“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” – Matthew 5:6
“I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” – John 15:15
I tap (pun intended) a popular beer commercial because the words of the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign were, in effect, long ago uttered by Paul: “But as for you, man of God, shun [the temptations of the world]; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.” – Timothy 6:11. But rather than the focus of the Most Interesting Man on seeking self-satisfaction, Paul calls Christ-followers to know God deeply and live life accordingly in service to the world, as worship to God.
It is reasonable to think that Jesus chose his words intentionally for the starkness of their meaning. In Matthew 5:6 he equates righteousness to fundamental physical needs of the human body. Beyond the lack of air, physical trauma, or certain poisons, few things are more threatening to human survival than dehydration. Not as immediate but of equal importance to survival is nutrition. If you have ever been in a situation without access to water or food for an extended period, you know firsthand how desperately the mind fixates and searches for those resources to stay alive. Knowing the aridity of the region and the imminent danger when droughts occurred would have painted a blunt mental picture for Jesus’ audience. Hunger and thirst were more urgent concerns than they typically are for most of us today.
In recent weeks, I have been blessed and simultaneously afflicted by a series of events and reflections. I attended the Global Business-as-Mission Congress in Chiang Mai, Thailand and met many workers trying to leverage the power of the global marketplace to alleviate the suffering of the poor (a foundational biblical mandate), especially as witness to the glory of God. I was invited to take part in a six-part young entrepreneurs series at Metro Merge in South Atlanta where attendees from the neighborhood create a business plan and vie for small grants to start their own businesses. I spent two days in Chattanooga, Tennessee to hear about the more than two dozen small businesses launched in just two years by graduates from Launch Chattanooga’s entrepreneurial training program. Finally, I spent a day visiting ministries, including the Refugeee Sewing Society and re:loom, who minister to refugees and the homeless in and around Clarkston, Georgia on Atlanta’s far east side.
I was blessed by the energy, zeal, and commitment of all those carrying out these ministries but I was afflicted by the contrast of the needs juxtaposed to the marginal awareness and response from the church at-large.
North Atlanta is a bustling place. Their are many impressive affluent communities, including Vinings and Marietta on the northwest corner off I-75, through Roswell, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Alpharetta, Johns Creek across the north, to Duluth and Cumming northeast up I-85. This area is also home to some of the largest churches in North America, some with multiple campuses and packing in tens of thousands of worshippers every Sunday morning.
A couple of years back, one of those churches raised an impressive sounding amount of money in a period of two weeks to give in support to various ministry and mission agencies locally, regionally, nationally, and around the world. I am sure the receiving ministries were very appreciative that this church had ramped up their giving over previous years and the money was put to great use. Many in the church were amazed at the big number and I am sure more than a few took pride in the accomplishment. At the same time, however, the total dollar amount only represented about $100.00 per weekly attendee, or roughly $300.00 per household where average annual household incomes are easily three, four, or five times the national poverty level. It is not unusual to see the parking lots of these churches on Sunday morning, resembling the bustle at major sporting or concert events, dotted with innumerable late-model luxury cars – Lexus, Mercedes, BMW, Cadillac, Porsche. A drive through the neighborhoods where many church attendees live reveals spacious homes that typically cost at least three times the national average.
The lack of giving is convicting. There are those who give and give generously. But the national average of church giving is less than three percent of gross income. One of the young men at the young entrepreneur’s program in South Atlanta is trying to get a $1,000.00 grant to start a small business. Many folk in North Atlanta will spend $1,000.00 for a golf or beach weekend, a new television, or set of tires . . . and it will have no significant impact on their lifestyle. For Kelvin, an inner city youth, $1,000 could prove to be a matter of lie and death.
Many in the church of the United States are also adamant about supporting the military. That institution obviously serves important, necessary purposes. But just for the sake of consideration: Abraham supported a “household” that could put 318 fighting men afield (Genesis 14:14). The U.S. military spends almost $7 billion annually to support about 2.7 million afield in all the combat, support, administrative, and strategic roles, or a little more than $250,000 per person. For Abraham, in today’s terms, that would be nearly $80 million dollars. His was no small household. Abraham was obviously an astute business practitioner to build the cash flow and amass the wealth necessary to support his household year in and year out.
