NOTE: I have left out a very important passage that favors my position. In Matthew 13:53-58 we read that Jesus refuses to do "many mighty works" in his own country, his own land, Nazareth. Why? Verse 58 tells us why, "Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief." Another example of Jesus refusing to heal and minister to those who were in need because of their unbelief and because Jesus was sent by God to only minister to the lost sheep in the house of Israel, the elect.
From Scripture, it is clear that we are commanded to serve the poor. Undoubtedly, one thing that the church does a lot of is “mercy ministry” type work. Yet I have concerns about the intentions and purposes of many in the church who are so passionate and doing so much when it comes to ministering to the poor. I think Scripture is clear that first priority goes to the Christian that is in need, not the unbeliever. Much emphasis is placed on feeding the poor, serving the poor, but it seems to almost exclusively have in mind unbelievers that are poor and needy. This is not consistent with Scripture, but what’s worse is that much ministry that goes to feeding the poor unbelievers is devoid of the gospel, which is the true reason why we are to minister to the poor that are unbelievers.
The attitude, whether it is actually stated or not, seems to be that Jesus had compassion on the poor because they were poor, Jesus healed and gave sight to the blind and fed the 5,000 simply because people being needy is an evil and meeting people’s needs is a righteous cause in and of itself. This I dispute, and in the following paragraphs I hope to offer verses that show why.
Since most people appeal to the healings and miracles of Jesus as their basis for feeding poor people that are unbelievers, I want to first look at what exactly Jesus was doing, why He was doing it, and whom He chose to do it for, and whom He refused to heal.
In Matthew 15:32 we have the feeding of the four thousand, not to be confused with the feeding of the 5,000 found in Matthew 14. Here Jesus explicitly states why He has compassion on the multitude and feeds them. “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” So we see several things here. First, that it took Jesus three days before He even decided to feed them. Secondly, we see that Jesus fed them precisely because they were with Him for three days. In other words, Jesus pitied and had compassion on these people because they believed in Him, they were following Him, they were listening to Him preach and teach for three days without food! So this passage cannot be used to support the idea that we are to feed the poor simply because feeding the unbelieving poor in and of itself is a command, or righteous, or what Jesus did. Jesus did not feed the poor or heal the poor because they were poor and He thought that was bad, He had different motives altogether.
Some may appeal to Matthew 25:35-46. Indeed whole movements seem to be built based on this passage, some going so far as to say that the gospel is meeting people’s physical needs, and righteousness is feeding the poor, making sure people have clean water to drink, and combating diseases like cancer and AIDS. But exactly who is Jesus saying to clothe and visit and feed and give water too? Does Jesus not make it clear in verse 40? “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” Here we see that Jesus is referring to His brethren, the elect. What is ironic is many churches neglect the brethren in favor of feeding unbelievers as a command in and of itself, without even
preaching the true gospel, or at the very least pushing the gospel to the backburner.
Let’s go back to Matthew 15. This is an incredibly important passage for the case I am making. Matthew 15:21-28 lays out this episode where a Gentile woman desires Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter. If I did today what Jesus did then, many would seriously doubt my salvation. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore Jesus’ response. In verse 23, we read that Jesus “answered her not a word.” Jesus was ignoring her, pretending she wasn’t even there. He was giving her the cold shoulder. Yet the Gentile woman persisted, crying out to Jesus “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon possessed.” Her persistence even caused the disciples to urge Jesus to “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” This is when we read that Jesus finally answered and said,
“I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Jesus, at this point, refused to heal this Gentile’s daughter. Why? Because God’s will wasn’t for Jesus to heal anyone except His sheep, the elect. But This Gentile would not give up. In verse 25 she worships Him and says, “Lord, help me!” Yet again Jesus refuses and answers, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”
Now Jesus has just called this woman a dog. And in biblical times, dogs were not pets; they were outcasts, considered shady and unclean. Surely if I, or anyone who professed to be a Christian took this attitude today we would be considered mean-spirited and, without a doubt, un-Christlike. Yet it is Christ Himself who is saying this and doing this.
This Gentile, even after being called a dog, still persisted. She responds saying, “Yes Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” Now Jesus saw that this woman had faith. Just as Jesus had compassion on the 4,000 because of their faith, it is now at this point that Jesus is moved with compassion toward this woman, because of her faith. And this is precisely the reaction we get from Jesus, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed right then.
