As I’ve been reading through The Desire of Ages, I’ve been blogging here about themes of compassion and service that are tucked away in chapters on various stories and teachings. However, in Chapter 70, “The Least of These My Brethren,” these themes move from the background to the foreground. For Adventists just beginning to explore social action and biblical social responsibility, this unit (Matt. 25:31-46 + DA 637-641) is the place to begin. (In my opinion the second unit is Isaiah 58 + EG White, Welfare Ministry, Ch. 3, “Isaiah 58–A Divine Prescription.”)
Here are a number of excerpts from Chapter 70:
When the nations are gathered before Him, there will be but two classes, and their eternal destiny will be determined by what they have done or have neglected to do for Him in the person of the poor and the suffering. (p. 637)
In all who suffer for My name, said Jesus, you are to recognize Me. As you would minister to Me, so you are to minister to them. This is the evidence that you are My disciples. (p. 638)
Those whom Christ commends in the judgment may have known little of theology, but they have cherished His principles. Through the influence of the divine Spirit they have been a blessing to those about them…. Among the heathen are those who worship God ignorantly, those to whom the light is never brought by human instrumentality, yet they will not perish. Though ignorant of the written law of God, they have heard His voice speaking to them in nature, and have done the things that the law required. Their works are evidence that the Holy Spirit has touched their hearts, and they are recognized as the children of God. (p. 638)
His followers are not to feel themselves detached from the perishing world around them. They are a part of the great web of humanity; and Heaven looks upon them as brothers to sinners as well as to saints. The fallen, the erring, and the sinful, Christ’s love embraces; and every deed of kindness done to uplift a fallen soul, every act of mercy, is accepted as done to Him. (p. 638)
…but angels of heaven are passing throughout the length and breadth of the earth, seeking to comfort the sorrowing, to protect the imperiled, to win the hearts of men to Christ. Not one is neglected or passed by. God is no respecter of persons, and He has an equal care for all the souls He has created.
As you open your door to Christ’s needy and suffering ones, you are welcoming unseen angels. You invite the companionship of heavenly beings…. Every deed of mercy makes music there. The Father from His throne numbers the unselfish workers among His most precious treasures. (p. 639)
Those on the left hand of Christ, those who had neglected Him in the person of the poor and the suffering, were unconscious of their guilt. Satan had blinded them; they had not perceived what they owed to their brethren. They had been self-absorbed, and cared not for others’ needs.
To the rich, God has given wealth that they may relieve and comfort His suffering children; but too often they are indifferent to the wants of others. They feel themselves superior to their poor brethren. They do not put themselves in the poor man’s place. They do not understand the temptations and struggles of the poor, and mercy dies out of their hearts. In costly dwellings and splendid churches, the rich shut themselves away from the poor; the means that God has given to bless the needy is spent in pampering pride and selfishness. The poor are robbed daily of the education they should have concerning the tender mercies of God; for He has made ample provision that they should be comforted with the necessities of life. They are compelled to feel the poverty that narrows life, and are often tempted to become envious, jealous, and full of evil surmisings. Those who themselves have not endured the pressure of want too often treat the poor in a contemptuous way, and make them feel that they are looked upon as paupers.
But Christ beholds it all, and He says, It was I who was hungry and thirsty. It was I who was a stranger. It was I who was sick. It was I who was in prison. While you were feasting at your bountifully spread table, I was famishing in the hovel or the empty street. While you were at ease in your luxurious home, I had not where to lay My head. While you crowded your wardrobe with rich apparel, I was destitute. While you pursued your pleasures, I languished in prison.
When you doled out the pittance of bread to the starving poor, when you gave those flimsy garments to shield them from the biting frost, did you remember that you were giving to the Lord of glory? All the days of your life I was near you in the person of these afflicted ones, but you did not seek Me. You would not enter into fellowship with Me. I know you not. (pp. 639-640)
But we need not go to Nazareth, to Capernaum, or to Bethany, in order to walk in the steps of Jesus. We shall find His footprints beside the sickbed, in the hovels of poverty, in the crowded alleys of the great city, and in every place where there are human hearts in need of consolation. In doing as Jesus did when on earth, we shall walk in His steps.
All may find something to do. “The poor always ye have with you,” (John 12:8), Jesus said, and none need feel that there is no place where they can labor for Him. Millions upon millions of human souls ready to perish, bound in chains of ignorance and sin, have never so much as heard of Christ’s love for them. Were our condition and theirs to be reversed, what would we desire them to do for us? All this, so far as lies in our power, we are under the most solemn obligation to do for them. Christ’s rule of life, by which every one of us must stand or fall in the judgment, is, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” Matt. 7:12.
The Saviour has given His precious life in order to establish a church capable of caring for sorrowful, tempted souls. (p. 640)
It is because this work is neglected that so many young disciples never advance beyond the mere alphabet of Christian experience. (p. 640)
Love to man is the earthward manifestation of the love of God. It was to implant this love, to make us children of one family, that the King of glory became one with us. And when His parting words are fulfilled, “Love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12); when we love the world as He has loved it, then for us His mission is accomplished. We are fitted for heaven; for we have heaven in our hearts. (p. 641)
In the great Judgment day, those who have not worked for Christ, who have drifted along thinking of themselves, caring for themselves, will be placed by the Judge of the whole earth with those who did evil. They receive the same condemnation. (p. 641)
To every soul a trust is given. Of everyone the Chief Shepherd will demand, “Where is the flock that was given thee, thy beautiful flock?” (p. 641)
- This chapter makes love, compassion and service sound like they are at the top of God’s priority list. How many sermons on this theme have you heard in your congregation compared to other topics like tithing. Why do you think more sermons and teachings are not given on this topic?
- Who have you seen that lives these values out in beautiful ways, whether in large or small actions?
- We all have this tension between living for self and living for others. How has God’s Spirit been convicting you lately to focus on the needs of others?
- Given the second quote above, what evidence is there that I am a “disciple”? (blogging and talking don’t count as evidence)
- Often when people discuss these themes, the conversation turns quickly to national partisan politics. Why might it be important to slow down this transition from the church to national policy?
- How should Christians relate to the larger society? Should Christians do all of their work through the church or should they also speak to national issues of poverty, oppression and inequality?
- If Christians (or congregations or denominations) enter this larger circle of debate, what should guide them in their interactions with a pluralistic society?