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Don’t Forget the Poor: A Biblical Approach to Addressing Poverty

What has God called you to do? In this chapter from Your Call to Work & Mission: Following Jesus 24/7, Johan Mostert challenges all followers of Jesus to remember those trapped in poverty and take practical steps to demonstrate God’s love for them.

Evangelism, global missions, and discipling others—topics from the previous section—are urgent. They excite and energize committed Christians. This chapter shifts the focus of following Jesus in discipleship to an area that often causes discomfort—that of working with the poor. It seems counter-intuitive to work with poor people when Christian leaders and literature often—and rightly—emphasize vital Great Commission concerns of church planting, church growth, and impactful evangelism.

“Don’t Forget the Poor: A Biblical Approach to Addressing Poverty” by Johan Mostert is chapter 11 in Stephen Lim, ed., Your Call to Work & Mission: Following Jesus 24/7 Whole-Life Discipleship (AGTS, 2015). Available from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary online bookstore.

Our natural tendency is to seek out influential and well-off persons in the church who have the potential to promote and fund our proposed ministries—instead of individuals with few resources. Also, we often think first of the capital needs of a future church project rather than the need for relational capital that is so evident among poor people—such as caring, mutually upbuilding relationships, community-building, mentoring, and people who demonstrate biblical values. Even as we strategize to reach the world for Christ and to disciple believers, why in the world would the biblical writers insist that we “not forget the poor” (Gal. 2:10, KJV)?

To answer this question, let us review the prevalence of the biblical insistence on focusing on the poor. One of the clearest indications of the prominence of the poor and the marginalized in the gospel of the Kingdom is the way that Jesus identified with them. In the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matt. 25:31–46), He makes the stunning declaration that when we serve the needy, we are actually serving Him. If we forget the poor, we are forgetting Jesus! In addressing the needs of the destitute, we do not move away from the heart of the Kingdom message, but recognize this as an essential way of serving the Lord.

In the Early Church, we see the beginnings of a division of missions focus: Peter, James and John concentrate on preaching to their own people, the Jews, while Paul seeks to reach Gentiles as well. This creates serious tension between them, as Paul seeks to break free from Jewish rituals and proclaim a gospel of faith and grace. Paul says that after their meeting to resolve their differences, the only thing that the other disciples ask him to do is to remember the poor (Gal. 2:10). They give Paul the freedom to pursue new courses of action; however, he must not neglect the importance of serving the needy. With this, Paul is in full agreement.

A young Afghan girl begging in the street in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 2008. Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev via Wikimedia Commons.

When Readers Digest interviewed mega-church pastor, Rick Warren, he verbalized what so many of us have realized, “I’ve got three advanced degrees. I went to two different seminaries and a Bible school. How did I miss the two thousand verses in the Bible where it talks about the poor?”1

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Category: Living the Faith, Summer 2016

About the Author: Johan Mostert, DPhil (University of Pretoria), is Professor of Community Psychology at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. Beginning his career in pastoral ministry in 1972 with the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) in South Africa, he served churches in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town and from 1989 to 2000, serving as National Director of the AFM Welfare Department. He is widely recognized as a leading authority on local-church response to the global AIDS pandemic and travels frequently as a speaker and project consultant for faith-based development agencies both in the US and internationally. He is author of How To Become HIV+: Guidelines For The Local Church (2011) and numerous articles in books and journals. AGTS Faculty page

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