Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


The Least of These

posted by Scot McKnight

These words are in red in most of our Bibles because they are from Jesus:

37 “Then
the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and
feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40)

TomDavis.jpgTom Davis believes these words. I don’t mean he has a high view of Scripture; I mean he thinks Jesus means business. He thinks Jesus means his followers really should do something about the poor. He not only assents to what Jesus says, he thinks we ought to practice what Jesus says.

There have been some huge shifts among evangelicals when it comes to justice issues like AIDS and orphans. There is much yet to be done. What are you seeing out there? What is happening at your local level? (I don’t mind you mentioning your ministry, etc, but avoid more than one link.)

I quote Tom: “I believe when you strip Christianity down to its basics, this is what it means: to feed, clothe, and treat the fatherless as members of one’s own family.”

Tom talks about his ministry, Children’s HopeChest, in two of his books and I commend both (or either) if you need a stimulus package to increase your compassion. One is called Red Letters: Living a Faith That Bleeds
and the other is called Fields of the Fatherless: Discover the Joy of Compassionate Living
. It probably doesn’t matter which one you read (or buy); either one will do the job. A wake-up call about the ravaging and savaging impacts of AIDS in the world and upon children. Millions of children are orphans today because of AIDS, and Tom Davis is dedicated to awakening compassion. His heart beats (and bleeds) for orphans in this world. A powerful authentic testimony.

It comes down, doesn’t it, to whether or not we will not only assent to but also practice the red letters of Jesus.



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Glen Peterson

posted March 12, 2009 at 12:39 am


Don’t forget the immigrants as the least of these!



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Erika Haub

posted March 12, 2009 at 1:06 am


Your comment at the end of this post reminded me of a phrase Debbie Blue used when speaking to a bunch of pastors and leaders this past weekend when she called us to “match our sincerity with actions”. It is easy to be sincere about feeling concern or care for the least; it is harder to let that sincerity shape our lives.



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Mike M

posted March 12, 2009 at 1:16 am


This is something to wrap one’s life around. If not directly involved in activities to serve others (which I think Jesus prefers), my wife and I will donate to causes which impact lives in the following ways:
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you:” Feed the Children
‘Thirsty and give you something to drink?:’ Living Waters International
‘When did we see you a stranger and invite you in:’ Habitat for Humanity
‘Needing clothes and clothe you:’ Good Will
‘When did we see you sick:’ Childrens Hospital and St. Judes Hospital
‘or in prison and go to visit you?’ Voice of the Martyrs



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Stephen Mook

posted March 12, 2009 at 6:21 am


It does come down to this.
Hopefully more will interpret these words from Jesus as being central to following in His Way. We seek to serve the least of these because it reflects the heart of God, not a political philosophy (‘liberal/social gospel Christian).
Perhaps this new generation of Christians will see this a-new, without the dividing labels that often follow these red letters of Jesus.
I’m hopeful but I’m also young and perhaps naive to believe that the conservative/liberal/social gospel labels that are attached to portions of scripture will dissolve.
How do others see this?



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RJS

posted March 12, 2009 at 6:39 am


Scot,
This passage is part of the same discourse with a description of the coming of the Son of Man in Matt 24:29-31. But the coming of the Son of Man is apocalyptic language – and apparently completed with the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. What makes the language of Matt 25 any different? Isn’t it simply a potent warning for how to act and approach the time leading up to “70 AD”?
Do you think that the judgment described is figurative, part of the future, – or part of the past?



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Tyler

posted March 12, 2009 at 6:51 am


I don’t want to sound like I disagree with the point of your post (because I don’t), but I’ve been reading the conversation going on at OpenSource Theology over this passage and I’m just curious what your take on it might be, whether the passage can be taken out of it’s (as RJS said) apocalyptic context and used for social justice campaigns, or whether that’s just unfair to use the text in ways that it was not meant to be used. Personally, I agree with Perriman’s exegesis, but I do think it can be used the way it is typically used today (social justice) because of how the NT authors sometimes quoted the OT. Whatever, I’m done.



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Clay Knick

posted March 12, 2009 at 8:41 am


Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, has done
the same with his book, “The Hole in Our Gospel.” I
finished it last week.



