One week ago today, I boarded an airplane in Bujumbura, Burundi, to return home with our missions team after spending a week in the poorest nation on earth. Later this year, you will see the stories we captured. Stories of pain, hardship, sickness, and death. You will also see how people like you are bringing hope and health to the poorest of the poor through Mission: Water For LIFE.
While there, I was reading Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches when something struck me that I’d never really noticed. After receiving the Gospel directly from Jesus Christ through his encounter on the road to Damascus, three years passed before he documents his first meeting with two of the twelve apostles, Peter (also called Cephas) and Jesus’ brother James. Then he preaches to the Gentiles another fourteen years* before returning to Jerusalem to meet with James, Peter, and John. There, Paul says, “I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles…” (Galatians 2:2).
The three apostles affirmed his message, then added one thing: “They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do” (v 10). An addendum to the core Gospel of Jesus Christ – His life, message, crucifixion, and resurrection – can only interpreted as something essentially significant to the work of believers. Remember the poor!
God has always emphasized helping those who are in need. In the law of Moses, He commanded, “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor… open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8) The prophet Ezekiel spoke out against the people of Sodom, saying, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49). And He revealed His character to Isaiah when He said, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them” (Isaiah 41:17).
Proverbs gives this warning: “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13). It also provides one of the most beautiful promises in scripture: “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed” (Proverbs 19:17). Note the verb here: lends. The Hebrew word also means to be joined. When we join with God to care for the poor, He promises to “repay” us. The word here is shalam or shalom. It is to be complete, sound, and in a covenant of peace. We care for the poor, and God joins us to Himself, making us complete and at peace with Him!
Jesus spoke this message and practiced it. He told the Jewish rulers, "When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you" (Luke 14:13). He told the rich young ruler, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven" (Luke 12:33). When He saw that a crowd of thousands were hungry after listening to Him teach, He multiplied the food to satisfy their need (Matthew 14:13-21). And He tied generosity to judgment when He said, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:34-36). How do we do this to God? He says it this way: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (v 40).
My parents have long said that our purpose as an organization is to demonstrate God's love in word and deed. In their 60 years of marriage and ministry, they have sought to do just that. We see thirsty people and we give them water. We see hungry people and we give them food. We see those in bondage and set them free. But it does not stop there. That would be incomplete.
Jesus balanced the good works of meeting practical needs with the necessity of the Gospel when people began following Him simply for a free meal. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27). This is the complete Gospel. It talks the talk and walks the walk.
John asked, "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 answer is that it doesn’t. God’s love never turns away from a need. That’s why John then says, "Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:17-18). This is the calling of every follower of Christ.
*Some include the three years from Paul’s conversion in the fourteen, making the gap between meetings eleven years.