The Overlooked Verse

Many sermons have been given expounding on Lev. 23 where God’s festivals and holy days which He gave to ancient Israel can be seen as an outline of God’s plan of salvation through Christ.  These days can be seen historically as a timeline, along with each day having a past, present and future application.  They begin with Christ Our Passover (the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world) and end with Him on that Last Great Day as the Light of the New Jerusalem (see article on this website titled “The Gospel Revealed in God’s Holy Days”).

Invariably though, right after covering the Feast of Pentecost, whoever is speaking says, “Now skipping on to verse 23…” and then proceeds to talk about the Feast of Trumpets.  What happened to verse 22?  If we’re going to read the entire chapter, why usually skip verse 22?   At first glance it seems that verse 22 doesn’t even belong in this chapter.  Moses had just finished writing virtually those same words earlier in Lev. 19:9-10.  It seems to be one of those statutes about farming that’s also given in Deut. 24:19-22 and now it’s given again right between instructions on Pentecost and Trumpets.

If in a timeline Pentecost  (Lev. 23:15-21) can be seen as the pouring out of God’s Holy Spirit at the very beginning of the church in Acts 2, and Trumpets (Lev. 23:23-25) begins God’s final judgment on earth and our resurrection at the last Trump, then verse 22 would cover the time period between Pentecost and Trumpets.  Likewise, for each individual, verse 22 would cover the time period between your receiving the Holy Spirit and your meeting Christ in the air at the last Trump.  It concerns your entire converted life here on earth.  Understanding verse 22 can give us a glimpse of what we should be doing today as new creatures in Christ.

Let’s think about this overlooked verse.  Lev. 23:22 reads, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest.  You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God.”  Again, do you notice how at first glance this verse seems out of place?  Yet, God doesn’t make mistakes, and He put this verse where it is for a purpose.

This purpose can be realized even if we aren’t farmers with a harvest to be gleaned.  The principle is the same.  God seems to be figuratively telling us not to grab after every grape and stalk of grain in our lives.  For us it’s so easy to get all wrapped up in making a living or get involved in various projects at home or even church related ones, but in all this we shouldn’t forget to look after the needs of others, especially the poor, the widows, the fatherless, the strangers and “thy neighbor.”

James put it best when he wrote in James 1;27, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world”.  It’s called sanctification and just like justification and glorification we don’t do any of them.  God does them through Christ in us because He loves us and wants us to live forever with Him in the Kingdom of agape love in true eternal righteousness.

Taking care of the widows, the fatherless and the poor is what Christianity has always been all about.  It’s what Jesus taught.  It’s what the Torah taught.  This was what the virtuous wife did (Prov. 31:20) and the people of Sodom didn’t do (Ezek. 16:49).  When Paul and Barnabas went out to preach the gospel to the gentiles, the Apostles in Jerusalem had only one desire.  Paul wrote in Gal. 2:10, “They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I was eager to do”.  Historians chronicling the growth of Christianity in the first century often attribute its phenomenal growth because, unlike other religions, they cared about the poor.

Showing love and good works is not just a nicety.  They are a major part of what being a Christian is all about.  It’s what Jesus and God the Father desire of us.   Remember, “God is love” (I John 4:8).  Loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself is what the law was all about.  “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40) and as new creatures in Christ He writes His law of love on our hearts.  Paul wrote in Eph. 5:1-2, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.  And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us….”   On that final night, after Judas left, Jesus told His disciples, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

John also wrote in I John 3:16-17, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.  And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”  That’s a good question!  John isn’t talking about showing love to the “spiritually poor” and giving money to the elders.  He’s talking about showing love by physically sharing what you have with others in need.  To those who are well off with this world’s goods Paul says in I Tim. 6:17-19 that brethren are not “to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.  Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life”.

Jesus and the Poor

We should read again how Jesus taught us by giving us an example of how to live.  He gave instructions about how we should behave when (not if) we give alms (Matt. 6:1-4).  He said we should give in simplicity (see also Rom. 12:8)– no fanfare.  Our left hand isn’t to know what our right hand is doing (not make it a big deal, even in your own mind).  He said your Father sees you do these things in secret and He will reward you openly.  He spoke of storing up treasure in heaven instead of on earth and where your treasure is there will your heart be also (Matt. 6:19-20).  He said in Luke 14:13 “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.  And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”  No strings were to be attached in our giving– no “quid pro quo.”

In Luke 6:38 He said, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom.  For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you”.  The motivation for giving was to be pure unfeigned love.

Whenever Jesus healed someone or helped them, one of the most repeated phrases in the Gospels to describe Jesus’ state of mind was “He was moved with compassion” (Matt. 14:14; 20:24, Mark 1:41; 6:34, Luke 7:13 etc.).  He had compassion on the 4,000 and fed them loaves and fishes (Matt. 15:32-38).  They weren’t starving to death.  Many would later return just for a free meal (John 6:26).  He was concerned that they might grow weak and faint along the way home.  He noticed the needs of others.  Even on the night He was betrayed while all of the disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest in the kingdom, He started to wash their dirty feet.  This wasn’t an inaugural “foot washing ceremony” for the Passover or Last Supper service.  There was a need and Jesus took on the role of a servant to show them an example of how to live with a concern for the needs of others.  He then promised them happiness if they would wash one another’s feet (John 13:3-17).  He came as a servant.  Jesus lived that new commandment He was giving His disciples that they love one another as God loves with perfect agape love (see I John 2:5-8).  That same night when He told Judas, the treasurer, to go out and do something quickly, some of His disciples just assumed that He was telling Judas to give something to the poor (John 13:29).  Why would they assume that?  The only reason they would have made that assumption about giving something to the poor is because a similar type of instruction coming from Jesus must have often occurred.

