‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.’ James 1:27
Test 2 – Care for the poor.
The day I am writing this a group of conservative MPs are asking the Speaker of the House of Commons to allow a vote on reversing the government policy of reducing the aid budget from 0.7% GDP to 0.5% GDP. At the same time the G7 world leaders are meeting in Cornwall to discuss changing international tax law to prevent tax avoidance by the world’s largest companies as well as global policies to reduce global carbon emissions to combat climate change. Both of these sets of policies have the capacity to most benefit the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. Should Christians involve themselves in such things or should their concern be limited to their personal inner life leaving the rest of the world to their own devices? If Christians become involved in the murky world of politics do they not risk becoming stained by the world and compromising their faith? There is a body of Christians who strongly support such a stand and do not see it as the state’s role to be intervening. They advocate, if a Christian wishes to do something personally, it is solely a matter of their conscience. The most organised and influential group who take this stance are the Christian right wing in the USA but there are many in this country and around the world who hold a similar view. I am convinced that the biblical view is that they are fundamentally wrong and the letter of James is a good place to start any investigation into how individuals and the church as a whole should respond to poverty and justice.
In ancient culture it was the widows and orphans who were particularly helpless, frequently lacking anyone to support them. In that way they were emblematic of the poor generally. James sets care for this group as a test one can apply to oneself as an indicator of the state of one’s heart relationship with God. He termed care for widows and orphans as a pure and undefiled expression of love for God and for one’s neighbour.
God does care how a nation cares for the poor and vulnerable. Jeremiah stands at the gate of the temple to address the people of Judah and demands they amend their ways and includes the stranger, orphans and widows in his general appeal for national justice. Jeremiah sees their ways as fruits of idolatry, that is loving things God hates. Jeremiah 7:5-7 God established love and care for the fatherless, widow and sojourner into the law of the land because they had been sojourners and oppressed in Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19-20. God sees care for the vulnerable and acts of justice as sacrificial worship. ‘Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.’ Isaiah 1:16-17
It is not sufficient to simply feel sympathy and pray for the poor and needy if one is able to do more. The NIV translates verse 27 as ‘look after’ and the ESV as ‘visit’ the widow etc. The intention is the Christian should actively care, so in our modern world what does that mean?
It does include advocacy. It may well involve joining a political party or action group to stand up for God’s view of justice. It is not sufficient to care in the wider sense if we ignore the needs in our family and church family. We should be active in paying attention to the needs of those who live close to us or who we work with. Those we are concerned about may be people beyond our community or country, Paul collected gifts from Gentile churches to take to Jerusalem. It may be the unborn child or those suffering mental illness. God may give you a particular concern for those in prison or refugees. Christians are intended to bring God’s glory into the community. Jesus lived a sacrificial life and we are called to imitate him.
Do you know anybody who would appreciate a loving visit especially as we can now meet face to face?
When did you last contact your MP or councillor about a justice issue?
How recently did you review your giving to ensure the money you steward goes to where it fulfils God’s mission?
Reckless Love – Cory Asbury