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Point of Reference

    by Fred Price

Am I My Brother's Keeper?
Date Posted: February 3, 2012

Although this question was used by Cain to challenge God when He inquired as to his brother, Abel’s where-a-bouts (Genesis 4:9), it could go much deeper than that. Do we have a responsibility to care about and respond to our “brothers” who are in need? How do we define what help is and who deserves it? To what lengths should we be willing to go in ministry to others?

Some question whether Jesus marginalized the poor when he responded to a challenge concerning an admirer’s extravagant use of meager resources with, “The poor you will always have with you,…” Matthew 26:10-17 Which was not the case, especially when we consider Jesus’ expectations expressed to the rich young man who inquired of Him what he could do to be considered good enough for entry into heaven. “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:16-28 The leaders of the early church incorporating this principle into their community of believers, expounded upon by James most succinctly when he said, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27 Jesus specifically citing a number of other “target groups” for our attention and care; the hungry and thirsty, the stranger and those in need of adequate clothing, the sick and imprisoned. He then went on to imply that access to heaven may – at least in part – be contingent on our response to people such as these. (Matthew 25:31-46)

In fact, James pointedly asked, “What good is it… if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:14-17 He then challenges us to, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” James 2:18 Jesus himself assuring us that at his return, “…he will reward each person according to what he has done.” Matthew 16:27

This scripture obviously speaks to individual Christians and the church at large. (See Acts 24:17 & 1 Corinthians 16:1-4) But do they have any import for our nation in the difficulties and debates we face today? The obvious answer being yes. The next question being: How should a “Christian” nation define the needs of the less fortunate and respond to them?

Our country was literally built on the tenets of the Protestant Work Ethic, which fosters, “…respect (for) those who work hard among you,…” 1 Thessalonians 5:12 Which can at times be taken to extremes as we lose sight of God and his blessings and focus on our own accomplishments. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 at times misrepresented as a means of soothing our conscience when we evaluate the needs of others. What it says is: “If a man will not work, (as opposed to cannot work) he shall not eat.” Paul’s blunt assessment of those who either purposefully or negligently fail to “man up” and take responsibility for providing for their families being found in 1 Timothy 5:8; characterizing them as having, “…denied the faith” and being “worse than an unbeliever.” But does that mean he didn’t – and we shouldn’t – respond to those with legitimate needs? Absolutely not. The problem being how to decide who really “qualifies” for help. The debate centering on whose responsible for responding. Me? The church? Our government? None of the above has done a particularly good job so far, and quite frankly none is capable of doing it all; so I would think some combination of the three might be necessary.

These issues have gained prominence among the major industrialized nations, particularly the U.S. and the U.K., who have historically been focal points of wealth creation – even as the gap between those benefitting from that wealth and those who haven’t been positioned to do so has widened. When combined with the debt incurred by these world powers as a result of war, poorly managed government entitlement programs and the almost unprecedented plunge in global economics that has recently occurred, we have a recipe for disaster on a number of levels. In fact, the expectation for true economic recovery and job growth is so low that people everywhere are questioning whether our “system” even works anymore; and without the expectation that “something better” is possible for those who recognize it and work hard to achieve it, there has been a sense of loss as to who we are and what the future holds – if anything.

Check back next week for more concerning our responsibility to respond to others.

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Biography Information:

Fred Price - married (48 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.

Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker.  He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today.  Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.  

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