A type of Christ’s righteousness through faith was also seen in Job.  Job 29:12-18 reads, “Because I delivered the poor who cried out, the fatherless and the one who had no helper.  The blessing of a perishing man came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.  I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban.  I was eyes to the blind, and I was feet to the lame.  I was a father to the poor, and I searched out the case that I did not know”.  That was a righteousness described long before Moses was born or anything was given on Mt. Sinai and it describes the righteousness Jesus both taught and lived.  It’s what God wanted all along.  In Psa. 68:5 David sang how God is “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation”.

Jesus noticed the weak.  He spoke out against the scribes who, in their religious estate planning, “devoured widows’ houses” (Mark 12:40).  He was probably the only one in the throng of people who even noticed the poor widow putting in her 2 mites (v-42-44).  Jesus spent much of his adult life looking out for the needs of one particular widow, his own mother.  Her needs were also on his mind as He hung on the cross speaking to her and John (John 19:26-27).  When He taught his disciples, He talked about who “thy neighbor” is and how you can show mercy toward him (The Good Samaritan).  He spoke of how God wants “mercy and not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7, Hosea 6:6) and “blessed are the merciful” (Matt. 5:7).

When Jesus said in Mark 14:7,  “For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always”, He was making reference to a truism in the law.  Deut. 15:11 says, “For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy in your land.’”  Giving to the poor in ancient Israel primarily didn’t involve a third tithe or something turned over to the priests, which would be kind of like paying the government your taxes and they’ll take care of the poverty issue for you.  Most of the caring for the poor involved individual contact and opening wide their hands to help them.  In Deut. 15:7-11 they were also told to lend generously to their poor brethren without mentally trying to calculate when the 7th year of release would be.  As an aside, we can’t forgive “our debtors” if we never make a loan to anyone.

The poor were with them always, including at every harvest walking right behind the reapers, gleaning in their fields.  Likewise, that 7 year land rest wasn’t just to help them have a better crop the following year since it’s good to let the land go fallow.  Ex. 23:10-11 reads, “Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat.  In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove”.  God was concerned for the poor in the land, not fat worms in a fallow field.  The poor were with them always, so they had constant opportunities to learn compassion and do good to them.   Likewise, Jesus knew that among Christians the poor would also always be with them.  God has chosen the poor of this world and not many mighty because rich people tend to be bound to this world and, because of their wealth, they have a false sense of security or self sufficiency.  In Matt. 19:23 He said, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven”.  Some of the rich were also the same ones who would persecute believers (James 2:6-7).  Poverty would likewise be the plight of many Christians who would be put out of the synagogues for confessing Christ.  Being put out of the synagogue in Jerusalem meant any business you had with the major populous just ended.  Knowing this was going to happen, Jesus emphasized our loving one another and taking care of those who are less fortunate.

Why Are We Really Here?

When we look at James’ definition of pure religion with the understanding of Lev. 23:22, we should ask ourselves why are we really here?  What is God’s goal for us to accomplish?  What should we be doing with our lives?  The answer may lie in what Paul wrote in Eph. 2:8-10.  We are saved by His grace and not by works, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them”.  The Greek word for “workmanship” is poyeema and it’s only used one other place in scripture.  In Rom. 1:20 it is translated “the things that are made” as in “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse….”  We are his new creation (II Cor. 5:17).  We are His “things that are made (poyeema).”  We are like the leaves, the sunsets and the rest of His physical creation.  As such, His invisible attributes should be clearly seen in us– His loving kindness, His tender mercies, His goodness, His willingness to forgive, His grace and all that He is, including His care for the widows and the fatherless.  We are “created for good works “.  That’s why our light so shines, so that they may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven (Matt. 5:16).  Even if they don’t glorify Him now, I Pet. 2:12 says “…they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation”.  Everyone will know then that it is God who made it possible for His love to be “perfected” in each of us “unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13).

Love and good works are the things that are and always have been important to God.  Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another”.  Paul told the Colossians in Col. 3:12-14 that as the elect of God they were to “… put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another… But above all these things put on love which is the bond of perfection”.  That’s why we are here, to glorify God by being made new creatures “holy and without blame before him in love…to the praise of the glory of his grace…” (Eph. 1:4-6).   It is by our faith in the work of God’s grace in us that we have been saved and are now created “new creatures” capable of loving as Jesus loves us with this perfect agape love of God.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ are not only God’s new creation, but are the very biblical definition of the work of God.  John 6:29 reads, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him who He sent.”  When brethren were arguing about what food could be eaten (concerning meat sacrificed to idols), Paul wrote in Rom. 14:19-20, “Therefore let us pursue the things that make for peace and things by which one may edify another.  Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food”.  Our brethren are “the work of God.”  If we want to support “the work of God” then maybe we should take a look at the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of those that Jesus called “the least of these my brethren” ( Matt. 25:40,45).  We should love one another as Jesus said we must do.