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Carl Holmes

posted March 12, 2009 at 9:11 am


Mike M,
I just have to plug one more
“and he saw the multitudes and had compassion” Compassion International.
(in the interest of full disclosure, I work for Compassion International)



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Daniel

posted March 12, 2009 at 10:19 am


Ditto to the concerns above.
“The least of these brothers [and sisters] of mine” is Jesus’ reference TO HIS DISCIPLES. The least of these = the disciples. The goat and the sheep = the (non-Christian) nations.
Hardly a text to motivate Christian social involvement. Oh this fixation on ‘the red letters’…
Better quote James: true and undefiled religion before the Father is to care for orphans and widows in their [economic] distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Peace,
-Daniel-



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Andy M

posted March 12, 2009 at 10:35 am


RJS,
How much does it really matter whether the judgement described is figurative or not, or whether it is talking about past, present, or future? I don’t think it has much to do with it, because are we not going to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and so on, IF the judgement has already come?
What we need to absorb from this is what is Jesus concerned about? Taking care of the poor. Read the book of Amos (not to mention all the other prophets), and you will see what God cares about, the poor.
And if God would judge them in 70 AD for how they didn’t take care of the poor, who is to say that God wouldn’t say the same thing to us today? Personally, even if Jesus was referring to 70 AD in that scripture, I don’t think that we can just disregard it because it was already fulfilled. I’m not necessarily saying that we will go to hell if we don’t do those things, but God may have some serious questions for us when we meet face to face.
And, if you really have the love of God in you, then I think that it would naturally flow out as love for the poor. So if you don’t have that kind of love for the poor, then do you really have the love of God within you?
I’m sorry this ended up this long, and you seriously may have not meant your post like that, but I think that it is way too often that Christians explain away scripture and rationalize their indifference. I know, because I do it myself.
Andy M, hypocrite in transition



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Andy M

posted March 12, 2009 at 10:45 am


Daniel,
So do all of the scriptures where Jesus talks about shepherds and sheep, not to mention all the OT scriptures that refer to God’s people as sheep and God the Shepherd, just disappear? Jesus may have been talking about more than just the people of Israel, but you can’t forget the use of the shepherd/sheep imagery attached to the Jewish people.



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Karl

posted March 12, 2009 at 10:54 am


I resonate strongly with the desire to see orthopraxy raised to (or at some points above) orthodoxy in Christian circles. To see more compassionate action by Christians on behalf of the poor and hurting, to see these words of Jesus (and James, and Amos, etc.) heeded and obeyed.
At the same time, I’m not sure we can take those words in isolation as the essence of Christianity, strong as they are. Is something missed if we reduce the essence of Christianity *solely* to ethics? Does the ethical teaching of Jesus differ very much from the ethical teaching of other major religions? What about the fact that I have not kept nor will never keep this or any other command of God consistently, let alone perfectly? Where does grace come in? I think we need more “both-and” rather than “either-or” when it comes to discussions of compassion for the least of these, and the more typical areas of focus for evangelicals like the atonement.



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Scott W

posted March 12, 2009 at 10:55 am


When we frame such things as “justice issues,” it shows we’ve lost our way theologically.YHWH, the god of Israel and our Lord Jesus Christ,is a covenant-making and covenant-keeping god. He is the god of the weak and poor,the protector of widows and orphans. To engage in acts and actions which oppose YHWH’s vision for human community is a “spiritual” matter, one which will determine ones eternal destiny.



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ChrisB

posted March 12, 2009 at 11:04 am


“I believe when you strip Christianity down to its basics, this is what it means: to feed, clothe, and treat the fatherless as members of one’s own family.”
No.
Thank you “Red Letter Christians” for trying to bring the “social” gospel into evangelicalism. It killed the mainline protestants, so why shouldn’t it get a crack at us?
I absolutely believe Jesus taught that we have to take care of our neighbors — though, as someone mentioned above, many NT passages seem to suggest our focus is to be on other believers, at least first — but that’s not the core of our mission.
If we give a starving man only the gospel he’ll think we don’t care about his physical needs. If we give a starving man only a sandwich we don’t care about his spiritual needs. We can and must do both.



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MarkE

posted March 12, 2009 at 1:36 pm


Chris B:
“…but that’s not the core of our mission.” … “We can and must do both”
I am a bit confused. Sounds like you agree that showing compassion is the core (one of two parts?) of our mission.
From what you wrote, it doesn’t appear that you believe that the core of our mission is the gospel and all that “social gospel” stuff is somehow less important, the implicit view I have encountered in conservative evangelical circles most of my life.



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Cam R

posted March 12, 2009 at 1:52 pm


I find the parable of sheep and goats very challenging and confusing. Some commentaries say that these verses are about judgement on how we treat the poor, others say judgement will be based on the results of a Spirit led life, and others seem to stress that the parable is about how we receive Jesus’ messengers–how we receive Jesus’ message or the gospel.
My former church taught that this scripture opens to the door for some people to be saved by their treatment of the poor where others are saved by grace through faith. There were serious issues there.
There seems to be a theme in Matthew about how towns receive Jesus’ message and messengers and the judgement that would follow the rejection of the good news. The sheep and goats parable seems to fit with that theme.
What do others think?
Now I am not saying caring for the poor and the oppressed isn’t part of God’s mission or the church’s mission. I am just not sure that the salvation or final judgement by our treatment of the poor interpretation fits with the rest of the NT.
Thoughts?



