We must focus on the Christian poor


We should be generous with what we have, and be willing to share with everyone, but God’s word gives us a focus. That focus is the Christian poor: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10).

This verse tells us to do good

  • to everyone
  • as we have opportunity (we can’t carry the burdens of the whole world on our limited shoulders)
  • and especially to those who are of the household of faith (the focus).

Just as we are responsible for those in our immediate families, we have a natural responsibility for those in our spiritual family. If we cannot look after our own, how could we presume to look after others? Charity must begin at home. Complete the following sentence:

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for __________. (John 13:35)

Even the famous Matthew 25, which some general aid groups insultingly call “the great omission”, is talking about caring for fellow believers: “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’” (Matt 25:40).

All the examples in the life of the early church reflect this focus. Jewish believing widows were provided with food (Acts 6:1; see also 1 Tim 5:9-10). Paul collected money from those in Asia, Macedonia and Greece to support the financially struggling believers in Judea (1 Cor 16:1-3; 2 Cor 8-9).

Here are some reasons why we must not lose this focus:

  • It preserves theological truths as the grounds for generosity. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ (i.e. it is particularly Christian to give to other Christians with whom we have no other relationship than calling on the same Father). At least in rhetoric, Muslims have a much more global sense of brotherhood and looking after each other than we do. It should be the other way around.
  • It follows the pattern of the Scriptures (as has been shown above).
  • It helps ensure that giving to the poor does not become a public relations activity to give us a hearing for the gospel!!!! We should do good because it is good. Our public generosity to outsiders should be an overflow of the way we look after our own, not a outward sham to make ourselves look good.
  • And yet, it shows the whole world that we are Christ’s disciples. The missing words from the verse above were “if you have love for one another”.

Someone might say that these people are going to heaven already; why should we care for them? That is the teaching of demons, and is not in line with Christ and his Scriptures. We are our brothers’ keepers after all.

For a whole range of reasons, there are very few Christian charitable organizations that publicly maintain a focus on looking after our own spiritual family. The Barnabas Fund is one organization that tries. It supports many Christians who are financially cut off or disadvantaged for being Christian. Some groups like Compassion Australia openly and exclusively operate through local churches.

Do you know of any others? Perhaps God has gifted you and some of your friends to start your own fund or mercy ministry that will keep the focus on the Christian poor.

9 thoughts on “We must focus on the Christian poor

  1. Yes, I remember Mike Raiter making this observation a number of times.

    A question:

    Do you think that the application is to care more for poor Christians as opposed to poor non-Christians (ie a difference of degree), or to ensure that we are not neglecting the poor Christians as we seek to serve non-believers? Is the desired result balance or bias?

  2. I think we should be theologically biased towards Christians – just as we have a greater responsibility to care for our family members ahead of other people.

  3. Great post, Andrew!  I often lament the gross oversight of Biblical prioritizing in mercy (the misreading and subsequent abuse of Matt 25:40 is unreal!).

    However, may I quibble with or inquire about one of your last bullets, energetically stated (!!!)? 

    You wrote, “…giving to the poor does not become a public relations activity to give us a hearing for the gospel”  I understand the argument here, and suppose it is similar to Stott’s in Christian Mission?  But how does this square in your mind with Matt 5:16 and 1 Pet 2:12?  Especially the latter passage, wherein Peter appears to extrapolate and specify Christ’s argument of shining for God’s glory in Matt 5 to God’s glory in the conversion of those Gentiles who observe good deeds “in the day of visitation”?

    Thanks, again!

  4. Hi Steve.

    Thanks for your comments.  You have put it very well.

    In terms of your quibble – I think we are in agreement.  I just wasn’t able to expand on what I said and it may have been confusing.

    I think I see it as PR when we give to public causes “out there” to be seen but are not obeying the massive focus of caring for our own spiritual family.

    It is like the emptiness of a church that looks great from the outside but is shallow and superficial on the inside.

  5. Hi Andrew,

    Great post. Coincidentally, we were talking about this issue at Biblestudy last night!

    I wonder if looking after the poor in our own family could happen most effectively in our churches? After all, churches are families, and are in touch with those who needed help in their congregations.

    One thing we talked about was how our church had a fund set aside for people who needed help, but not many people knew about it. We are tempted to have a “sit back and wait and see who needs help” approach, rather than a proactive one.

    We concluded that as a church, we need to be proactive about letting people know that there is money there if people need help. As congregation members, we need to be actively giving to this fund, plus keeping our eyes and ears open for people who may need help and actively reach out to them.

    And on the flipside, when we become the ones who need help, we need to not be too ashamed to ask for it! Often Christians want to help, but they don’t know about a person’s need.

    On a personal note, Dominic Steele once challenged my husband and I about having a separate account which has money that is available to give away to anyone who has need, whenever that need arises. This is a great way to ensure we always have something to give to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

  6. Hi Sophia.  You and I are both in relatively new church/congregation plants.  I think this issue comes up pretty quickly. 

    I think your ideas are spot on.  We have an even higher priority towards those who we meet with as we follow Christ at our churches. 

    Ruth and I need to start up an bank account just like you suggest.  I’ve heard of some people who deposit into those kinds of accounts every time they spend money on non-essential items for themselves.

  7. Andrew,

    I’m a little disappointed you didn’t bother to take those verses out of context.

    In my denomination it is not permissible to talk about the poor using verses in their context, further, most parachurches adhere to this guideline as well.

    I very concerned that if you don’t make a better effort, you’ll find yourself thinking straight about these issues and then how will you hope to use gut reactions and emotional blackmail?

    Michael Hutton

  8. Hi Michael.

    I don’t know what denomination you are from.

    A good friend of mine, a Baptist pastor, told me today that he agreed with what I had written, but said that there is no way this view would get a hearing in his denomination. Coincidence? Or is something going on?

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