This goal of agape love can also be described as James wrote in James 1:27,  “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”   This perfected love of God is described as both pure and undefiled.  This sanctifying work includes both doing good works and overcoming temptation to sin.  Both are made possible by faith in the grace of God working in us “perfecting holiness” (2Cor. 7:1).

Notice near the end of His ministry in speaking about the judgment (Matt. 25:31-46), Jesus said He would separate the sheep from the goats.  He said that those who physically fed or clothed or visited “the least of these my brethren” had done so unto Him.  Meanwhile, the goats on his left side had never noticed the physical or emotional needs of those around them.  These didn’t have any good works.  He didn’t know them.

Likewise, in Matt. 7:21-23, Jesus speaks of another group who, while having prophesied, cast out demons and performed wonders all in His name, also did evil works.  They were not keeping themselves unspotted from the world.  They focused only on their religious works thinking this was the way to enter the kingdom of heaven.  They claim to have a relationship with Jesus.  They are religious people seemingly zealous of these good works.  Jesus, while not denying their works were good, stated flat out that he didn’t know them because they also work iniquity (v-23).  Jesus didn’t have a relationship with them.  They were calling him Lord, Lord, but not doing the things that He said.  They didn’t do the will of His Father which is in Heaven (v-21) and no change was taking place in their hearts.  They didn’t have the law of God written in their hearts.  They were not being sanctified by His Holy Spirit to produce the fruits mentioned in Eph. 5:2-18, including the admonition to “walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us….”  The fruits of the Spirit, especially of love, must go together with good works.  Paul told the Corinthians that all the knowledge, good works and giving was just a lot of noise without love (I Cor. 13:1-3).  Likewise, love without deed is just a word (I John 3:18).

Do you see a pattern here?  Christianity or “pure religion” is about being moved with compassion and visiting the widow in her affliction, looking after the poor, visiting the sick and taking care of others while keeping yourself unspotted from the world and its pulls toward sin by overcoming the pulls of the flesh through Christ.  It’s living a life of love and good works through Christ Jesus who dwells within us.  We are to have a servant’s heart toward others as if to the Lord.  It’s not about circumcision or meat sacrificed to idols or a point of knowledge magnified beyond it’s intended proportion.  It’s not about getting behind and supporting this or that man’s end time ministry, nor is it the buildings we build or the booklets we publish or even the websites, such as this one, we manage.  Those aren’t the issues Jesus is concerned with when He addresses the sheep and the goats at the final judgment.

When Jesus spoke of what He would say to His sheep on His right hand, you might say He’s figuratively already given us the answers to the final exam on an open book test.  What Jesus is saying is that whenever you are visiting the sick or the widow in her affliction or those with physical or emotional needs you are actually do so to Him.  Prov. 19:17 also reads, “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given.”  Taking care of those in need are the same points stressed by James, Peter, Paul and John.  We should reread their epistles again as if we were a student taking notes to see what the teacher’s priorities are and what will likely be on the final exam.  Look at their conclusions in keywords like “therefore…” and “above all else….” (you can see another article covering this approach to scripture in an article on this website titled “Therefore…”)

Unfortunately, today the issues concerning the needs of the poor are often avoided in most sermons, many church publications and if we’re honest with ourselves, many of us in our interaction with one another.  Why is this so?

The Money Trail

There’s an old investigative tool used in law enforcement and news reporting to determine one’s motive that says “follow the money trail.”  Unfortunately, in a twisted way, many churches can be in competition with the poor for your dollars.  In what I call “churchianity”, your storing up treasure in heaven by giving to the poor means there will be less money in the collection plate so the church can’t get that new roof they need or pay those administrative costs along with the minister’s salary.  That’s why too often you’ll rarely hear those whose livelihoods depend on your generous contributions encouraging you to give money elsewhere, like to the poor.

If during your local (or national) church board meeting the chairman told the church treasurer to go out and do something quickly, would a number of the ministerial board members just assume (like the disciples assumed on the night Jesus was betrayed) that he was telling him “that he should give something to the poor” (John 13:29)?  Would you be surprised if the pastor of your church came back from visiting the home office saying they “desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I was eager to do” (Gal. 2:10)?

Are all of those scriptures about how “God loves a cheerful giver” or “it’s more blessed to give than to receive” or not sowing sparingly or giving as you are able or giving “and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over” strongly preached concerning giving money to the poor as they were intended or are they instead only read at offering times for a collection to the church organization?  I believe you know the answer.

By in large, collectively and individually, the poor have been ignored by far too many of us for far too long.  It doesn’t mean there hasn’t been an occasional crumb falling off the table or a feel good project with a little bit of PR value for the church occurring once in a while.  If we’re honest with ourselves, something has gone awry in our churches and many of us, including myself, have been willing participants.

In many ways this article I’m writing is for me and others like me who give on occasion, but not truly as a way of life.  Figuratively, with rare exceptions, there have been slim pickings in my barley field for the widows and the needy.  I’ve needed to repent of losing that first love and do the first works.  My attitude toward helping the poor and even being able to define who they are was wrong.

In looking back to the 1960s and the then U.S. President’s “War on Poverty,” those of us who lived during that time saw the abuse and wasteful spending on the poor.  In the 1970s I remember standing in line at the supermarket buying hamburger while the lady in front of me with food stamps was buying sirloin steaks for her family.  At church services there were proverbs read to us about laziness causing poverty and an oft quoted favorite passage was about a man not eating if he doesn’t work.  Experiences like the one with the lady buying those steaks with her food stamps was why it sounded appealing when the minister (out of any context) in talking about the poor often quoted the words of Christ when He said, “The poor you have with you always” (Matt. 26:11).  That phrase came out like an epithet implying that giving to the poor was like pouring money down a rat hole.  It validated a stereotyped cynicism many of us in the U.S. had about the poor.

