Spiritual Poverty and Actual Poverty
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’” (Luke 4:16-19) (Isaiah 61:1–2 and 58:6).
The mission and message of Jesus is pretty clearly summarized in Luke 4:18-19. He wants to give sight to the blind, liberty to the captives, and deliverance to the oppressed. If we look at the actions of Jesus throughout the Gospels, He did these things both spiritually and physically. Sometimes Jesus met people’s physical needs before He addressed their spiritual needs, and other times He addressed their spiritual needs first.
In today’s society the term social justice has become politically charged with progressive taxation and income redistribution being the means to bring about a more equal and just society. Within the church many churches struggle with the proper balance in providing both physical and spiritual sustenance. What, then, is the Christian view of social justice?
The Bible teaches that God is a God of justice. In fact, “all his ways are justice” (Deuteronomy 32:4). Furthermore, the Bible supports the notion of social justice in which concern and care are shown to the plight of the poor and afflicted. God in the Old Testament continuously indicted the Jews for their lack of compassion and caring for the needy among them. He admonished them to “Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” (Proverbs 31:9). The notion of social justice in which concern and care are shown to the plight of the poor and afflicted is reflected in Deuteronomy 10:18; 24:17; 27:19 and many, many other passages in Scripture.
The Bible often refers to the fatherless, the widow and the sojourner – that is, people who were not able to fend for themselves or had no support system. The nation of Israel was commanded by God to care for society’s less fortunate, and their eventual failure to do so was partly the reason for their judgment and expulsion from the land. So the aspect of caring for the needy is certainly part of God’s commands to us. Social justice to those in need would certainly be a fruit of a Christian’s spirit. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 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? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17). Case closed – the full Gospel message clearly has a component of compassion for those in need.
Is a local Church complete without understanding that the Gospel message must provide both spiritual and physical sustenance? Is a Church complete when it ignores the poorest among them? Is a Church even a Church if they do not preach the full Gospel message? Filling the belly without feeding the spiritual needs of a person was not what Jesus portrayed in His ministry.
There is no doubt in my mind that Luke 4:18-19 spoke to the spiritual needs that Jesus would provide as Messiah. The context of the Isaiah verses He read from convey that. Verse 18 succinctly summarizes the Messiah’s ministry. Good news for the poor, liberty for the captives, sight for the blind, and liberty for the oppressed speak to mankind’s spiritual condition which the Messiah would address. These conditions depict the helplessness of man without God’s provision of a Savior. Only through the Messiah’s work of salvation can we be rescued from eternal punishment in hell. The good news of the gospel is that the spiritually impoverished can find salvation.
While the economically poor are not in view here, such people are often fertile soil for the gospel. “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor. 1:26–29). James wrote, “Did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (James 2:5). Those whose circumstances in life offer them little hope are often more open to receiving the good news of the gospel.
As we strive to reflect Jesus in our lives we must remember that he was a man of compassion. Jesus healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, healed the deaf, drove out demons , fed 4,000, fed 5,000, raised Jairus’ daughter to life, raised Lazarus to life, cleansed lepers and in everything He did He did it because He had compassion on those in need. Spiritually He healed the spiritually sick, the spiritually blind, and brought eternal life to all those that call on His name as their Savior. He raised us up from being spiritually dead. It’s all part of the same Gospel message.