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MarkE

posted March 12, 2009 at 1:52 pm


On a less cynical note, maybe compassion is a spiritual formation issue rather than something we “need” to do because Jesus said we should. Jesus fed the 4000 because he saw the people were hungry and he had compassion on them. He was a compassionate person so he did compassionate things.
Didn’t Jesus tell us directly to be compassionate, like the father? Maybe our lack of compassion is just a sign that we are not compassionate. That gives me something to work with. If I am a Jesus follower and trying to be transformed to be like him, why am I not compassionate? Since I do want to become a compassionate person, I wonder what I could do to change my heart?
From this perspective, the dichotomy between compassion and spreading the gospel becomes a false one. Jesus did compassionate things because he was compassionate like his father. He also preached and taught because of the life and light it brought to people he loved.
I do not see these two things as needing to be put in a position where they need to be weighed or judged.



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Randy

posted March 12, 2009 at 3:49 pm


I am disappointed at the division into social gospel and other lingo.
I liked Erika’s words in the first post: “It is easy to be sincere about feeling concern or care for the least; it is harder to let that sincerity shape our lives.”
I recommend a book that has been discussed here in Ames recently: THE CELTIC WAY OF EVANGELISM by George Hunter III. (Abingdon). Hunter reminds us that through history most people have become part of the community of Christ-followers not by being convinced of something, but by being welcomed into living something, and coming gradually to believe as the community shares their beliefs.
Regardless of how we view Christian living, Christian service and evangelism, more people will come to believe if we live Christianly, serve as Christ called us and share the gospel, than if we simply argue with the world.
Peace,
Randy Gabrielse



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ChrisB

posted March 12, 2009 at 4:44 pm


MarkE,
What we must preach is the gospel. What we must do is love God and neighbor and teach others to do the same.



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Chaplain Mike

posted March 12, 2009 at 5:53 pm


Totally agree with the views expressed. Wish he would choose a different passage of Scripture, because I don’t think that’s what it means at all. It’s about how the “nations” that we’re called to reach before the “end of the age” (see Matt 28.16-20 and compare with this passage) treat “Christ’s brothers”–his representatives who share his Good News.
WE are the least of these. I find this extremely humbling and even more devastating to my upper middle class American suburban lifestyle.



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BeckyR

posted March 12, 2009 at 6:39 pm


as grace is given. As God points a person. Or it can turn into that thing like you search the scriptures looking for me but here I am and you don’t even know me. My paraphrase. It’s never about keeping the commandment first. Like the Ephesians prayer, what we do comes out of knowing the fullness of God’s love for us. It’s 1,2,3. 2 must come with 1. 2 is never enough on it’s own and 1 is never enough on it’s own. Jesus wants our hearts and if he’s got our heart, then these things will come of it.



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BeckyR

posted March 12, 2009 at 6:42 pm


I think the “as grace is given” is important too. God knows our weaknesses and he doesn’t stand over us and expect us to do more than we can. I think of people who are not the mainstream of society – like the mentally ill or even just those who struggle with psych things. God is patient and God heals bit by bit and God equips. What we do must always be through his Spirit. Some can only give the widow’s mite and God honors that.



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ChrisB

posted March 12, 2009 at 8:54 pm


Justin Taylor posted a very relevant quote from DA Carson this afternoon.



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BenB

posted March 14, 2009 at 10:06 am


ChrisB,
I just don’t thin I can go THAT far down that road. It draws a line that if taken to it’s furthest conclusion, says “if we HAVE to lose one, we’ll lose the social issues.”
This is wrong. we can’t lose either. I think this doesn’t get mentioned enough in conservative circles. I don’t think anything we do gets determined by final judgment.
It gets determined by the cross and resurrection. Period. The end. If Christ has accomplished this, then he is in fact LORD, no (Phillipians 2)? If He is LORD, then we must do what he commands. We must tell people what he has done for the whole world (the gospel) and we must live out that accomplishment for the rest of the world (social justice).
I think it’s clearly that simple and we muddy the waters far too often.



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Mike M

posted March 14, 2009 at 11:49 pm


BenB (#24): “We must tell people what he has done for the whole world (the gospel) and we must live out that accomplishment for the rest of the world (social justice).” Amen, Brother! Or, it’s just living out “Love God, Love Others.”



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Richard

posted May 2, 2009 at 8:04 pm


For an unconventional look at what this passage really means, go to:
http://thesheepandthegoats.blogspot.com/



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