The admonition of the day back then was that we needed to take care of the “spiritually poor”.  Now that sounded logical.  Give $20 to the poor and they’ll probably still be poor.  Give $20 to “The Work” and you will fulfill “The Great Commission” or “warn the world” or “win more souls for Jesus” or “proclaim the Third Angel’s Message”.  You can choose any church organization’s slogan and it’ll usually be akin to something like one of these.  It sounds good.  It sounds logical.  It makes sense.  There is a problem though.  It is unscriptural.  Neither Jesus nor Peter nor Paul or any man of God mentioned in the entire Bible ever said anything remotely like this.  What they said was just the opposite, but I wasn’t listening.

I remember in the 1960s and 1970s how few sermons there were at our church headquarters about love.   Frankly, back then I didn’t want to hear about love and good works.   My ears were itching for news on the latest world event proving we were living in the last days.  Who wants to hear about love when you can hear a voice thundering about who the Beast might be and how we can escape the Great Tribulation?

I know there are many today saying we need to get out there and preach the Gospel.  Time is short.  The world needs to be warned.  Souls need to be won.  The purpose of this article is not to say that the Gospel shouldn’t be preached, but what seems apparent in the life of Christ along with the writings and examples of the Apostles is that it’s important for us to be living the Gospel!  You can’t preach it unless you believe it yourself and live it.  Going into all the world making disciples includes “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20).  While on the job at work, you can’t be “Mr. Negativity”, always complaining about the boss, laughing at all the off-color jokes being told (going along to get along with your co-workers), ogling over the voluptuous receptionist and then turn around to tell a fellow co-worker, “let me share with you the gospel of Jesus & how He has changed my life.”  What you do speaks loudly of who you are.  The same is true for those of us in the ministry.

We tend to think of preaching and teaching in a background of Protestant traditions and academia rather than as the writers of the New Testament looked at it.   In I Cor. 11:1 Paul said, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ”.  In Paul’s day teaching and preaching didn’t involve a blackboard or a pulpit and pews, but rather living a way of life as an example to others.  That’s why most of the qualifications of a bishop that Paul told Timothy and Titus involved a man’s character, temperament, community relations, hospitality and how he lived his life.  To mimic a teacher as he mimics Christ didn’t mean to buy a tweed sport coat, learn to sit on the corner of a desk during a lecture and write backwards on a chalkboard.  Making disciples meant mentoring.  It meant showing by example what to do and how to live.  You might say it was 98% lab and only 2% lecture.  Jesus didn’t just give the Sermon on the Mount, He lived the Sermon on the Mount.  Paul didn’t just talk about being a cheerful giver to others in need, he lived that way.  You saw him in work clothes helping others and saw him entertain strangers.  He not only preached the Gospel, he lived it.  Sure, he lived in perilous times.  He felt the end was near and saw the madness of emperors like Caligula and Nero.  Yet in all of this he had his mind focused on Christ and what Jesus wanted the brethren to be focusing on.

Paul knew that the Kingdom of God is about love.  Whenever the Apostles wrote about the end time or the Day of the Lord coming soon, their call to action wasn’t for their financial help.  An interesting study sometime is to take all of those New Testament passages about the end drawing near or the last days and see what Jesus, James, Peter, Paul, John and Jude had to say about it.  Most of the writers of the epistles felt Christ’s return was imminent, however, their “therefores” or their call to action was not the same as most church organizations today.  Paul never admonished the brethren in Thessalonica or Rome to “therefore get out there and win more souls for Jesus” or “you gotta warn this world” or “let’s do the work.”  Read Heb. 10:24, Rom. 13:8-14, Phil. 4:5, I Thes. 5:1-8, James 5:7-8, I Pet. 4:7-8, II Pet. 3:10-14.  It’s all about love and good works and your spiritual condition.  It’s about prayer and your having oil in your lamp.  It’s all about living the Gospel of “Christ in you the hope of glory”.

Peter wrote in I Pet. 4:7-8, “the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.  And above all things have fervent love for one another….”  That was his conclusion as he saw prophecy being fulfilled at the end time.  We are to have fervent love for one another.

Heb. 10:24-25 says,  “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the Day approaching.”  The reason for assembling ourselves together is in order “to stir up love and good works” and “exhorting one another.”  It’s the same admonition Peter gave.  It’s about having a fervent love for one another.  One-on-one we should be exhorting one another and stirring each other up for love and good works.  Those given an opportunity to teach should be doing the same thing.  Paul stirred up love and good works when he was taking up a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem.

Too often, however, like the men of ancient Israel and the goats on the left hand at the judgment, we mix up our religiosity with the pure religion that God wants.  We don’t tend to take up many collections for the poor saints in Africa, Haiti or elsewhere like we should because we are busy doing many mighty works in His name.  In their religious zeal ancient Israel used to proclaim fasts, to which God told them in Isa. 58:6-10, “Is this not the fast that I have chosen:  To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?  Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’  If you take away the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, If you extend your soul to the hungry And satisfy the afflicted soul, Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, And your darkness shall be as the noonday”.

