What if serving those in need was more than merely a good thing to do? Job makes his case in chapter 31:
13 “If I have denied justice to any of my servants,
whether male or female,
when they had a grievance against me,
14 what will I do when God confronts me?
What will I answer when called to account?
15 Did not he who made me in the womb make them?
Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?
16 “If I have denied the desires of the poor
or let the eyes of the widow grow weary,
17 if I have kept my bread to myself,
not sharing it with the fatherless—
18 but from my youth I reared them as a father would,
and from my birth I guided the widow—
19 if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing,
or the needy without garments,
20 and their hearts did not bless me
for warming them with the fleece from my sheep,
21 if I have raised my hand against the fatherless,
knowing that I had influence in court,
22 then let my arm fall from the shoulder,
let it be broken off at the joint.
23 For I dreaded destruction from God,
and for fear of his splendor I could not do such things. Job 31:13-23
Job would rather his arm fall off than to be in the company of those who treated servants unjustly. Stated in a more positive sense, we should be known for those who:
- treat all people justly
- serve the poor
- take care of the widow
- cloth those in need
- look after the orphans
Serving as an Obligation
If we make serving an obligation, we completely miss the point. Viewed this way, there is always one above the other. In essence, we strengthen the barriers that divide rather than eliminating them. There are no neighborhoods in heaven. But if I had to choose between obligatory serving and not showing up, I’m afraid I would rather side with serving and trust that God would provide the necessary transformation. A seed that remains in the pouch has no chance of growing. One planted on rocky soil won’t grow either, but it might provide a snack for a passing bird. The story of Job above suggests he did all these things in the shadow of “fear of his splendor.” Do something, even if it feels mechanical for a time. Keep looking inside for that which ignites the passionate desire that is consistent with God’s plan for your life. Do nothing, and we all lose.
Serving with a Radically Changed Heart
One of the profound lessons from the teaching of Jesus is that of a radically changed heart. Radical change is required for radical generosity. When we are transformed, we don’t view possessions as something to hold onto. Whatever things we own become tools for helping others. If we have money, it can be put to good use. If we have time, we look for ways to invest the hours. None of which comes from a place of guilt or obligation. Instead, it comes from deep within our hearts and is expressed with the utmost joy.
The term, holy responsibility, sounds like the most pious and religious perspective possible. Imagine printing t-shirts promoting the notion of such. No one would likely buy one, even with the most compelling graphic design! Yet serving those in need is something we are commanded to accept as our responsibility. How do we live with the tension?
My hope and prayer is this series of posts will help guide the discussion by creating a solid biblical foundation to build upon. As we mature, the term responsibility shouldn’t sound threatening any more than welcoming discipline from the loving Father. Growth is often accompanied by pain, but it doesn’t have to be overbearing or arduous — one step at a time.
This is the same approach we should consider when helping others: one methodical step at a time. This is when helping heals rather than hurting. Let’s strive for that!
One more thought about the story of Job: it takes a while before he comes around. The quote above is from chapter 31; the watershed moment happens much later in chapter 38, when God speaks. One of my favorite passages:
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand. Job 38:3-4
After the seemingly endless back and forth conversation between Job and his friends, God enters the conversation. Job finally understands:
“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Job 42:2
As we seek to serve those in need, may we do so with joy; may we have the faith that God can and will do what is necessary to mend the broken-hearted, to heal every wound, to find the lost, and to satisfy the hungry. Mostly, I pray that He will use us in the process.