Discipleship: Giving to the Poor Is Not About Money
Jesus was once asked point blank what we need to do to inherit eternal life; He was asked by someone who already knew all the rules.
His response? Give to the poor.
We know the law, yet this is probably the most obvious discipleship tool we miss.
“You know the commandments: “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother. All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Luke 18:20 – 22
I assure you, this wasn’t about the cash. Jesus didn’t need this man’s money to help the poor. This man needed to help the poor himself. There is so much wrapped in what happens when we do. We are confronted at the very soul of our existence. This wasn’t the first time Jesus encouraged this discipline for making disciples, and it wasn’t his last time either.
But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. – Luke 14:13 – 14
In a moment, Zacchaeus discerned what Jesus required of him:
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” – Luke 19:8 – 9
Paul labeled Tabitha a disciple. Here are the marks of her discipleship:
In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha . . . she was always doing good and helping the poor. – Acts 9:36
The angel who came to Cornelius, the first Gentile convert reported in Scripture, claimed that the very reason he was there was because God not only heard his prayers, but remembered his service to the poor:
Cornelius answered: ‘Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor.’” – Acts 10:30 – 31
The apostles, pioneers of the New Testament church, knew that if they did anything of value, they should continue to serve the poor:
James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along. – Galatians 2:9 – 10
Believing is not just a matter of knowing.
“Believing is also a matter of doing. Believing is trusting that Jesus’ way of living is the right way, and trusting it enough that one is willing to live that way — and die that way.” – Darrel Gruder
We’ve been talking about the elements of discipleship ad nauseum. Bible study, surrender, the Holy Spirit, giving back — no one would disagree with these marks of a disciple — but most people never transfer these practices from the church campus to an actual life. According to our role model, Jesus, surrender meant death in every possible way: materially, relationally, and physically. Surrender until there was nothing left but redemption for a broken world. The Holy Spirit is a blazing fire, charring every remnant of selfishness and pride left in our souls, an unquenchable fire that cannot be ignored or denied. Giving back means giving all; any inferior definition is pure deception. Our money, our resources, our gifts, our time, our dreams, our selfish ambitions, our comfort — these we give back in their entirety. Anything less is not discipleship at all. It is simply a clever substitution by a crafty enemy who has figured out how to use our own weaknesses against us, rocking us to complacent sleep with a consumer version of the gospel and knowing all the while he is making goats out of sheep.
Earlier today I sat down to start this chapter on how social action impacts discipleship when I was interrupted by a call from my wife. She said seven words, “Brandon. Come home. We got our referral!” Then she hung up.
Nearly a year ago we started the long journey of international adoption. After spending some time in Africa with The Eden Reforestation Projects and falling in love with the children of Ethiopia, our hearts were affirmed that that’s where we were to adopt. Jen handled the whirlwind of paperwork like a pro. It’s like applying for twenty mortgages at the same time. Quite a process: family history, addresses, references, financial reports, physicals (even the dog), fingerprints, and home studies. We submitted our dossier and made the payments, thanks to some incredible friends and supporters. And we waited. I tried my best not to think about it too often, hoping the time would pass. Jen’s strategy was a little different; adoption blogs, Facebook groups, email chains, and the adoption agency website were a daily obsession for her.
Today we were given the names, faces, and heartbreaking stories of a beautiful little five-year-old girl and seven-year-old boy we were going to adopt. There are experiences in life that simply change us. Some are good. Some are tragic. But they change who we are and what we’re about from that point forward. While we’ve yet to realize the full impact adoption will have on us, this is certainly one of those experiences for us. Life will never be the same. Following Christ should change our lives. We should not be the same. Discipleship should be transforming. Yet when we think about our spiritual development, it’s easier to see a change in our practices than in our passions. We continue to add things and replace things, yet our hearts remain the same. We seem to think discipleship is an agreement to knowledge instead of a commitment to a gospel that makes all things new.
I share my story because I want you to know that my hope is completely different today from where it was a handful of years ago. I’ve seen the same in others. While I know I have a ways to go, I can honestly say that the way I think is different. The way I feel is different. The way I love is simply different. My faith journey is now a joy. My church experience is life giving. And for the first time, I actually do life with the people I’m in biblical community with.
Most of us change over the years.
Yet few can look back and identify supernatural God-level transformation and link it to a clear and concise discipleship process.
When we add serving the least into the mix of our passion for God’s Word, worship, and community, we take something already great and make it better. We seem to think discipleship is an agreement to knowledge instead of a commitment to a gospel that makes all things new.
I received an email the other day from one of the founding members of our church. His story is simple: an extremely successful businessman who’s done just about everything in life and has been radically changed by serving the least. He writes:
Just wanted to put words to what’s been going on in my life over the last few years and share it with you. You know that each time we do the homeless grill-out downtown, my post is at the front of the line handing out the tickets. I love it because I get to talk to everyone we serve.
In case you didn’t know, they call me “ticket-man.” They have called me that for a few years now. A few years of my own metamorphosis from “dude too busy to notice suffering” or “dude too quick to judge who deserves help” to “ticketman.” I hand out tickets so that we make sure we have enough hamburgers for everyone in line. I am no longer “dude who flies first-class to Sydney” or “dude having a drink at the top of the JW Marriott in Hong Kong”; just “ticket-man.” Those who were my age would remember David Byrne chopping lettuce on his arm to “Once in a Lifetime” singing, “You may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’ ”
That was me last week on a stinking hot Austin summer day, hugging a homeless guy I did not know wondering, “Well, how did I get here?” Something happens when you serve. Something you cannot control.
You start with all sorts of obstacles, fear, incompetence, and even a desire to avoid the hopelessness that occurs when you realize that you do not have the power within you to fix people.
Something changes and you stop seeing people and you see a person. Maybe even for a fleeting second you see a person through God’s eyes. And you see their heart and they see yours. And you see them see your heart and that is when you get it. Serving was never about them. Serving is about getting gripped in the heart by God. And he touches your heart through the ones you serve. I am not who I was. And it has nothing to do with anything I did. It is the heart connection to individuals as you serve with no agenda other than telling them, “I see you, you are a person and I accept you for who you are in this moment.” I am ticket-man, and serving has been transformational for me.
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Excerpted with permission from Barefoot Church by Brandon Hatmaker, copyright Zondervan.
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True discipleship requires action, not just knowledge. What are some ways you can actively serve others in your community? Join the conversation on our blog! We’d love to hear from you about discipleship and serving!