“All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along”.
The early church had its first doctrinal disputes and met to stand together on common grounds. Chief among their area of agreement was that the assemblies of Jews and Gentiles would not in any way neglect the poor and needy among them. This was going to be the distinguishing feature of the people who were known as Christians. It must remain so till date.
The first Church had been birthed in the power of the Holy Spirit. Their Holy Spirit anointed message was confirmed through the display of signs and wonders (Acts 2:44-45). But if a curious onlooker took a peek inside this new community there was one distinguishing feature – a rich generosity birthed through a genuine love one for another. It was so prevalent that we read that “there were no needy among them” (Acts 4:34a). That’s what made this faith unique and credible in every way.
We realize that the early Church embodied the heart of God in every way. The Old Testament Scriptures – from Moses to the wisdom books to the prophets, reveal God’s concern toward the poor and needy. We will briefly survey the breadth of the scripture in this regard.
Moses commanded the newly formed community of Israel to be generous toward the poor:
‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ Deuteronomy 15:11a. The Mosaic laws if carefully followed were designed to ensure that none would go to sleep hungry in the land.
In the wisdom books we find a depth of instruction regarding this.
Job speaking of his concern for the poor says: “I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist them”. (Job 29:12). His care for the poor was in his mind the proof of his righteousness. The book of Proverbs goes as far as to say this in Proverbs 21:13
“Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered”. That if the poor were neglected, God wouldn’t be pleased to answer our prayer. Further, the insult of the poor was considered to be a direct affront to their maker: “Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker” (Proverbs 17:5a). In other words, to neglect the cry of the poor and insult them would be tantamount to picking a fight with their creator. Not a good prospect by any means. That’s why Solomon’s wise counsel he states: “ “A righteous man knows the rights of the poor” Proverbs 29:7. To be mindful of the poor, as we see, is no small matter.
Prophets of old decried the neglect and oppression of the poor and downtrodden. This was one of the many “woes” spoken to the people through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah: “Woe to those who enact unjust statutes and issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of fair treatment and withhold justice from the oppressed of My people,” (Is 10:1). These words are echoed in Jeremiah and Ezekiel and the minor prophets as well. Amos rebuked the people for their outward worship and admonished them rather to show mercy and justice to those who needed it (Amos 5:23). God describes himself as the ultimate champion of the poor. He vowed punishment to those who despised and neglected them (Isaiah 11:4; 25:4; 29:19; 58:6-7; 61:1-2; Jeremiah 20:13; Habakkuk 3:14; Zephaniah 3:12).
Isaiah foretold that a key aspect of the Messiah’s ministry would be to “preach the good news to the poor” (Isa 61:2). The fact that Jesus made Himself poor and without reputation in His incarnation speaks volumes of the depth of God’s concern for the lowly. In the earthly life of Jesus, we see Him often being poor and homeless in that He told one of the prospective disciples that “the Son of Man had no place to lay His head” (Matt 8:20).
Jesus exemplified concern for the poor through His compassion for the multitudes and their needs. Interestingly, when Jesus commanded Judas Iscariot to “do what he was to do quickly”, the disciples assumed that ‘Since Judas had charge of the money Jesus had asked him to give something to the poor.’ (John 13:29). Suffice to say that giving to the poor were was an integral part of the ministry team’s efforts.
All of this comes to play on Judgment Day. In the parable of the great white throne judgment, the righteous are called the sheep by the reigning king. The King extols them for their concern for the poor, the imprisoned, and the outcast. The goats who were unfit for the Kingdom were cast out. They were concerned only with themselves and not with the needs of others. Alas it will be a day to be reckoned with.
Thus, it was fitting that the followers of Christ after His ascension modeled in every way a concern for the poor among them – making sure that no one was neglected. When differences arose in matters of doctrinal understandings, Jew and Gentile could agree on the fact that no matter what, the poor had to be cared for.
The epistles of the Apostles had many instructions for the Churches in matters of care of the needy. John in his epistles raised a question: “If anyone has material possession and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3:17). In John’s gospel, he wrote of how God loved the word and gave His Son. True believers were to be known by their love for one another which was to be displayed not merely in words but in genuine action. The absence of such was a clear sign of lack of genuine faith.
James the brother of Jesus gave a scathing rebuke to the church for the blatant sin of disrespect of the poor and partiality toward the rich (James 2:1-9). Proof of faith is measured in how concerned we are for the rights of the poor.
What about us, you and I, as members of the body of Christ; are we sharing that concern that God has commanded and exemplified in the person of Christ?
Alas, we live in a day where ministries that propagate signs and wonders and excess and success, gain the most followers and popularity. We only wish to remind you that which the early Church leadership reminded each other. No matter what, let’s not neglect the care of the poor. Let us be champions of the poor and neglected. Let us be focused on efforts to help the needy even as they were.
Alpha ministries was birthed in extreme poverty as our founders owned next to nothing. Even then, in extreme poverty they were overflowing in generosity. They didn’t hold back from caring for the needy and being hospitable to others, often at the expense of neglecting the wants of their own children. They did whatever they could in with what they had, and God multiplied the effort.
That spirit of care and compassion we consider our forte even till this day as we carry forward the work that they began. We are grateful that we can extend hands of care to untold thousands. But we are only able to do it thanks to the combined giving of so many. Our publications are sufficient proof that we have extended ourselves in bringing help to those who need it most. Thanks for standing with us to so that we can continue to carry on.