Bible scholars have argued the identity of “the least of these” for decades. Is Matthew 25 referring to the world’s most destitute, or is it instructing believers to care for fellow Christians in need?
Either way, both interpretations of “the least of these” have sufficient Biblical support in other passages. Scripture isn’t silent that it is our Christian responsibility to care for fellow believers, and as many as 2,000 verses in the Bible relate to our response to poverty. So for the purpose of this discussion, “the least of these” refers to individuals–believers or otherwise–who need our help.
“The least of these” should matter most for 3 reasons–
1. How we treat “the least of these” exposes the true nature of our character. It is easy–even enjoyable–to do good things for people who can return the favor. But doing good to those for whom we will never receive basic gratitude or reciprocal kindness?–this litmus test reveals our truest motivation. Showing compassion to people who can do nothing for us burns away the dross of popularity, selfishness, or self-satisfaction. When we do good to “the least of these” we ultimately do it for God.
2. How we treat “the least of these” communicates to us and others what we believe about the Gospel. In every sense, I was the enemy of God when He sent His Son to die on my behalf. I did not receive His compassion and provision through any merit of my own. Further, I am the beneficiary of 1,000 good graces from Him every day–many of which I do not recognize or appreciate. He meets every one of my needs and has made me His unlikely and unworthy heir.
True compassion is costly
If my heart is not bent toward showing true compassion to those in need, I have not yet comprehended my own poverty and God’s amazing grace. As the Samaritan treated the wounds of his archenemy in Luke 10, so true compassion, as demonstrated by the Gospel, is always costly and always crosses boundaries of distance and demographics to take the love of Christ where it is most needed.
For the church to live out the Gospel in its simplest and truest form … we must not be afraid to be inconvenienced for loving the vulnerable in our communities. When we welcome and love the people the world wants us to hate, we advance the mission of God. — Jenny Yang
3. How we treat “the least of these” reveals their value to us. When we fail to see and acknowledge “the least of these”–whether in our church, in the community, on the streets, or in orphanage cribs–we dehumanize the people for whom Jesus died. When we turn our backs on someone in need, in essence, we decide that their status, age, appearance, personality, smell, or any other contributing factor disqualifies them from being worthy of human compassion. At the very least, this breaks the second great Commandment–to love our neighbor as ourself (Mark 12:31)–and at the worst it says to a watching world that we do not think “the least these” bear the image of God.
Let’s be honest. Loving the least of these can be uncomfortable. It can be costly and painful. It can demand more of us than we’ll ever get in return …
… Basically, it can start to look like the love of Christ.
Take the love of Christ where it is needed.
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Trisha White Priebe is the communications coordinator for Lifesong for Orphans, and is an adoptee and an adoptive mom. You can connect with her here on the blog, on the Facebook page, or on Twitter. She blogs here.
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