Should Christians help the poor? The immediate response for most of us is, “of course.” But we’ve heard from people who believe Christians should only help other Christians. Their rationale is based on the stories of the early church that involve believers helping one another – not the poor in general.
While the Bible certainly encourages believers to help one another, such as in Acts 2:45, doesn’t it also command us to love others, help others and give generously, without regard to a person’s beliefs?
This opinion was a bit surprising, especially for those of us who believe so strongly in feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and healing the sick. We serve those in greatest need, regardless of race, gender or religion. We take joy in serving others, expecting nothing in return.
Jesus certainly helped many people who were not necessarily believers. When he fed the 5,000, he didn’t require his disciples who were distributing the fish and loaves to verify each person’s beliefs.
Prior to telling the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus referred an expert in the law to what he must do to inherit eternal life. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The man asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus then told the parable, in which a priest ignores a man who had been beaten by robbers, but a Samaritan helps him. Jesus then instructs his listener to “Go and do likewise.”
Jesus certainly did not require conversion before ministering to people. His healing touch or words were often what opened someone’s heart to receive his love and forgiveness. We find that same principle at work in our service to the poor every day.
A Sri Lankan man who had lost everything in the war, told us, “Our suffering and hardship caused us to question whether there is a God. But through the continued support and love shown towards us by the World Concern staff, we believe that there is a God and we now have hope in life.”
What if we hadn’t helped this man because he was not a Christian? He would have given up on God. Our help was the tangible expression of God’s love he needed in order to believe.
A pastor who supports World Concern says, “Jesus came with a message and a mission. Sometimes churches are all about the message and forget about the mission.”
Like this pastor, we believe it’s important to share Christ’s love in word and deed. In situations where appropriate, we offer an opportunity to hear the gospel. But what about the places where we can’t? Should those people be left to starve or die of thirst? In contexts hostile to Christianity, our witness is simply reflected through the work we do.
In the verse above, we are commanded to love our neighbor. That’s why we do what we do. Just like in the Good Samaritan story, our “neighbor” is often someone with whom we have nothing in common.
I have a friend who went to church pregnant and unmarried. The love and support she received led her to recommit her life to Christ. Today, 20 years later, she’s happily married, a mother of three, and a committed Christian. She admits, had she been hit with the gospel the minute she walked in the door of that church, she would have never returned.
If we were to plunk ourselves into a drought or disaster stricken community and start preaching the gospel, with no offer to help, very few people would be receptive. Practical help often opens the door to be able to share why we do what we do.