked, sick and in prison people to whom we should be ministering. The collection taken up in Macedonia, which Paul used as such a stirring example in 2 Corinthians 8–9 was for the “saints.” Paul specifically calls it that three times: 8:4, 9:1, and 9:12. He refers to this same collection in Romans 15:26: “Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.” Earlier in Romans 12:13, he urges the Roman Christians to “contribute to the needs of the saints.” The church in Acts 2 and 4 shared their resources so there were no needy persons “among them.” These examples and verses could be multiplied.

Thus, our top priority should be to ensure that there are no needy persons in our own local congregations. Beyond this is our obligation to care for Christians in other parts of the world, as the Macedonian Christians did for their Jewish brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. In this day and age of air travel, internet access, CNN, and Skype, we are able to know immediately of Christians in need as soon as an earthquake happens in China, a cyclone in Myanmar, or a Christian village attacked by Muslims in the Sudan. The needs simply of Christians around the world could quickly swamp any local church. This is a challenging concept as we consider what priority should be given to meeting needs of lost people right in our community versus Christians on the other side of the globe.

2. Ongoing Provision of Daily Needs Limited to Just a Few
 

Another consideration is the care with which the Apostle Paul describes a list of widows who can be supported from the means of the church in 1 Timothy 5. If the local church were required to meet all the physical needs of the poor of the world, it would quickly be overwhelmed. Even a simplified list of needs like the one given by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 6:8“But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content”—would be beyond the scope of any local church.

I think Tim Keller speaks very helpfully of three levels of ministry to the poor, and of the church recognizing its limits. The three levels he has mentioned are 1) relief; 2) development, and 3) reform. He defines relief as “direct aid to meet physical/material/social needs, and gave examples of homeless shelters, food and clothing services, medical services, crisis counseling, etc.”

However, the provision of the ongoing food, clothing and shelter needs of unbelievers is beyond the scope of the church’s ministry. Paul speaks in 1 Timothy 5 of a list of widows who, it seems, are to be cared for by the church. He speaks a very strong word to families in their responsibility to care for the needs of their members so that the church will not be burdened: “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever…. If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are really widows” (1 Tim 5:8, 16).

Paul is also very precise about who can and can’t be enrolled in the church’s widow list:  “Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work” (1 Tim 5:9–10).

The careful way in which Paul sets the boundaries of the church’s ongoing responsibility for provision is highlighted by the fact that he is speaking of Christian widows who are church members! If Paul is so careful about that, how much less would he require the church to provide for the ongoing food, clothing and shelter of non-Christian people? Rather, if the church is led by God to this kind of relief work, it will be of an incomplete and symbolic nature, though real as far as it goes. The church needs to set up wise policies limiting how much aid it can give to one individual or a family, lest they inherit a role God did not intend it to have. 

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Editor’s note: The previous posts in this series can be found by clicking the following links: Part 1; Part 2.

Balancing Gospel Priorities in Ministry to the Poor (Part 2)

Ministry to the Poor | Posted by: Editors

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

1. The Priority of Proclamation: Words Are Necessary
 

I am convinced with all my heart that the church must help the poor. I believe it’s biblical—and providential experiences have caused me to deal with these matters head-on. But there are still some serious questions that we must consider. How does our call to be Great Commission laborers relate to issues of social justice?

Tim Keller and others have made it clear that faithful churches must reject the clever statement: “Preach the gospel; if necessary, use words.” Words are necessary—the words of the gospel. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Rom 1:16). The word “it” in that verse refers to the gospel message—“It is the power of God for salvation …” Without the clear proclamation of the gospel, no one can be saved.

Historically, the flourishing of the social gospel at the beginning of the 20th century through the ministry of Walter Rauschenbusch as others had at its core a denial of Christ’s substitutionary atonement, a literal hell, and a literal second coming. Universalism was behind their rejection of the need for gospel proclamation. According to this view, the essence of the Christian gospel ministry was an alleviation of physical suffering caused by entrenched social evils. The ideological center of the social gospel was the “Kingdom of God,” understood in earth-bound social terms. Rauschenbusch said that the Kingdom of God is not a matter of individuals getting to heaven, but of transforming the life on earth into the harmony of heaven.

This concept is making something of a comeback, as Keller has pointed out. Some of these themes are prominent among leaders of the emergent church movement in our day, and it is essential to the ongoing health of faithful churches to expose and refute these ideas. Individual salvation is at the core of what Jesus came to do: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Any effort we make toward ministry to the poor and marginalized that does not have personal salvation of lost persons through repentance and faith in Christ as its top priority is wrong. Thus, we must follow Christ’s priority structure, i.e. that ministry to eternal souls is of greater importance than ministry to their bodies.

