This is the question the prophet Micah asked Israel when considering their disobedience to the Lord. Micah is a small book written by a prophet who is brokenhearted over the rebellion of Israel against God. He compels them to repent or turn back to God in a spirit of humility, reverence, and respect. In his prophecy, he draws attention to the plight of the poor and the responsibility of God’s people to respond in compassion. Why should the “rich” [any American who earns above $105/day fits into this group] respond in compassion towards the poor? The simple answer is “because it is what God requires of us.”
“He [God] has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8 NIV).”
Our greatest example of this reality of course is Jesus Christ.
When we think about the poor in America—the land of opportunity, the land of the free, and the home of the brave—do we respond with biblical justice, mercy, and humility before God?
The primary message the Israelites often miss and American Christians often miss is God desires for us to put our faith into action. It is not enough to be chosen and set apart by God for his purposes if we do not respond in a manner pleasing to him.
James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:14-17).”
God is constantly revealing to me his redemptive plan, his kingdom agenda, and his desire for us to engage his priorities. One priority concerning the gospel, which American Christians seem to sometimes overlook, is meeting the spiritual AND physical needs of the oppressed. God reinforces this message throughout the Bible.
Many of the prophets addressed Israel’s sins against God. The Prophet Isaiah was another who chastised Israel for their lack of concern for the poor. At the time, the Israelites were continuing in their “religious” practices. Like us, they were going to church, raising their hands in the temple, giving offerings, fasting, and doing what they perceived were “good” things. Yet, they were disobedient to God (58:1, 3b), did not pay their workers fair wages (58:3b), and had broken relationships (58:4).
I have already addressed the limited conversations concerning fasting in the modern American church. The few discussions that do take place are often limited to abstinence, not eating, and prayer. Isaiah says that fasting goes much deeper than that.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
To set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
When you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood (Isaiah 58:6-7)?”
According to Isaiah, a true fast (one that God honors) is not just forgoing food but has very practical applications for loving one’s neighbor.
When Jesus pronounced his ministry in Luke 4:18-19, he read from Isaiah 61:1-2:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recover of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Throughout the gospels, we see the proclamation of the gospel has spiritual and physical ramifications. May God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven (Matt. 6:10).
I do not serve a worthless God and do not want a worthless religion. James wrote, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27).”
Christians have all sorts of worthless debates about social justice. God requires biblical justice of me and of you. He requires that I have enough compassion to respond and take action on behalf of those identified in the Bible as marginalized in society, including the poor, widows, orphans, and oppressed. Not only that, James says that we must keep ourselves from being polluted by the world.
Given our culture, how can we responsibly heed James advice while in the world and church?
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2012