This is part two of a two part series. If you haven’t read part one go back and read that now. God’s Heart for the Vulnerable, Part 1
In light of the freedom He won on their behalf, the Lord called Israel to be compassionate towards the vulnerable residing amidst them (Deuteronomy 15:4, 7-11), reminding them of their previous helpless state (Deuteronomy 15:15). The scriptures sternly warned against oppressing the vulnerable. God rebukes the leaders of Israel for how they mistreated the poor among them (Amos 2:7), chastising them for reflecting their previous Egyptian slave masters rather than their Redeemer.
God even went to the extent of dismissing their acts of worship and devotion when they persecuted the vulnerable (Isaiah 58:5-11). Israel’s spiritual piety meant nothing to the Lord if it lacked social charity. Proverbs 14:31 accentuates that God is the stalwart advocate for the vulnerable; oppressing them meant challenging the Almighty Himself.
The New Testament elevates this advocacy. Jesus, embodying vulnerability, was born as a poor Middle-Eastern man, proclaiming the poor as the blessed ones (Luke 6:20). He preached about the spiritual realities of the kingdom of God while simultaneously caring for people’s physical conditions – healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, and raising the dead to life. Jesus embodied the idea that saving souls and caring for people’s physical conditions go hand in hand.
He raises the stakes even further in Matthew 25. In His parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus emphasizes that the authenticity of one’s faith is determined by their treatment of the marginalized. By serving those who lack the bare minimum to survive, we function as the hands and feet of the God they turn to when they have nowhere else to go. This treatment of the vulnerable is consistent with the commands the Lord called Israel to obey in the Old Testament Scriptures, but Jesus is taking this command to a radically new level. Jesus aligns Himself with the vulnerable and marginalized, saying that when you care for the poor among you, you are caring for Him. God is not only the advocate of the vulnerable; He associates with the vulnerable.
The early church bore witness to this as their primary mission centered on caring for the poor and needy, as illustrated in Acts 6 and the benevolence towards the Jerusalem church. James cautioned against favoritism for the affluent and discrimination against the destitute (James 2:1-13) and emphasized that the definition of a deep spiritual life is through caring for the vulnerable in our midst (James 1:27).
In Rodney Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity, it is highlighted how the early church was known for its care of the vulnerable, affirming their worth and integrating them into church life.* The testimony of the church is one of caring for both the spiritual and physical needs of others, demonstrating mercy and justice while simultaneously declaring the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In light of all this biblical data, it’s important for us to ask the question of why. Why does this overwhelming care for the vulnerable resonate so profoundly with God’s character? Simply put, the poor inherently recognize their need for assistance. They epitomize humility and dependency, mirroring the very posture a Christian ought to assume. We who were once enslaved and impoverished by sin have been redeemed and restored through the grace of Jesus Christ. We do nothing to merit this, but out of desperate faith, we cling to our Savior who became poor so we might become rich! Thus, when we care holistically for the spiritual and physical needs of others, we are practicing the very holistic care and grace that has been extended to us.
God deeply cares about the physical and spiritual well-being of His image bearers. Helping a single mother find a stable job, serving food at a homeless shelter, advocating for affordable housing in your city, and sharing a meal with a refugee are actions that align with God’s commands and reflect His character. These actions also provide loving opportunities to share the incredible news of why you serve in such a way, namely that Jesus did it first for you, and He offers a comfort that transcends eternally beyond any physical comfort we can find in this world. Furthermore, Jesus Christ aligns Himself with their situation, saying, ‘Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:40, MSG).
If you find yourself asking whether you can be a Christian who cares and advocates for the vulnerable while also being biblically rooted and gospel-centered, according to the Bible, the answer is a resounding yes! In fact, you find yourself deeply aligned with the heart and mission of God.
*Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996)
Andy Norris is the Pastor of Outreach at Sojourn Midtown. Andy studied Religion at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa and then completed his Master’s of Divinity at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Before coming to Louisville, Andy worked in youth ministry, college ministry, and church planting, having planted and pastored a multi-ethnic church in central Iowa in 2016. Andy has a deep passion and calling for the work of reconciliation, justice, and kingdom diversity. He is married to Emily and they have four boys. Andy and his family live in the Shelby Park Neighborhood in Louisville, KY.