Tim Keller | April 5, 1998
Jonathan Edwards is a mentor of mine from afar off. I read a treatise by him on the Christian’s duty to the poor. I was really struck by something: one of the marks of the church (not just urban churches) is care and involvement with the poor. That’s how Jesus designed it. Edwards said, “Where have we any command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms, and in a more peremptory urgent manner, than the command of giving to the poor?” He is saying there is nothing clearer and stronger in the Bible than our duty for care and involvement with the poor — not just churches near poor areas, not just certain kinds; everybody.
The Sermon on the Mount — Jesus’ famous sermon on the principles of the kingdom — is clearly something he preached very often. We read, “Blessed are the poor; woe to the rich. Blessed are the empty; woe to the fool.” There’s no way to spiritualize this away. There’s no way to allegorize it away. There’s no way to “metaphorize” it away.
The Bible tells us the gospel, if you get it, does three things to you with regard to the poor. The gospel is an agent in us knowing the poor, becoming the poor, and loving the poor. Knowing, becoming, and loving. The gospel does them all.
Pastor Jonathan Edwards emphasizes that Christians are called by the Bible to help those in need. This isn’t a suggestion, but a firm instruction. If we truly understand Jesus’ teachings, especially from his Sermon on the Mount, we’ll feel a deep connection and love for the poor.
1. Understanding the poor
The Bible often talks about poverty as a difficult circumstance rather than a fault of the person. It reminds us of the struggles faced by the less fortunate and the need for kindness and generosity. It encourages us to defend the rights of the poor and understand how income inequality affects society. As Christians, we’re urged to actively help those in need. The gospel doesn’t just make us feel guilty about poverty; it also inspires us to make a difference.
2. Identifying with the poor
When Jesus says in Luke 6:20, “Blessed are you the poor,” he’s talking about spiritual, not physical poverty. He’s emphasizing that those who realize their need for spiritual help and rely on God’s grace are blessed. The gospel particularly resonates with the physically poor as they often recognize their spiritual needs. The gospel brings hope, self-worth, and trust in God to those who fully submit themselves to Him.
3. Caring for the poor
Jesus’ arrival isn’t about introducing a new system but about changing hearts and giving hope to the disadvantaged. It’s important to see ourselves as equals to the poor, knowing that our only difference is that we have Jesus Christ in our lives. This understanding should shape how we treat them with respect and compassion. The kingdom of God promises good news for the poor, and a real relationship with Jesus is shown by our love for the poor, being content with what we have, and our willingness to give generously.
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In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller shows us how a proper understanding of the Bible reveals the truth about societal ideals and our own hearts — and that there is only one God who can wholly satisfy our cravings and fulfill our hopes.
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