Put Strong Pillars Under Your Case for the Unbelieving Poor

Article by

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

I only bring this up because I want the church to care more not less about the suffering that comes from poverty. Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering. And “all suffering” includes the miseries of unbelievers who live in extreme poverty.

This is a cause that should have the best biblical pillars under it. When the wrong pillars are put there, the cause is weakened, even if many listeners don’t know they are the wrong pillars, and even if the wrong pillars are emotionally gripping.

It doesn’t help this cause to use biblical pillars that are designed to motivate mercy for suffering believers. Three typically misplaced pillars of this sort are:

Matthew 25:40 — "And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

1 John 3:17–18 — "If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth."

James 2:15–16 — "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that'?"

These are strong pillars for caring for believers in need. And we should do more of it.

But the wealth of biblical pillars for caring for unbelievers in need is so great, why would we weaken our case by using wrong pillars?

Luke 6:27–31 — Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. . . . Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

Matthew 7:12 — Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 5:16 — In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Luke 10:25-37 (The parable of the Good Samaritan) — “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Galatians 6:10 — As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

1 Thessalonians 5:15 — See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

This is a plea for the sake of the unbelieving, suffering poor. They should have better than bad arguments. Don’t defend them with careless exegesis. Don’t support them with pillars that cannot hold. Give them your best defense.