For us today, God could be telling us not to proclaim a fast for a church project, but first call for a collection to be taken up for the poor saints in Haiti or the saints in sub-Sahara Africa who might be going through a drought or something like an AIDS epidemic or a Covid pandemic.  There are many Christians living in countries where when a natural disaster or a pandemic causes an economic calamity, there are no government safety nets to take care of the people living there.  Likewise, those in the household of faith in and out of western societies can face dire circumstances in their lives when there is a natural disaster, a pandemic or even individually when anyone looses his or her job.

In the Spring of 2020, when the COVID-19 virus struck the world, the actions taken by various countries resulted in many of our brethren in sub-Sahara Africa, Asia and Latin America to suddenly lose everything.  Their jobs were lost, their shops were closed, they were mandated to stay at home– in some cases by the military & police in a forced curfew and they found themselves without food or very little of it.  In countries, such as it was in Kenya, it was a matter of instant poverty and many brethren found themselves living on gruel or scouring the hillsides for food to eat.  Their countries had no bailout programs or stimulus packages or unemployment checks to give out when everything shut down.  There were no local food banks for brethren to go to and many of our brethren lost everything.  All the while for many of us in America our big concern seemed to be mainly about long lines at Costco to buy toilet paper and bottled water or our inability to attend various sporting events.  The daily concern for many of our brethren in other parts of the world was about how they could find something to eat or pay for any medical help needed for their children.  While there were some churches that did reach out to help brethren living in other countries, too often this wasn’t the case.

Christians like ourselves in the western world who have been blessed with abundance, including here in America, by definition of who we are, must take action collectively and individually whenever a need arises in the lives of our brethren both here and abroad.  It can be too easy for many of us to have an “out of sight/out of mind” attitude especially toward our poorer brethren overseas.  Paul took action to help the poor saints in Jerusalem when he learned of a famine taking place in Judea.  He was eager to remember the poor and the same should be the case with all of us.  Again, John wrote, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (I John 3:16-17).  As a spiritual body, it is supposed to be that when one member suffers we all suffer.  Paul wrote in Gal. 6:10 “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  Each of us needs to look deep within our souls and ask ourselves what should be done when our brethren are going hungry.  If we truly “hear His voice” we will know the answer.  We already know that Jesus said that whenever you feed “the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me” (Matt. 25:40).  We all should reread II Cor. 8 & 9 about what Paul wrote to the church concerning the collection being taken up for the poor saints in Jerusalem.  His guidance on how to give to those in need is timeless.

Beyond looking out for the needs of others, as Christians we are to also keep ourselves unspotted from the world.  That is pure religion.

End Time Warning

Besides the love of many waxing cold (Matt. 24:12), there is a warning at the end time we might do well to heed.  In the Olivet Prophecy Jesus gave a simple 3 word warning to us, “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32).  Today we live in our own version of Sodom and are influenced by the mores of its culture.  We should look again at what Jesus says to the 7 churches in Rev. 2 & 3 because, like any church and just like Lot’s family, we too can be and are heavily influenced by the society around us.  In the Western world we are driven by covetousness.  Modern capitalism depends on our wanting a better car, a bigger boat and more things.

The message of this world is contrary to the Gospel of Christ.  Society tells us to get what is ours.  We have our rights.  The third commandment (after life and liberty) in America is a twisted application of “the pursuit of happiness.”  Madison Avenue has worked on us since we were little kids to grab after things—get the prize in the cereal box, “be the first kid on your block” to own a new toy and in our American way of life, “whoever gets the most toys at the end wins.”  It’s all about self.  Get the biggest piece of cake.   It’s your house, your vacation time, your car, your 401K plan.  You work hard and you deserve what you earned.  Say to yourself, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19).

Paul wrote in II Tim. 3:2-5  that perilous times would come in the last days, “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God… unloving…without self-control… having a form of godliness but denying its power….”  That’s a formula for the big time consumer spending that drives our western economies.  We live in those perilous times.  Just as sure as the cultures of those seven cities in Asia Minor mentioned in Rev. 2 & 3 impacted how those members lived, so does ours influence us today and it isn’t pretty.  We have not kept ourselves unspotted from the world.

Repent and Do the First Works

Like those in Ephesus, many of us have lost our first love, and we need to repent and do the first works.  Did you know that taking care of those in need is a big part of doing the first works?  When some people look at Rev. 2:1-7 they believe that this is about the Ephesian church era of God’s church which needed to do the first works.  Others feel it was written to describe a literal condition in Ephesus that can be typical for any Christian or church at any time.  Either way, in Rev. 2:5 what were the first works of the Ephesian church that Christ wanted them to do?  As a church era, did it involve having someone like Peter letting his shadow pass over the sick and dying?  Did it involve flames of fire and speaking in tongues or having 3,000 baptized in one day?  In Rev. 2 those in Ephesus had already been commended for their works and labor (v-1).  They had their eyes open for any evil doers, lying false apostles and Nicolaitans (v-2, 6).  They had “labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary” (v-3), but in all of their zealousness and laboring they had lost their first love (v-4) and in conjunction with that were told to do the first works (v-5).

