Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Are We Asking the Persecuted to Feed From the Scraps?

"There are only so many things that we can support."

These are the words that our workers hear not only in Canada and in other Western nations but also in places like Ethiopia.

I originally wrote this in London's Heathrow Airport after returning from a quick trip to east Africa for strategy meetings. While there, I was surprised to hear our Ethiopian project officer share his frustrations in trying to get his countrymen involved in serving the persecuted in their own nation. The excuses that church leaders give there are identical to ones that I hear in Canada.

"How can we add support to persecuted Christians to a budget that is already committed to other things like local expenses and outreach, church planting, and world missions."

The unexpressed perception is that showing our solidarity to those who are being persecuted for their faith is somehow peripheral to the real priorities that Christians should have. We seem to think that is a secondary issue, optional, to be engaged in only when more important things are taken care of. Certainly, we reason, it is not a priority like, say, the Great Commission.

I seem to recall, however, the Great Commission saying something about making disciples in all nations. Where is this being most effectively carried out today's world? Research is showing that it is taking place in regions of the world where men and women are actively involved in laying down their lives to take the Good News into hostile regions. The most rapid church growth is taking place in regions we would consider areas of persecution and religious restriction. Being strategically involved in the Great Commissions means standing together with those who are involved in these regions during this vital time in history. Are we not also responsible to stand together with those who, once they become disciples, are rejected and persecuted? It seems somehow heartless to bring men and women into the kingdom only to abandon them to the wolves afterwards.

I also seem to recall the Great Commission referring to the need to teach these disciples to obey everything that Jesus has commanded. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable of the final judgment when the nations are divided before Him. To one group, He says, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me."

This group will ask Him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?" He will answer, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."

The use of the word "brothers" here is noteworthy. While it is praiseworthy to be involved in helping the poor, needy, and those in prisons for committing crimes, these are not the verses to support these kinds of ministries. "Brothers", as used in Matthew, is restricted to either biological family or to members of the household of faith. It is never used to refer to those who are outside of the household of faith or people in general. Jesus is referring to those of His "brothers" who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and in prison. It likely that they are in this plight specifically because they are His brothers. Yes, we are to do good to all men, but Paul reminds us that we are especially responsible to care for those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).

It would seem to me to be fairly obvious, that Jesus is making this a priority in that He condemns those who refuse to aid His "brothers" in need, declaring that this lack of concern demonstrates that He never really knew them. His priorities were not theirs, even though they prophesized and performed miracles in His name (Matt. 7:22).

The persecuted are not, in Jesus' mind, some minority group to which God's people can throw the occasional scrap from what's leftover on the table once everything else has been taken care of (if there is anything left). Why do we assume that our persecuted brothers and sisters should survive from whatever scraps might fall from our tables? Indeed, in the light of Matthew 25, we seem to forget that this is exactly what we are asking Jesus to do when we say that we have other, more important things to take of first.

Think about that the next time you are tempted to say (either individually or congregationally), "There are only so many things I can support."

No comments: