THE LEAST OF THESE
I grew up in a church environment which emphasized Bible teaching, including salvation by grace. And because of this I was able to gain a valuable store of knowledge on many important doctrines which I hold tightly to even today. But as I was schooled in my younger years on the finer points of Biblical orthodoxy, I was cautioned against the evils of the “social gospel.” As a young person, I didn’t really know what this was, but I sure did look out for it!
As I got older, I began to understand what my church leaders meant by the term “social gospel.” In their view, it simply was a “gospel” that emphasized dealing with the world’s ills and injustices at the expense of the “real” gospel of God’s salvation for sinful man. But something about this definition bothered me. Isn’t God concerned about social problems in our world, especially the victims of those problems?
As I read my Bible, I’ve become very aware of the fact that God does indeed care about these issues and the people affected by them. In fact, the Bible has much to say about caring for the poor, helpless, abandoned and disadvantaged. Did you know, for instance, that one popular Bible verse website lists 83 verses just on the topic of caring for widows and orphans?
Another thing that I’ve learned throughout my Christian walk is that when God cares about something, we better care about it, too! It seems that our heavenly Father has a soft spot for people who are often on the fringes of our society. Here’s just a sample of the types of people who God (and, by extension, Jesus) has a special compassion for:
- Widows (James 1:27, Psalms 68:5, Isaiah 1:17, Zechariah 7:9-10)
- Orphans (same as item 1)
- The poor (Proverbs 19:17, 1 John 3:17-18, Deut. 15:11, Gal 2:10)
- Strangers (Leviticus 19:34, Hebrews 13:1-2)
- Prisoners (Matthew 25:35-46, Hebrews 13:3, Isaiah 61:1)
There are more I could list, but you get the idea. It’s very clear that God values the people who our culture doesn’t value and expects us to do the same. But it’s not enough to just say we value people; we must put actions to words. New Testament author James has a reputation for not pulling punches when it comes to exhorting Christians to put actions to our faith. On this topic he says, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15, 16)
For me, one of the most convicting passages of scripture in all of the Bible is Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46. In it, Jesus makes the salient point that if we are truly part of the Kingdom of God, we need to care for “the least of these brothers or sisters of mine.” For when we do, it’s as if we are doing it for Jesus Himself.
Yes, spreading the good news of the Gospel (that Jesus died for sinful men and women in order to redeem them and give them eternal life) should be our highest priority, but let’s not neglect the so-called “social” side of the gospel. God cares…so should we!
About the Author
Tim Carman is a semi-retired aerospace engineer and native Iowan who has been married to Sandra for 37+ years. He and his wife have two grown children and one grandchild and live in rural Clark County, Missouri.