If you want to look at the first works (of love) of the church in general as an “Ephesian era”, after Pentecost it involved sharing all things in common because they loved one another.  They sold lands and gave the proceeds to be distributed to those in need, especially the newly converted brethren from all over the Roman empire wanting to remain in Jerusalem to learn more from the Apostles, along with those Jews in Jerusalem being put out of the synagogues (meaning put out of business) for confessing Jesus as the Messiah.  They spent time together as they met in homes and broke bread from house to house.  When there was a concern about the Hellenistic Jewish widows being neglected, they chose out seven deacons, all with Hellenistic Jewish names like Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor etc. to make the distribution of food.  They had a first love.  They did the first works.  While Paul never advocated selling everything you have to give to those in need or a type of socialism or communism, the early church was at a unique point in history and men like Barnabas who gave everything had a first love.

Rather than looking at the Ephesian church as an era, if you want to look at the actual Ephesian church at its early stages, look at Paul’s meeting with the Ephesian elders as described in Acts 20.  In this chapter Paul talks about his ministry (v-18 to 27), he admonishes the elders to shepherd the church and warns them of savage wolves entering the flock (v-28-31).  He then talks about how he lived among them at Ephesus.  In Acts 20:33-35 Paul said, “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel.  Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me.  I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak.  And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’”.  Paul loved the brethren at Ephesus and did the first works.  Helping the poor was something he was eager to do.  He reminded the elders in Ephesus how he had labored with his own hands to support himself and those who were with him to give the elders an example of what they ought to be doing.  It is the elders who were to be in work clothes supporting the weak for as the Lord Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  Yet the irony is that in churches all over the world about the only time those words of Jesus are quoted is on the back of offertory envelopes to help pay the minister’s salary.  It’s all twisted from what Paul intended.

All those quotations about “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly” and “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” is talking about giving to the poor— not to the ministry or the church organization.  In Protestant churches these verses or “it is more blessed to give than to receive” are often printed on the back of offertory envelopes.  In the churches of God they are recited “three times in a year” when offerings are taken up on the holy days to help fund the church organization.  Those same verses are usually never recited again by the ministry until the next holy day offering is taken.  Read II Cor. 8 & 9 again.  Read all those passages on giving, and they’re all about giving to the poor.  Paul took up a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem, not the well-fed elders in Ephesus.  Paul and the elders he admonished did the first works of love written to the church in Ephesus in Rev. 2.

While it’s true that a laborer is worthy of his hire and especially those laboring in word and doctrine should be financially supported, the holy men of God from Genesis to Revelation have never taken up a collection for themselves.  Too many preachers, especially in the Protestant world, will play on guilt, they will beg, cajole, work on your emotions while the organ plays softly or appeal to your ego and say anything they can to get you to reach into your wallet and give them more money.  Do you remember the story of Gehazi, the servant of Elisha?  Like all of the true prophets of Israel, Elisha refused to accept any payment from Naaman the Syrian when God used him to heal Naaman of his leprosy.  Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, however, ran after Naaman the Syrian’s chariot with arms outstretched for little bags of silver and raiment.  He did the practice of many preachers requesting generous contributions “so you can show your appreciation for all that the Lord has done for you” (see II Kings 5:20-26).  What was God’s response to this action?  God placed the leprosy that was on Naaman onto Gehazi.  Many preachers have twisted the scriptures and have gone the way of Balaam.  They have made merchandise of God’s people going house to house with “envelopes provided for your convenience.”  They have ripped out of context what the scriptures clearly teach concerning giving to the poor for their own gain or their church organization’s financial wants.

Back in 1976,  I had what I later would call an “ah-ha” moment.  I was in the church’s new auditorium and an evangelist gave a moving sermon about the dedication of the children in Haiti to do the work of God.  He spoke of how they were walking all over the island distributing the church magazine in news stands, airports, libraries and other places.  Their shoes were worn out.  Many had to put cardboard in their shoes  because their little feet had blisters and were bleeding, but they walked on and on.  We too were to be dedicated like they were to do the work.  Out in the lobby I asked the evangelist if the church could buy some new shoes for the children in Haiti, to which he told me, “It isn’t in the budget.”  I then looked up at all the gold leaf on the ceiling of the auditorium and realized that something was not right with my church’s priorities.  This misdirection of church priorities can happen to any church at any time when they focus only on themselves.

Where Do We Go from Here?

As part of the body of Christ, God wants us to figuratively leave those corners of our field and the gleanings (of our time and substance) plentiful for the poor, the widow, the stranger and those in need.  He wants us to have an awareness of the needs of others and for us to reach out to them.  I know that organizations such as LifeNets and others have helped the saints around the world for many years.  Many years ago they and the Big Sandy Church of God along with other individuals gave a helping hand to the victims of Hurricane Katrina and continue giving to those in need.  Many other churches of God during the Covid pandemic locally looked out for the needs of brethren who were hard hit.  They showed God’s love toward those in the household of faith in need.  Yes, God could have just showered down money like manna on those in need, but it pleases Him to see His people moved with compassion.  Really, “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13) and He is glorified as we go through this learning experience called life.  He wants us to turn our hearts toward one another– to bear one  another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.  He wants our gleanings to be plentiful toward the poor, especially toward the poor saints who can’t return the favor.

Again, most countries, outside the western world, don’t have huge safety nets to help those who lose their income or livelihood.  You, as an individual or collectively as a congregation, can share your finances with a sister in Haiti who would then be able to buy a little portable stove to make bread to sell by the side of the road instead of working long hours in a factory for pennies a day.  There may be a sister-in-Christ in sub-Sahara Africa having to raise her 5 nieces and nephews because their parents died of AIDS or malaria, and we can help her.  Some brethren may seriously need dental work or eyeglasses.  You may know safe, trusted sources where the monies will be spent as intended by the givers.