Jesus settled this priority structure quite plainly both before and after the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Before the feeding, the Gospel of Mark gives this insight: “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). Though the crowd had many overwhelming physical needs, Jesus’ compassion moved directly to their greatest need: the gospel message. The ministry of the word was the clear priority of the most compassionate man that ever lived, and it must be ours as well.

This same priority structure was also revealed the very next day in John 6, when many among the crowds followed him to Capernaum and confronted him there. Jesus, with supernatural ability to perceive human motive, cut to the heart of the matter: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval” (John 6:26–27).

2. Seeking the Salvation of Souls Is Not Selfish
 

The priority of the needs of the soul over those of the body is behind the famous question Christ asked His disciples: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt 16:26) This priority structure must be reflected in our ministries of mercy. And I must respectfully disagree with John Stott who said that doing mercy ministry as a means to evangelism is hypocrisy, sugar on the pill, bait on the hook, that breeds “rice Christians” (Christian Mission in the Modern World, 26). And Keller has also expressed some concern for the “mercy ministry as a means to an end” approach.

Now, I will admit that theirs are obviously valid concerns, but they point not to abandoning Christ’s priority structure of concern for the soul above concern for the body. Rather, the people we help should see love straight through—love for their bodies and a greater love for their souls. And, no, the motive cannot be selfish, except the pleasure of enjoying someone else’s eternal joy. As the apostle John said, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete(1 John 1:3–4).

There is nothing selfish or tribal about crafting as the centerpiece of our mercy ministry the overarching goal of God’s glory in the redemption of lost sinners, with a secondary goal being the eternal joy of those lost sinners, and a tertiary goal being our joy in seeing it. If our love is genuine, it will banish such pathetic and low motives as reporting gaudy baptismal statistics to aggrandize our position in the evangelical world.

There must be a genuine concern for alleviating physical suffering because Christ taught it so plainly in the parable of the Good Samaritan and other places. But how is it hypocritical to say, “More than anything, I want you to know the Savior, and the forgiveness He alone can give?” And how is it nobler to spend time with a homeless person, feed them, clothe them, train them for greater earning power and send them off without ever preaching the gospel to them?

The famous evangelist George Whitefield once said, “God forbid that I should travel with anyone one quarter of an hour and not share the gospel with them.” He was the same one who set up an orphanage in Georgia called “Bethesda” because it was to be a “House of Mercy.” Arnold Dallimore wrote that Whitefield wanted it above all to be a place of gospel influence where parentless children could be rescued from godlessness, and trained to support themselves as adults. He would have considered it inconceivable that the orphans would not have been thoroughly evangelized and discipled while doing other acts of mercy toward them. The idea that having as a central goal of the orphanage the glory of God in the conversion of orphans was somehow hypocritical or self-serving would have been ludicrous.

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Editor’s note: The previous post in this series can be found by clicking the following link: Balancing Gospel Priorities in Ministry to the Poor (Part 1).

Balancing Gospel Priorities in Ministry to the Poor (Part 1)

Ministry to the Poor | Posted by: Editors

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

Note: This and the following posts in this series were originally prepared for a discussion I had with friends at The Gospel Coalition back in 2008. These thoughts continue to challenge and test my heart on the issue of balancing gospel priorities in ministry to the poor. This first post is mostly some personal background on what has caused me to really wrestle with this particular issue. I hope this series is helpful to you in your own thinking on the gospel and social justice.

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1. An Air Conditioned Bubble in a Sea of Poverty
 

I remember well riding through the streets of Mombasa, Kenya, on my first overseas mission trip. It was the last week of a summer-long trip, and we were staying in a comfortable resort right on the Indian Ocean. Some of us wanted to see the city, so we were touring some of the poorer districts in a brand new, air conditioned van. There was nothing unusual for any of us Americans in the air conditioned luxury of the van. What was new was the sight of urban poverty in a non-American city. I had never seen anything like it in all my life. The more streets we drove down, the more uncomfortable I became with the shocking disparity I saw between my lifestyle and that of the people we were viewing through the tinted glass.

It wasn’t long after this that I began to see that air conditioned van as a symbol of the manner in which I was making my way through life on this suffering globe. “In the world, but not of it”—I have wrestled with the customary comforts of my upper-middle class lifestyle ever since.

2. Sinfully Searching for a Formula of Escape
 

A second experience came a year later, this time in Pakistan. I was on a team ministering to grief-stricken, destitute refugees from Afghanistan who had fled from the invading Russian forces that summer of 1987. I still have never seen such poverty in all my life.

