I pay my taxes!

I pay my taxes!

I remember preaching in a church once on Micah 6v8: ‘He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ (NIV) Amongst other things I was talking about the connection between a life of love for God and acts of mercy toward the poor. Straight after the service a ‘successful’ business man came to ‘take umbrage’ with me over the text. According to him, it was not applicable in our social security state which looks after the poor and the elderly. ‘I pay my taxes,’ he told me. ‘That is more than enough.’

I forget my response but I can imagine it would have been heartfelt, aggressive and somewhat world weary. Most conservative evangelicals I know (UK based), with one notable exception (Peter Parkinson in Leeds) have a deep suspicion, bordering on contempt, when the topic of ‘social action/justice’ comes up in conversation. ‘Our job is to preach Christ, young man,’ is the usual sniffy response, even though for many that’s not even true.

I have been reading Tim Keller’s, Generous Justice’ and whilst it brings nothing new to the theological arena, it is a concise and well written reminder that Jesus had a whole lot to say about social justice. In it he quotes Joel Green: ‘The disposition of one’s possessions signifies the disposition of one’s heart.’ (p51)

His point, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is that we cannot separate our theology of Jesus into neat little sections. Grace and love for the poor and downtrodden are intrinsic to our faith (or at least they ought to be). Any believer claiming otherwise needs to go back to the scriptures for a reread. Consider Matthew 25:31-46:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

   34 “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. 35 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, 36 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.’

   37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

   40 “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.’

   41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

   44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

   45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

   46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (NIV)

This is an interesting passage because the people on view in Vv34-40 here are Christians, the righteous. Notice their righteousness stands not in what they did for the poor but for how they should act in Christ. The mark  of their faith was how they treated such people. The mark of unbelievers (Vv41-46), no matter how religious they were, was their complete lack of concern. How can we be indifferent to the needs of those around thus if we claim the name Christian?

The problem in the UK mindset is that those who do show too much interest in the poor and oppressed are regarded very often as a little bit liberal. There is some truth to that. Edinburgh is awash with ‘churches’ who do great things for the poor but completely disregard the gospel of Christ. Then there are great ‘evangelical’ churches who preach the Word and then step over the Romanian beggars outside the door, on their way home to read a nice biography on William Wilberforce.

We need more churches and individuals who will open up their homes and their lives to fellow believers, their neighbours, the poor, and the growing number of foreigners flooding into our city. We have a great opportunity to serve people, love people, help people, advise people, reach out to people and proclaim the gospel to people in this way. I have had more gospel conversations at BBQ’s in my house than ever on a Sunday morning. 

Check our hearts. How open are they to the poor and the vulnerable? How open are our lives to ‘entertaining angels unawares?’