I’m fully aware that there are many of our brethren right now who are living this life of love and good works as new creatures in Christ.  They and others in their congregations are helping the poor as a way of life and at the same time helping those who are truly laboring in the word like Paul did (Phil. 4:16).  Many have sacrificed for the needs of others and are continuing to do so.  They are being Spirit-led and filled with love.  Individual brethren are supplementing the incomes of those on fixed incomes.  Children are being mentored.  The sick are being visited and cared for.  God sees your kind acts and He is glorified in them.

There is an example of something like this in the book of Acts of a woman who was full of love and good works.  Her name was Dorcas (also called Tabitha).  In Acts 9:36-41 we read how after she died all the widows came to Peter showing him the tunics and garments she had made for them.  Her giving to the widows was out of love.  She wasn’t part of a ladies church subcommittee making clothes to enhance the local churches’ public image.  It wasn’t done to bolster a weak ego, so she could “give testimony as to what the Lord was doing” through her so everyone could see what a good person she was.  It wasn’t a type of penance where she did a lot of good deeds to make up for the bad ones.  She did it out of love, pure and simple.  That’s what the principle of having gleanings are all about.

Sometimes our gleanings can involve even those little “random acts of kindness.”  That empty parking spot near the supermarket entrance might rightfully be yours since you were there first, but maybe in the rearview mirror you can see a mother in a minivan with a load of kids that could sure use it too.  Perhaps you can carry an extra umbrella in the car in case you see someone caught in a rainstorm.  There are simple things we can do to make life a little easier for those around us.  In many towns there are also shelters for families needing to get their lives back together and food-banks who would love to have some extra produce from your fruit trees or gardens.  There are all sorts of ways for us to volunteer our help.  In our churches it’s a matter of awareness of the needs of our brethren.  If in our congregation someone had to be rushed to the hospital because of an extended medical emergency, while you or I could sign a congregational get well card or post “prayers” on her Facebook page, we should ask ourselves “who is feeding her pet dogs while she’s at the hospital?”  If she has no immediate family members nearby to help, who’s taking care of things at her home while she’s away from home such as turning down the thermostat, feeding the fish, taking the wet clothes out of the washing machine and putting them into the dryer, watering the plants, mowing her lawn etc.?

Thankfully, there are many churches of God where everyone rises to the occasion to help– not just in word, but out of love in deed, even doing so across different church organization lines.  To them a prayer request list is also a to do list.  As members of the body of Christ we all should have a heightened awareness of the needs of others, just as Christ and His Apostles did.  Opportunities for loving one another and our neighbor as ourselves abound and it often doesn’t involve money.  It involves caring enough to make a difference in someone else’s life, sacrificing some time, a kind word, an encouraging note or an empathetic ear along with our prayers.  We need to share one another’s needs and bear one another’s burdens.  In our fellowshipping and Bible studies we should encourage individual giving out of love and fulfilling the law of Christ.  “I’ll pray for you” is nice, but if locally on the prayer list someone lost her husband or someone lost his or her job, consider the possibility that God is answering their prayer– He’s sending you to visit her and invite a family over for dinner or help out around the house.  God doesn’t want you or I to tell someone going through a financial difficult time, “Depart in peace, be warm and filled” without considering how we can help out (James 2:16).

Of course, in any giving we know it involves wisdom and judgment.  Paul didn’t encourage giving aid to those who refused to work.  True love involves doing what is best for the individual.  For example, today giving cash to an addict or enabling someone who is lazy and refuses to work is just using poor judgment.  Even the principle of gleaning involves those who are able being out laboring in the field to gather the gleanings.  When contributing to poor brethren in other countries we also need to be certain that we really know who the true brethren are or we should have reliable local contacts there as there are many professional “Christian” scammers out there (as many are in SW Kenya) with phony orphanages seeking American donors to line their own pockets.  In our helping a true brother or sister in need, however, God loves a cheerful giver (II Cor. 9:7).  Giving should also be as we are able and not resulting ourselves becoming one of the poor.

Natural disasters, wars and pestilence are going to continue to occur.  Personal disasters can also strike and many of us, even in the western economies, are just a few paychecks away from being in dire straits.  We need to be our brother’s keeper wherever we live and also in the greater body of Christ around the world.  When any member suffers (locally or abroad), we all suffer.  We will never realize a brother or sister in Christ is suffering or has needs, however, unless we get to know them and become aware of those needs.  We also can’t do that by forsaking the assembling of ourselves together and (apart from health or distance reasons) just staying at home listening to sermons online.

