By Mark D. Proctor
Pastor, Highland Park Baptist Church, Columbia
In the seventh grade, I scribbled a profound thought in my Bible: “You only really believe what motivates you to action.” It was brilliant, and it was stolen from the very lips of my youth pastor, who stole it from Jesus. Matthew records in Matthew 25:34-40 that Jesus told the same thing to His disciples: You never truly understand the kingdom until you learn to serve the least of its inhabitants. This indeed is the heart of the gospel.
In the Scriptural accounts of the life of Christ, it’s important to understand the words Jesus said. It is equally important to understand the where, when, and why’s of what He said. Matthew records five major conversations of Christ, often called discourses. The first, the Sermon on the Mount, is found in Matthew 5 and begins with Jesus teaching the disciples how to be blessed — happy. In our passage in Matthew 25, we find Jesus finishing the last of the five discourses, called the Olivet Discourse, and He ends it with “the righteous entering into eternal life.” Clearly Christ’s purpose was abundant life on earth (John 10:10) and eternal life in heaven (Matthew 25:46).
But in both cases, Jesus teaches that blessedness on earth and eternity in heaven depend on things often quite opposite of what the world teaches. “Blessed are the poor in spirit …” and “Blessed are the meek …” taught Jesus, when the world clearly promotes riches and strength and personal power. Here, in His final teaching with the disciples, He teaches that the “least of these” in the world are, in fact, not least at all. The least of these are “brothers and sisters” of Christ. (Matthew 25:40) Once again, the world has it wrong. The gospel recognizes no rank, no power, no position other than the kingship (v. 40) of Jesus. We are all children of the king and as such, we should serve one another.
But friends, many of our churches today behave in quite the opposite way. We send our money to outside agencies to minister to those in faraway places but can’t even name those who live in the homes around our churches. But Jesus was clear. We feed the hungry, clothe the poor, care for the sick, and visit the prisoners — and not just the ones who are safe.
Several years ago, while working with LifeWay as an architectural master planner for churches, I encountered a church who wanted to relocate their facilities to a suburban location. Their present facility, beautiful in all regards and sufficient in size and parking, was in an economically depressed neighborhood of working class citizens. When I inquired why they wanted to relocate their response was, “to get away from the riff-raff in this neighborhood.” I would argue to this day that this church didn’t fully believe the gospel. Their motivation was to run from the “least of these.” A true believer runs toward them. Why? Because that’s what brothers and sisters do!