Overfed and Unconcerned Part 1
OVERFED AND UNCONCERNED PART 1
“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trials, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.”
2 Corinthians 8:1-4
What an incredible example of generosity in the face of extreme poverty! The Macedonian churches refused to be left out of an act of selfless service to the saints. They considered it a privilege and a joy. They felt compelled to give despite the severe trials they themselves were personally enduring.
It mattered not that their pledge, their gift, was greater or lesser than other churches. What set them apart as a noteworthy example worthy of imitation, was their desire to give despite their own extreme poverty. They gave themselves first to the Lord, and then to us (Paul, Timothy, Jerusalem church) in keeping with God’s will.
The Jerusalem church had depleted its resources (Acts 2:44-46; 4:34-36; 5:1-2) taking care of the needy among the 3000 baptized on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:44) and the disciples added to their number daily (Acts 2:47). Other churches focused on world evangelization came to their assistance. What a clear testimony of the believers being one in heart and mind (Acts 4:32) not just in the local church but the church universal! As the first century church spread to Rome, they were again faced with the necessity of meeting the needs of the poor. The church in Rome imitated the example of the church in Jerusalem by developing programs to meet these needs. This institution of continuing kindness contributed to the popularity and success of the church in Rome as they fed not only the poor among their number but the poor outside the church as well. By 250 AD the church in Rome was helping some 1500 needy persons on an ongoing basis, according to historians [Martin Hengel. Property and Riches in the Early Church, pp. 42-44].
Unfortunately, every major city has its poor and needy citizens. God’s expectation is for their needs to be met. Sadly God knows man’s heart tends to be selfish and self-centered. Jesus voiced this with the words “The poor you will always have with you …” (Matthew 26:11). God expects that among his “chosen people,” the needs of the poor would be met (Deuteronomy 15:4, 11; 1 John 3:17).
When we fail to show care and compassion, God is disturbed and angered. Consider Sodom! When most people hear the name “Sodom,” images of a burning city being destroyed by God for its perverse sexual act of homosexuality comes to mind. In Genesis 19:4, the Bible records that “all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house” of Lot, a righteous man (2 Peter 2:17) who lived in Sodom (Genesis 14:12). The men of Sodom called to Lot for the visitors who were staying in his house to come out so that they could “have sex with them.” Ezekiel 16 reveals specifically why God was outraged and resolved to destroy Sodom:
“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.”
It appears that God’s anger burned not only at the outward carnal sin of homosexuality but also at the inward heart sins of selfishness, pride and lack of love. Despite having the means, they lacked the heart to help the poor. Sodom was blessed with a fertile and well watered land (Genesis 13:10), but did not show kindness and concern for the needy among them.
In the United States, we are privileged to live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. We are surrounded by billion dollar corporations. Our supermarkets are laden with foods and our varied and numerous department stores offer a plethora of goods for our every whim and fancy. It is easy to forget about poverty when we are surrounded by wealth. It is easy to think that the only poor who exist are somewhere else.
In his 2014 annual letter for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Bill Gates wrote that “More than one billion people still live in extreme poverty–on less than $1.25 a day.” (worldwide). Poverty is defined as the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support. Absolute poverty or destitution refers to the deprivation of basic human needs, which commonly include food, water, sanitation, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and education. Consider some startling facts concerning poverty:
* In 1990, 36% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty; by 2010 the ratio was slightly less than 18%.
* At least 721 million fewer people live in extreme poverty in the world today than 30 years ago, yet approximately 1.2 billion people remain entrenched in destitution.
* Most of the decrease in poverty seems to have occurred in China and India. For the rest of the developing world, individuals living in extreme poverty today appear to be as poor as those living in extreme poverty 30 years ago.
* India is still home to a third of the world’s poor (400 million people). Including China (173 million poor) and Nigeria, this accounts for more than half of the poor in the world.
* More than one-third of the extremely poor individuals are children under the age of 13. In Low Income Countries (LICs), more than half of all children live in poverty.
[Source: The World Bank Economic Promise, October 2013. Number 125. Article entitled, “The State of The Poor, Where is Extreme Poverty Harder to End, and What is The Current Profile of The World’s Poor? Pedro Olinto, Et Al.]
* 1.7 million New Yorkers fell below the official federal poverty threshold. Since 2000 NYC has gone from 13th to 6th highest among poverty rates for the 20 biggest cities. This means that one in five New Yorkers lives in poverty. [Source: Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.]
* In Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn the concentrated poverty rate rose from 38.0% in 2000 to 43.2% from 2006 to 2010. In the South Bronx neighborhood of Mott Haven and Hunts Point, over two-thirds (67.3%) of all residents and almost three-quarters (72.5%) of all children live in areas of extreme poverty.
[Source: Citizens’ Committee for Children (CCC) of New York.]
The World Bank has set a formidable goal of virtually eliminating extreme poverty across the earth by 2030, in just one generation! The Central Leadership Council of the International Christian Church (ICC) has set an equally challenging goal of winning the world for Christ by planting a church in every nation with a population of 100,000 or more in one generation! One entity closely knit to the ICC is MERCYworldwide, the benevolent arm of the church. MERCYworldwide focuses on maximizing efforts–people, organizations, resources, and funding — to provide relief and care to those in need. It also seeks to improve the living conditions of those who are under-privileged with a special focus on the youth worldwide. This is an obvious outpouring of compassion and care on the part of its volunteers. As disciples of Jesus we pattern our lives after him to not only seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), but also to have compassion (Matthew 9:35-38) and meet the needs of the poor (Galatians 2:10). The encouraging news is wherever a church is planted, a branch of MERCY is established. Let us be compassionate workers who seek and save the lost so that MERCY can spread throughout the world.
As ambassador of MERCYworldwide, let us fulfill our mission to take the Word to the World in this generation, and along with it, spread God’s heart of compassion.
Drs. Kenneth Chin & Cheryl Harris-Chin New York City Directors MERCYworldwide.