Locally, considering what happened to the early church in Acts 6, we should be careful that we don’t inadvertently overlook or neglect the needs of the widows in our own congregations.  In today’s way of life, especially in America, we live in a mobile society with very few children growing up in a hometown surrounded by lots of aunts, uncles and grandparents.  Chances are many widows in our fellowship groups are very much alone.  As a church we also tend to compartmentalize our relationships.  After services older people tend to fellowship with older brethren, teens with teens, women with women and us guys are busy rambling on about politics, prophecy or who’s going to win the Super Bowl.  As a result, we can often attend services for years, but an older widow in our congregation remains just an acquaintance that we politely nod to in greeting her each week at services, but we don’t really know her– how God called her, what her husband did for a living or even where she lives now and why she moved there.  Within her heart is a young girl and a young mother with hopes and dreams who has had a lifetime of experiences she’d like to share with others.  She serves a vital role within the body of Christ.  If you see someone like her in your congregation who is still to you just an acquaintance, make it a point to get to know her.  Invite her to your home for dinner and offer to pick her up if she doesn’t drive or can’t drive at night.  Maybe at some point you might even ask her to join you in a daytime family outing.  Let her become your friend.  The same is true for older men in your congregation.  Turn the hearts of your children to the older ones in your congregation and their hearts to your children.  In like manner make an effort to turn your own heart to both the young and the old.  Building a closer relationship with those in the household of faith is an important way for all of us to fulfill Christ’s commandment that we love one another as He loves us.  Interacting more socially with the older widows or widowers in our congregations will also give us more opportunities to better serve them.  Things like sharing meals, spending time together, especially on the Sabbaths, allow us to really get to know each other.  This way we can be there for each other in our times of need that we might otherwise never know about.

Maybe  a widow’s needs might involve something as simple as changing a washer in a dripping faucet or caulking a drafty window.  Perhaps when trimming away some dead branches hitting a window on her house you may notice that the gutters need cleaning.  She might be on a limited fixed income and can’t afford to pay to have those gutters cleaned. These acts of kindness we can do also provide for interaction that might be missing in our church fellowships.   

Even something as simple as cleaning the gutters on a widow’s home is a way to bring interaction.  After coming in off the ladder for a glass of lemonade you may notice from living room pictures on the wall that her deceased husband at one time worked for the railroad and he also loved baseball.  Perhaps you have more in common than you once thought.  You see her years of memories on the wall.  A few weeks later when you take your family to an outing at the beach you remember her and ask her along.  Empty seats in a car for a family outing are “gleanings.”  Maybe she has not been to the beach since her husband Harold died 15 years earlier.  Now she smells the salt air again and walks barefoot in the warm sand with your daughter, describing to her what it was like when she was a little girl in the 1930’s collecting shells with her father.  Then you wonder who is really giving to whom.  A few weeks earlier she was just an acquaintance you knew by name and nodded politely to at Sabbath services, but now she is a sister, a mother and a surrogate grandma.  It all started with gleanings in little acts of kindness.

Gleanings involve love, awareness and interaction.  It’s the single man bringing a whole bucket of chicken to the potluck in a disposable container so those who are in need can take some extra home “so it won’t go to waste.”  Gleanings are a couple of dad’s taking their sons to a ballgame who just happen to have an extra ticket so the son of a single mom can go to his first big league game with the guys.  There are those you may know on fixed incomes or may have recently lost their job and in their mid-50’s are having a difficult time finding another one.  Share what you are able to share or temporarily hire them for projects around the house that need to be done.  Also, as Jesus told us to do, invite those over to a banquet or a feast who are unable to repay you or return the favor.

Gleanings also involve not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing and living your life knowing that there is a loving God who sees in secret.  Gleanings are when you love one another– “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).  It’s living the Gospel!  It’s living the sanctified life of a new creature in Christ yielding to the working of the Holy Spirit in you.  It’s what Jesus would do.  It’s what Jesus is doing in us individually.  If you want to support “the work of God” he or she might be sitting right next to you.

It’s time we no longer skip over Lev. 23:22.  This verse is not there by accident.  The love and sharing of the early church after Pentecost with their concern for the widows was real.  Every year on Pentecost the Jews read the story of Ruth.  It’s the story of how a righteous man named Boaz had compassion on a widowed Moabitess named Ruth, gleaning in his field for herself and her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi.   Boaz practiced Lev. 23:22.  This eventually led to a lineage that included king David and the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Ruth’s relation with Boaz in some ways represented Christ and the church.  We, like Ruth, we’re once a people separated from God.  We turned to God and, like Ruth was redeemed by Boaz (Ruth 4:1-12), we were redeemed by Christ and are betrothed to Him.  In our approach to life as Christians, between the time when we receive His Holy Spirit (Pentecost) and the Last Trump when we meet Him in the air (Trumpets) it’s fitting that we look out for the needs of the widows, the fatherless and less fortunate brethren and in so doing fulfill the law of Christ.

Yes, Lev. 23:22 belongs where God put it and it is very much a part of God’s plan of salvation through Christ.  It is not to be overlooked.  Let’s continue to work at being known by our love for one another.  Let’s be a people who, like their Savior, are moved with compassion.  Paul wrote in Phil. 2:4, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others”.  For an older member of your church who no longer drives, ask her what her favorite restaurant was and take her out to dinner.  Sit and watch the ball game on TV with an older guy in an assisted living facility (which to him can be almost like a prison).  Give him something to look forward to each week.  Include those, both young and old, who can’t repay you in one of your family outings.  Put a smile on their face and in so doing put a smile on God’s.  He loves a cheerful giver.  It’s more blessed to give than to receive.  In the coming months and years give to others as you are able, not of necessity, but look for opportunities to help others and give.  Whatever you do for those in need Jesus says you’re doing it to Him.  Between the Pentecost and Trumpets of our lives let’s remember the widow, the fatherless, the stranger and the poor.  It’s what Jesus and the Apostles did and taught.  This and keeping oneself unspotted from the world is what Sanctification and pure religion is all about.

Written by Lee Lisman