When I was a new Christian at the age of 20 years old and had begun reading the Bible for the first time ever, I ran across this verse:
“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ “ (Matthew 25:40)
At first, I had no idea to whom Jesus was referring as the “least of these” but then I reread the verse in context and He explains that the least of these are those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers (with no friends or family), naked, sick and/or in prison. I took what I read at face value and realized Jesus wants me, and all Christians, to physically help others as well as share the Good News of Christ. Seems simple, right?
I listened intently whenever this Scripture was taught to glean the best ways to put feet to God’s Word. I came away from most teachings on this verse confused because the simple message of whom to help was spiritualized and theorized. Supposedly, the hungry and thirsty weren’t people who needed a real meat and potatoes dinner, they were people who needed God’s word. The strangers, weren’t people who needed a physical home and family, they needed to become a part of the spiritual family. Those who were naked, didn’t need jeans and a T-Shirt, they needed to put on the armor of God. Those who were sick didn’t need someone to actually care for them, they just needed to be anointed and prayed over because they were spiritually sick. And those in prison, weren’t actually in physical prison, only in prison to their sin, and all they needed was to have someone pray for them and hope they repent–no need to actually visit a real prison.
The danger in spiritualizing these verses in the Bible is that we can become useless in the practical aspects of “loving God and loving our neighbors.” (John 13:34) Of utmost importance is sharing the Good News of Christ with our actions as well as our words because as John 13:35 says, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
So let’s ask ourselves, will people know we are Jesus’ disciples by our practical AND spiritual love for others?
* Do we give groceries to those who are hungry and thirsty and then build a relationship with them over time?
* Do we help those who need a home and a family get settled and include them in our family?
* Do we give clothes to those who are in need and then follow up to make sure they are okay?
* Have we become friends with a family with a child or parent who is sick or has special needs?
* Have we visited anyone in a physical prison more than once and built relationships?
And after building relationships through our service to “the least of these,” have we asked them about their relationship with Jesus with real interest? (As opposed to service without relationship. Otherwise, the very people we helped become objects used to gain favor with God.)
Above all, have we done these things in love and not as a check list to earn God’s favor?
How do you interpret this passage? Do you think Jesus is talking about people with literal needs? What can you do to be the hands of and feet of Jesus?