They had literally nothing except the tattered clothing that covered their bodies. Most of them had lost loved ones very recently to violent deaths. They were squatting on the border of their former homeland, barely tolerated by the Pakistani government and basically ignored by the local people. Many had a haunted look I shall never forget.

Population Living Below National Poverty Line

But it was not an encounter with any of them that I recall most vividly. Rather, it was an encounter with a poor Pakistani woman there in the city of Peshawar that bothered me the most. We had grown accustomed to being accosted by beggars in the streets who would point pathetically to their mouths and their stomachs to indicate their hunger. The missionaries told us of professional begging syndicates that used women, children, and cripples to make money for strongmen who organized them much like pimps and prostitutes in our country. The missionaries didn’t seem much concerned with the issue, but seeing our unease, they suggested, “Why don’t you buy some fresh nan (local bread) and carry it in a bag with you so that you can give it to them?” 

I thought this was a great idea, so I bought five or six of the large, flat loaves and kept them in a bag with me. Later that morning, when one of the beggars came to me and pointed to her stomach, I happily produced the bread and handed it to her. She became very angry, threw it down, and walked away. My feelings at that point shocked me. I was actually relieved! I had found a perfect system, a way to beat the troubling issue of “haves and have-nots.”

A few minutes later, however, the Lord stirred the pot as He always does. Another beggar came to me with the same gesture—pointing to her mouth and stomach; she also had a small child with her, and gestured pathetically to her indicating her desire for food. I pulled out two loaves and handed them to her. She hungrily took the loaves, giving one to her child. Both of them began eating right away and finished them right before my eyes. It was this beggar I will never forget the rest of my life. I gave her all the other loaves I had.

The fact of the matter was that I was looking for a neat formula, an exegetical equation with some proof texts that would enable me to escape the weight of facing the inequities of this world. I knew in my heart that fully facing the physical suffering in the world would mean far greater suffering for me than if I could escape it like that air conditioned ride through Mombasa. The wickedness and deviousness of my own heart has subtly sought that neat evangelical formula ever since, sad to say. It is not so easy to trust myself in this matter.

3. Christ Tests Us By This Issue
 

But I have come to the conclusion that the Lord Jesus Christ does not want us to feel at ease with the issue of human suffering. His example compels action, and it is a call that cannot be ignored without growing sick spiritually: 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 Cor 8:9). Jesus means to bring us to a point of desperation concerning the overwhelming physical needs of people all around us. Not ultimate desperation, but desperation in our usual system of confidence: self-reliance.

The Feeding of the Five Thousand shows how Jesus stands in our face and challenges us with this issue: “Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ But Jesus said, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat’ (Matt 14:15–16). 

In John’s account, Jesus asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Then John tells us Jesus only did it to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. This word “test” is poignant. Jesus means to use this issue to probe our hearts and advance our sanctification. He does this, it seems, by causing us to despair in the system of confidence that is our usual refuge: self-reliance.

In both accounts, the disciples looked inward to see if they had the resources to meet the need: Philip said “Two hundred denarii would not be enough,” and they didn’t even have that; they found a boy who had five loaves of bread and two fish, but again despaired in their resources. They were looking inward for resources to meet the overwhelming need. Christ wanted them to look upward, as He did when He thanked God and blessed the bread and fish. This is the test: will we face the huge, overwhelming need, look upward and see God work?

The faith it takes to do that is no different than the faith it takes to be justified. In fact, Tim Keller has done an excellent job of proving it is a certain proof of the existence of saving faith. And, frankly, it is the same faith needed to complete the work of sanctification that God intends in us. For the beginning of the journey of salvation is to look inward and seeing darkness, sin, weakness, inadequacy, then to look upward to Christ and see perfect power suited for our every need.

So the issue of ministry to poverty-stricken people stands over us, probing our hearts to prove how much sin is still there. Christ does not mean for us to escape its force by a neat evangelical formula. He wants us to feel pain, to suffer, to be prodded out of our comfortable, air conditioned van ride through this sin-filled and suffering world. And He uses experiences like those I’ve had with the poor, plus incisive Scripture passages, which cut us to the quick.

One such passage is Ezekiel 16:49, which I discovered as I was preaching on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: “’Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.’”  I think if you asked most evangelical Christians, “What was the sin of Sodom?” they would without hesitation answer, “homosexuality.”  I do not in any way discount that. But the words of Ezekiel 16:49 cut my heart and made me cry out against myself: “Woe is me, I am ruined. For I am an arrogant, overfed, unconcerned man who does not help the poor and needy, and I go to church with many such people.”