When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. -John 6:5-6
Lately, I have been reflecting on the responsibility we have as humans to one another. But mainly, I have been thinking about the responsibility followers of Jesus have in serving those in need and being a people of generosity.
Throughout the Bible, we find clear calls, commands, and reminders to serve and be open-handed in our relationships with others, especially towards the most vulnerable among us. For example, a few of my favorites are:
- Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. -Deuteronomy 15:9-12
- “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” -Isaiah 58:6-7
- Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ -Matthew 25:34-39
- Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. -James 1:27
- 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
- All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along. -Galatians 2:10
- For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. -Ephesians 2:8-10
Serving sacrificially and giving generously are not only commands given to God’s people and the decent human thing to do towards others created in God’s image, but also critical ways we demonstrate God’s very nature and character. John 3:16, perhaps the most well-known verse in Scripture, reminds us, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
While we rightly focus on eternal life being a gift to receive by God’s grace through faith alone, we sometimes miss what this tells us about God and how we are to become like him. God doesn’t just say he loves us. He showed us he loves us by giving generously, sacrificially, and unconditionally. He gave his all, his only, and his best. Therefore, when we give wholeheartedly, we are reflecting his character and representing his love to others.
Serving sacrificially and giving generously, therefore, are sacred responsibilities to take seriously. Jesus takes personally the way we do or do not treat others, especially those in need. It is an act of love and service to those in need and Jesus himself when we serve sacrificially and give generously. And when we fail to serve others, we fail to serve Jesus.
If this sounds overwhelming, take heart. I started this blog quoting from the story of when Jesus fed the 5,000 with just a few loaves of bread and fish. The needs of the world can feel overwhelming. This year alone, I traveled to many countries with overwhelming needs, such as Ethiopia amid conflict and famine, Ukraine amid a war, Sri Lanka facing an economic and political collapse, and Iraq, where Yazidi people terrorized by ISIS feel forgotten and abandoned by the world and their government. I am heading next to the US/Mexico border, where thousands come on harrowing journeys fleeing violence, crime, poverty, and corruption.
Sometimes instead of wanting to look up and see all the overwhelming needs of the world, we focus just on what feels more manageable to us. After all, don’t we have our own needs? Don’t our families have needs? Don’t our communities or own country have needs? Who has the time or resources to deal with the world’s needs?
But notice, Jesus turned to Philip when he saw the crowds coming and asked him what he would do about it. Jesus made it personal to Philip and his disciples and, by extension us. However, we know something Philip didn’t have the luxury of knowing at the moment. We are told Jesus asked this only to test Philip. Jesus already knew what he was going to do. He just wanted to stretch Philip’s faith and involve him in a miracle about to unfold.
The same is true today. Jesus wants to involve you and me in the responsibility and privilege of serving others in need. And as Jesus’ disciples found out that day, it isn’t about how little we might have compared to the overwhelming need in the world. Instead, it is about whether we are willing to give all we have and do what Jesus instructs us to do in participating in his plans to reveal himself to a world in need. Give him all you have by serving others sacrificially and generously, and watch what he will do with it in ways you cannot fathom.
In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” -John 5:17