Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Remembering the Poor

God calls for us to help those who are poor, oppressed, or in need (James 1:27; Deuteronomy 15:11; Proverbs 22:22,23). This is a clear and basic Christian duty. But it becomes more complicated when it comes to dealing with those in need in other parts of the world. It is hard for us in the United States to even imagine the kinds of circumstances in which people in other  parts of the world are forced to live. It is also easy to be so overwhelmed by the need that we do nothing.  And It is easy to be so overwhelmed by guilt that we do nothing. In my opinion, major guilt trips are not at all helpful. We end up beating ourselves over the head and becoming depressed, but at the end of the day nothing really changes. It is better to calm down and ask what thing, even if it is a measured and perhaps inadequate thing, can I do to help? Is there some luxury I can forego or something I can give up to help people in other places obtain the necessities of life?

But the need is so great we can ask if we are doing any good. We are not God and cannot take the burden of the world on our shoulders. But if we do something to help just one person, we have helped that person. When Paul took his offering for the saints in Jerusalem, he told them to lay aside what God had put on their hearts (2 Corinthians 8:1-15; 9:5-11; 1 Corinthians 16:2). Now it is obvious he is urging them to generosity, even advocating an idea of bringing about some degree of equality. But he wants the giving to be voluntary and even cheerful. There is no specific amount given. Merely that they are to give themselves to God first and follow what He lays on their hearts. There is no idea that they can solve all the problems, merely that they should contribute to the solution. The giving seems to be as much for the spiritual benefit of those who give as the material benefit of those who receive.

But we may ask, how much is enough? I do not know the answer to that. But I think it is more important to start by doing something. I do not think we are required to live in cardboard houses because people do in other parts of the world. But sometimes asking how much is enough can be a way of drawing some kind of limit so we do not have to consider doing anything further. The example here is Jesus, who gave His life that we might live (2 Corinthians 8:9). I do not believe that God calls all of us in all cases to give to this degree. We do not have the ability. But it is the standard. And I do know we need to be open to what God wants us to do.

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