We recognize Abraham as the father of faith for the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religions, today representing well over half the world’s population. Why was Abraham chosen? Because he believed God. He acted in faith on the outrageous command of God to sacrifice his own son, Isaac. What was his promise from God to include? To be blessed to be a blessing to all nations.
Throughout the history of God’s people (for we see it actively believed among many of the religious elite throughout the Old Testament, in Jesus’ day, and in our own), many have believed that God’s blessing was a reward for their belief (which was counted unto Abraham as righteousness) or their living according to right doctrine. In other words, they believe that God is blessing them because he loves them . . . and he does. But the blessings ultimately are not ours (as all is gift from and still belongs to God) to keep or to lavish opulent lifestyle upon ourselves.
The Bible tells us over and over that creation glorifies God. Wealth is merely a component within creation: just one more aspect that points to the abundance, creativity, generosity, and, in effect, the character and nature of God. The use of wealth is supposed to reveal God’s glory all the more.
Israel was given the Mosaic Law to guide their religious and social life (which in their thinking would have been fully integrated). The result of living according to the law, which reveals a high correlation between righteousness and economic justice – as caring for the widow, the poor, the orphan, and the sojourner – was to result in witness to the nations surrounding Israel. “You must observe [God’s laws] diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’ For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?” – Deuteronomy 4:6-8.
The reflection that afflicts me most, in light of my recent exposures, is that the church, in many places today, does not appear to be a “wise and discerning people.” In fact, in too many places, especially in North America, we look (and live) just like the world around us. Please do not think I am only pointing an accusing finger. In this season, I am trying to discern how I can better leverage the resources I have to serve God’s purposes. But no matter how I serve, I hope I will remain afflicted knowing I can always do so much more.
My prayer is that we would be so bold as to trust God beyond our comfort levels and ask him to reveal his heart for those afflicted in the communities both near to and far from us; to reveal to us how we might invest ourselves and our resources in ministering to them. It takes no imagination to agree that the world is largely unjust and focused upon selfish evil.
Hunger and thirst are painful afflictions. Are you afflicted to see righteousness grow in the world? Are you ignorant of the suffering? Are you content to turn a blind eye to the poor, the starving, the prostitutes, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the struggling single parents, the prisoners, the fatherless, the million of orphans and those enslaved by human trafficking?
Ours is a connected, global, communicative world. When we stand before God we will have no excuse of ignorance to plead our case for failing to stand up for the oppressed. The conditions around the world and in our own backyards should disturb us to the point of taking action such that righteousness would prevail, to the glory of God.
2 Corinthians 1:20 says that in Christ “every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ For this reason it is through him that we say the ‘Amen,’ to the glory of God.” God’s “Yes” is already given unto our salvation. But God’s promises extend to the redemption of all creation. We say, “Yes, Lord,” in intellectual and emotional assent to the revelation of God’s love for us. But our “Amen” is more than an assent. Amen means “so be it.” Yes, learning of the love of God extended for us in the sacrifice of Christ is the milk of the Gospel. This is what we learn when coming to first know Christ, that he is our Savior.
But Amen is our response to God’s call to action. Amen actualizes Christ’s Lordship in our lives. Amen does more than renew our minds, it transforms out behaviors. “So be it” is our response to put time, energy, and resources to work carrying Christ’s ministry to the world. The author of Hebrews writes: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.” – Hebrews 5:12-14.
It is good to serve God, the church, and the world, to make the glory of God known by our good works (Matthew 5:16), and to baptize and teach others to carry out Jesus’ commands (Matthew 28:19-20). By contrast, it is evil to neglect ministering the heart of God to the lost and the suffering. The Gospel is a promise of action, by Christ and by our Amen.
Stay hungry. Stay thirsty. Stay afflicted in spirit. Act on behalf of Christ and the world.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3.