Is the ‘war on poverty’ the ‘good fight of faith’?

By David M. McNabb

Do you know that God does not want us to be ignorant?  Because it is His desire to educate us in the things that pertain to Him, He has provided us with the means to learn about Him.

From the earliest of times, God has spoken to mankind.  Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others received the Word of God long before God’s mandate to Moses to write the things which God had said.  Ever since then, mighty men have been chosen by God to record God’s word.  Isaiah, Solomon, Zechariah, Peter, and Paul are but a few of the vessels which obediently transcribed the words of the Lord for our edification.  The collection of these divinely inspired writings is commonly referred to as the Bible.

Paul said, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).  Clearly, though, this statement reaches beyond the initial born-again experience, and encompasses the entire Christian life.  The Word of God, therefore, was not merely written to introduce people to the truth of the gospel, but to nourish the believer in the “deep things of God.”

The holy scriptures define all things.  This is what is meant in Isaiah 8:20, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”  In our search to understand the meaning of life, or the purpose of any thing under the sun, we must look first to the pages of God’s word.

All too often, ignorant Christians are duped into allowing nonbelievers to define what it means to be a follower of Christ.  True believers are obliged to ignore such attempts, except when they agree with the word of the Lord.  John exhorts us to “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).  But Satan is in the business of deception, and ignorance is his greatest ally.

Most churches incorporate in the United States as 501(3)c non-profit organizations.  There are eight types of tax-exempt 501(3)c organizations: charitable; religious; educational; scientific; literary organizations; those that test for public safety; support national and international sports competitions; and those that work to prevent cruelty to children or animals.

Although “charitable” and “religious” are two distinct categories, they are often used interchangeably.  Organizations such as the Salvation Army have made their humanitarian efforts a primary focus, and are now better known for their thrift stores than for their evangelical doctrine.  Soup kitchens, rescue missions and rehab programs are often some of the most prominent “ministries” of churches today.  While that has become the commonly accepted mission of the Gospel, does that agree with “the law and the prophets?”  What is the real mission of God’s people?

A short time before Jesus’ crucifixion, a woman came to Him in Bethany, and anointed Him with a very precious ointment.  The disciples were upset, because they believed that it would have been better if the ointment were sold and the money given to the poor.  Jesus commended the woman for what she had done, and told his disciples to leave her alone.  Jesus said, “For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.  Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be  preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman has done, be told for a memorial of her” (Matt. 26:6-13).

In the process of justifying the woman’s actions, Jesus made a statement that seems to have eluded modern Christianity.  Jesus said, “For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.”  Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 15:11, “For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.”

Time and time again, the word of God reminds us to take care of the poor, the widows, and the orphans.  Jesus’ words in Matt. 26 were not meant to “free” us from our obligation to the poor, only to show us that our care of the poor must not overshadow the work of God for today.  The Scriptures declare that we will never eradicate poverty.  Therefore, we will always have an opportunity to do that which is right in providing for the needs of the poor.  However, God’s plan requires certain things to be done at certain times, and if God’s people are overly absorbed in the needs of the poor, they might miss what God is doing.  It is as Jesus told the Pharisees, “these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”

True, Paul did say, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10), and one of the proofs that Jesus was the Messiah was that the gospel was being preached unto the poor.  But on the day of Christ’s anointing for burial, the care of the poor was eclipsed by the prophetic requirement.

Christianity today is much like the disciples on the day the alabaster box was opened.  While many of us are consumed with our perception of the important, humanitarian work, we often innocently miss, or outright deny, the prophetic work that must be accomplished by the people of God.  As we draw nearer to the Day of the coming of Lord, there is a growing need that a group of chosen saints fulfill the prophecies of the time before His return.

While some declare that no prophecy need be fulfilled in our day, the Word of the Lord declares that God always reveals His time to His prophets.  John Huss was aware of the day in which he lived.  In 1415, when he was about to be burned at the stake, he said, “It is thus that you silence the goose, but a hundred years hence there will arise a swan whose singing you shall not be able to silence.”   By revelation, Brother Huss was speaking of Martin Luther, who in 1515, exactly one century later, began to lecture on Paul’s letter to the Romans.  This study was the catalyst to open Brother Luther’s eyes to the truth of salvation, and two years later, in October 1517, he posted the 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg Castle, sparking the Reformation.

Apart from a very few, God’s people have often had difficulty knowing the season in which they live.  God, by the word of Jeremiah, said “Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the Lord” (Jer. 8:7).  Jesus also rebuked the children of Israel in His day, saying, “The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring.  O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” (Matt. 16:1-3).  Again Jesus said, “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace!  but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation” (Luke 19:42-44).

It is imperative that we begin to see and understand the signs of our times, and realize that we are swiftly approaching the time of our visitation.  It is good to take every opportunity we have to do good unto men, but we must also remember the lesson of Mary and Martha.

“Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).

Will you also be cumbered about much serving, or will you choose the needful thing?  Will you choose to be a “charitable” organization serving the “needs” of humanity, or will you choose that good part, serving the will of the Lord? 

The day of the Lord is at hand, and His people must get ready.  It is time for us to wake up, and be made ready a people prepared for the Lord.  Wherefore, it is my prayer for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power:  That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Next month: 4 Centuries of Slavery?

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