My Dear Friends,
The great mission of our Saviour’s church is evangelical - we are to go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Too often the church has strayed from its God-given mission and drifted into a “social gospel,” behaving as if the kingdom of God were little more than a matter of food and drink. Our Lord Jesus' words, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his soul,” should be burned indelibly upon our hearts and minds. If they were, we would never forget the supreme priority of our mission in the world.
And yet, you would have to be quite spiritually blind not to be deeply struck by the concern in God’s word for the poor to be socially and economically cared for. Proverbs exhorts us: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” One of God’s many complaints against his church-state in Amos' day was that “They trample on the heads of the poor... and deny justice to the oppressed.” When Job reflected on his life before the awful trial that had engulfed him, he said, “Whoever heard me spoke well of me, and those who saw me commended me, because I rescued the poor who cried for help and the fatherless who had none to assist him.” Yes, our first obligation in life is to “Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength,” but never to the exclusion of loving our neighbour as ourselves. And, as we all know, our Lord himself tells us that we are to be a neighbour to all who are in need (Luke 10:36-37).
I am writing these words on the eve of the G8 meeting in Scotland. The leading figures in the music world, Sting, Bob Geldof, Bono, and many others, have challenged these G8 leaders to “Make Poverty History.” Whatever you think of modern music, or the lifestyles of these music-makers, their concern to “make Poverty History” should resonate deeply within your heart and mine. This is not utopian idealism, though it could be. Further, throughout history God has raised up at times the unlikeliest of people to further his purposes (Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, etc); he is that daring! This present challenge to the G8 governments is a genuine human concern to rid the world of the evils that cause untold distress to untold millions in our world - God’s world! Christians rightly seek to speak up for the rights of the unborn who cannot speak up for themselves. Abortion is a dark and wicked stain on the landscape of our own nation. Every year millions of human beings are sacrificed on the alters of “choice” and “convenience”. But there are other groups whose voices are muted and who need others to speak up for them. Every day, millions of young and old die because of malnutrition and poverty. There is no easy solution. Simply pouring money into some of these poverty-stricken countries only enriches the bank accounts of their corrupt leaders. Thankfully it is being realised that debt relief and aid must be tied to countries getting their own house in order. But the obligation we all have to help the poor, first by speaking up for the poor, can hardly be denied.
The Old Testament prophets never lost sight of their primary calling to preach the new birth, repentance and faith. But neither were they slow to denounce the social and economic evils that blighted society. They recognised that the body matters. We are psycho-somatic beings, made in God’s image and likeness. Our Lord Jesus “appeared in a body.” Micah tells us what is “good” and pleasing to God: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” James tells us that “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.” This conviction, in part at least, lies behind Solomon’s proverb, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God.”
To despise or even ignore the poor is to set your face against their Maker. In the last analysis it is who God is that demands we care for the poor and needy. He is their Maker, and they are made in his image. One measure of the orthodoxy of our Christianity is that we speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves. It is not a matter of socialism or capitalism; it is a matter of mercy.
Yours as ever in the fellowship of the gospel