Around 1995 I became a Crossroad Bible Institute instructor. Following CBI’s daily guide for reading through the Bible, I became aware of the many verses expressing God’s concern for the poor—widows, orphans, aliens; those who are helpless, hungry, afflicted—and marked them all in my Bible. It changed my life.
Recently I bought a copy of Ron Sider’s book And They Shall be Fed—200 pages of Bible verses he found on this topic. I’d found about 1,000 verses on this theme; Sider, about 1,850. The difference? Sider had included 25 verses on laziness; I did not look into that. And while I picked the key verse in a passage, Sider included the surrounding verses to set the context.
Regardless of the number of verses, what is significant is Sider’s statement “Would anyone deny that [God’s concern for the poor] is the second-most common theme in the Bible?”
This raises questions. First, why have I, in my 78 years in the Christian Reformed church, heard only five to 10 sermons on this subject? Have others noticed this? If so, how can the CRC increase its awareness of this issue? When our church worked through Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life, I saw no mention of the poor. Years later, Warren is quoted in Rick Warren and the Purpose That Drives Him by Richard Abanes as saying, “I’m sorry, God. How did I miss those 2,000 verses on the poor in the Bible? How did I miss that with all my training, doctrine, and education?” Since then Saddleback Church has changed its ministry to emphasize helping the poor.
Second, why is the CRC currently debating the role of the institutional church, with some saying the church should not speak out on justice issues? Clearly, God’s concern for the poor is a biblical issue!
Finally, how do you respond to those who say “They broke the law” is the bottom line in dealing with people who are undocumented? Guess what? We broke the law—and we continue to break it, every one of us. Where would we be if God said, “That’s it! You broke my law! No salvation for you!”
Praise God that he is not that way. Through Christ, God is consistently compassionate, patient, and forgiving with us. And he expects us to reflect him and do likewise. Could God say, “Now that you have been saved, your relationship toward others is no concern of mine”?
Even to say the Bible has two themes, salvation and concern for the poor, isn’t correct. It’s really all of one piece. God is compassionate to us; we must be compassionate toward “the least of these.” Who says so? Jesus himself says so in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 (see also Cornelius Plantinga’s powerful meditation on this parable in Beyond Doubt, Faith Alive).