What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.James 2:14-17
When we see the difficult issues of the world, the solutions to the problems seem obvious. People who are hungry need food. Families without a home need a roof over their head. Racism could be solved by all of us becoming color blind. If only the “have’s” would be more compassionate to the “have nots,” then all that is wrong with the world would be instantly fixed.
Yet, sometimes the obvious solution to a problem can cause more harm than good. Sometimes in our attempt to create a quick fix we perpetuate the problem and make it worse. We give something that addresses the symptoms but ignores the deeper issue.
We throw our money, time or resources at a problem without getting our hands dirty and being curious and compassionate. We fail to lean in and understand how things got to be the way they are. All our efforts, as well intended as they might be, keep the cycle of poverty spinning. What we have to understand is that poverty goes much deeper than material inequality. Poverty is a “serious lack of means for a proper existence.”
There are individuals who have their physical needs met in abundance, yet aren’t truly living. They are stuck in poverty. Just because one has food, water and shelter doesn’t mean they aren’t bankrupt. There is poverty of identity where people have a broken relationship with purpose. There is poverty of stewardship where individuals have a broken relationship with stuff. And, then there is poverty of community where relationships with others are broken.
The truth is apart from Christ we all find ourselves in poverty. We are a broken people who are only put back together by the life-changing power of the Gospel. Understanding our own poverty causes humility to spring forth in our actions and words. It reframes our perspective on the people behind the issues. We recognize they are no different than us and that they are valuable in God’s eyes.
It is this hope and message we carry with us as ambassadors for Christ. We don’t want to just solve problems or deal with issues, but help everyone we come in contact with encounter a message that empowers them and speaks to the core of their identity.
Does this mean all we do is talk and share the Gospel? By no means. Our words become bankrupt and hollow when we fail to meet the physical needs of those who are hurting. Yet, instead of just stopping at the physical need we also speak into the spiritual needs that remain below the surface. We recognize that God orchestrates everyone’s story and as a result we should “lean in” and listen to the tale God is telling with that individual’s life. While addressing the issues we work to empower people by involving them in the solution.
What has the potential to cause our words of Christ’s love to become bankrupt and hollow to those in need?
God, may I always be reminded that Your grace is what makes me rich. Without You, I am bankrupt. The hope I have experienced needs to be shared with those around me. Let my words of Your love match up with my actions. Help me to live out my faith by serving and empowering others. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.