Homeless

The Poor Are Also Created in the Image of God

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with action and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)

Wow. I must confess, this passage is difficult for me to imitate. Throughout life, I have bypassed many beggars on the streets and ignored their plea for money. What’s my excuses consist of?

Here is a list that usually runs in my head: If they are able-bodied, why can’t they get a job? What if they use that money for drugs or alcohol? How do I know they are telling me the truth? I need that money for myself. I have a family to feed.

How do you respond when a beggar asks for money? Have these thoughts ever entered your mind? If so, you are not alone. But are these excuses valid? As Christians, I do think we need to be wise in how we give money to strangers, but are we ever justified to ignore a person in need?

Let’s examine the Bible. Jesus makes it clear in Luke 6:30, “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”

The Greek word for everyone is πᾶς. It means, “all people.” Similarly, in the passage above, the Greek word for anyone is ὅς, which has a totality emphasis, meaning to give unconditionally. There are at least 30 additional passages that Jesus preaches on concerning charity towards the poor.

Based on Scripture, I believe all of us have a duty to help people in need. Does that help always include financial assistance? Not all the time. If you are financially unstable, and someone is begging from you, it may be unwise to give them money you don’t have.

However, I still think there is an obligation to show Christ’s love to that person. You can certainly pray for them. Peter is a perfect example of this in Acts: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk (Acts 3:6).”

Therefore, while there may be conditions in which you can’t give monetarily, there are no conditions in which you should ignore the person.

When I was in college, I used to preach in the open air. Homeless people would come up to me all the time and ask for money. Instead of giving them money, I invited them to eat a meal with me. Most declined.

There was one person I vividly remember accepting my invitation. When we walked into the restaurant, I will never forget the reaction on the customers’ faces. It’s almost as if you could read their minds. “What is he doing in here? He smells bad.” I felt sympathy for this homeless man because I experienced what it was like to sense strong rejection, as if I was sub-human.

While we were eating, he told me his life story. I came to the realization that he was a person just like me. Full of dreams. Creative. A sense of humor. Personable. On the other hand, broken. Confused. Depressed. Despite the virtues and vices, this man was a priceless vessel created in the image of God.

This experience has helped me to become more sympathetic towards the poor and needy. And it should. The Bible tells us that if we don’t have pity for the brokenhearted, then the love of God does not reside in us. James tells us that if we have faith, but not works, our faith is futile. Our religion becomes worthless when we abandon the widows and orphans in distress.

On judgment day, Jesus will say to the righteous: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matt. 25:40).” Next time you see a stranger in need, remember that a day is coming when you will either be exhorted by your decision to help a person in need or rebuked for failing to imitate Christ’s love.

Be encouraged. There are endless opportunities to show the love of Christ to the outcasts. Here are 7 suggestions. Please add more to this list in the comments below. God bless.

  1. Go on a mission trip with your local church.
  2. Help out at Vacation Bible School.
  3. Adopt a child in the foster care system.
  4. Give to Hope for the Hungry.
  5. Bring food to a homeless person.
  6. Instead of buying a cup of coffee, save that money for a beggar.
  7. Grab some lunch with an outcast at your church who may not have a family nearby.

Extending Mercy towards the Poor and Needy

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“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by y feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts (James 2:1-4)?”

An estimated 100 million people worldwide are homeless. Due to the economic stresses in society and reductions in the availability of affordable housing, it’s difficult for people to take care of themselves. In the 1970s, America saw an increase in homelessness as a result of the deinstitutionalization of patients from psychiatric hospitals. Because these patients were no longer taken care of, they were forced out on the streets, resulting in the inability to thrive in the community. By the mid-1980s, homelessness became more commonplace in families, runaway children, teenagers, and young adults. Today, homelessness is a rising epidemic that needs serious attention.

Currently, programs like the Rescue Mission, Habitat for Humanity, and Goodwill are providing food, shelter, and clothing. They are run by community organizations and government departments whose primary purpose is equipping the homeless with the necessary skills to function in society. Although these programs have the desire to assist the homeless, there are still many obstacles they face. Some include: reduced access to health care, limited access to education, an increased risk of suffering from violence and abuse, discrimination from others, loss of relationships with the mainstream, not being seen as suitable for employment. This is heartbreaking.

In the passage mentioned, James is informing the Jewish Christians outside of Palestine to stick up for the homeless and the needy. In the previous chapter, he emphasizes that a true and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and widows in distress; those who have been marginalized and discriminated against by society. These are the very people for whom Jesus is concerned about. He died for them. Jesus goes as far as saying, “ If you are showing favoritism and neglecting the poor, you are breaking the law and are just as guilty as murderers and adulterers (James 2:9-11).”

Why is showing favoritism such a grievous sin to God? Because it’s antithetical to the apex of kingdom rules: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In addition, it breaks the Old Testament law to treat the poor equally (Deut. 16:19; Lev. 19:15; Job 34:19). Lastly, mercy, which is compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm, was an essential Old Testament law (Micah 6:8; Zech. 7:9-10; Matt 5:7). According to Jesus, when we break this command, we are guilty of all.

Why then did Jesus enact all these principles for the poor? So that God’s law would set the poor free from prejudice, oppression, and exploitation. It’s also a good reminder for believers. We should never forget what Christ has done for us. You and I were once spiritually poor and needy (Rom. 3) Without God, there are no true possessions. Since Christ showed mercy by dying on the cross for our sins, we ought to extend this same mercy towards others. This week I challenge you to keep the homeless in your prayers. While praying, meditate on memories when God has extended compassion and mercy towards you, and I think you will have a greater appreciation for the poor. Below is a video of our small group from Bible Baptist Church feeding the homeless in Indianapolis. I hope this video encourages you to serve the poor in your area.