Two things that need to be pointed out from this episode. First, we see that Jesus was sent only to minister to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (v. 24), which means that God’s will was for Jesus to minister only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Secondly, Jesus did His healings and miracles to those who showed faith in Him first, not to any random needy person on the street. Passages such as Matthew 14:34-36 make this clear. It is here that we see that men brought the sick to Him and the sick begged to touch only the hem of His garment. “And as many as touched it were made well.” Why? Because they had faith. And they had faith because they were of the elect of God. Again we see that Jesus came to heal His sheep, the elect of God, not those who were outside of the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Further, in passages such as Matthew 12:15 and others we find that Jesus again is healing those who are following Him, yet He warns them not to tell others that He is healing them. And in Matthew 10:40-42 we again see that Jesus is speaking of giving water to prophets, or men of God, not unbelievers. The point of this passage is that one who receives a prophet, a man of God, also receives Christ and the Father, and one who receives a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. Here Jesus is encouraging us to minister and to meet the needs of God’s people, for that is what He has called us to do.
Now I want to focus in on Matthew 9. Here we see in verses 2-6 that Jesus forgives the sin of a paralytic only after he sees his faith and the faith of the men who brought him. Notice also that Jesus forgave the paralytic of his sins, and at this point, there is no indication that He is going to cause him to be able to walk again. Yet the scribes said that Jesus was blaspheming because He was claiming to be able to forgive sins. But it is at this point, after Jesus knows the thoughts of the scribes, that He says “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”- then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house” And he arose and departed to his house.”
So in that episode we see Jesus first forgives a man of his sins because of his faith, and then enables him to walk to show to the scribes and all around him that He indeed is the Son of God and has the authority to forgive sins; for who but God can cause the blind to see and the lame to walk? So we see that one of the main purposes of Jesus’ healing and ministering was to prove that He indeed was God and therefore had the authority and capability of forgiving sins.
Again in Matthew 9 we see that Jesus heals two blind men, but only after asking them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” And their responding yes. He says in verse 29 “According to your faith let it be to you” and then in verse 30 we see something new. There He says, “See that no one knows it.” Jesus says this repeatedly in other passages of Scripture. After He has privately healed a handful of people He tells them not to tell others about what He has done. Why is this? This is because Jesus’ purpose isn’t to heal people, His purpose is to preach the gospel and minister to the needs of the elect, the lost sheep of the house of Israel. When Jesus did heal, His purpose was to prove that He indeed was the Son of God and thus had the authority to forgive sins, and He also healed and fed and ministered to the elect, those who were believers, those who tarried with Him for days or showed their faith by struggling to reach Him and begging Him to heal them.
In Matthew 8:4 we see what some call the “messianic secret.” In verse 4 Jesus tells a leper that He has just cleansed to not tell anyone that He cleansed him. Jesus does this repeatedly in other passages (9:30, 12:16, 16:20, 17:9) as well. Jesus was going out of His way to make it clear that His purpose wasn’t to heal sick people but to show that He came to save His sheep, the elect, from their sins.
Now let us examine another passage from Matthew 11. In verse 5 Jesus says “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” This passage is most important because in context of the first four verses we see that John the Baptist (who was currently in prison) sent some of his followers to Christ to find out if indeed Jesus was the Christ the Son of God, or someone else. And Jesus’ reply was verse 5. In other words, Jesus was saying that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear as proof that He was the Christ. Then He says that the poor have the gospel preached to them. NOTICE, Jesus did NOT say the poor are fed. Jesus’ purpose was to preach the gospel, feeding the poor wasn’t even mentioned because Jesus had no interest in feeding the poor, except for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, the elect.
Some may still refuse to believe that Scripture teaches that Jesus only healed and fed the elect, but the passage from Luke 10:8-12 should remove all doubt. Here Jesus is sending out the seventy to preach the gospel and heal the sick in all the cities that Jesus Himself was about to go. Jesus needed more laborers for the harvesting of the elect. But notice what verses 8-12 say:
“Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. 9 And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us[b] we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’ 12 But[c] I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city.”
Notice the order here. Jesus says to heal the sick in cities that FIRST receive them. Then, Jesus says that whatever city the seventy enter where they are not received, they are to leave. It would appear that no healings were to be done in a city that rejected the seventy. Even if we say that, upon entering the city the seventy did a few miracles and healed a few people, the people that they did heal would have to be people that did express faith, for again we see that Jesus only healed those who first had faith in Him.
To summarize, we now see that Jesus was healing the sick and casting out demons for the purpose of demonstrating His power and authority, proving He was the Son of God who had come to take away the sins of His people. We see that Jesus refused to heal those who did not show faith and came only to minister to the needs of the house of Israel, the elect. We even see that Jesus told those whom He healed not to tell others that He had healed them. What else can we conclude but that Jesus Christ purpose was not to heal and feed poor unbelievers but to bring to faith the elect and to heal, clothe, and feed them as a foreshadowing of how He would cleanse them with His blood, heal them by His wounds suffered for their sins on the cross, and clothe them in His perfect, sinless righteousness so they can be counted as righteous by God and be received up in glory?
Now that I have shown Christ’s true purposes for healing and feeding, the Church needs to examine herself and be sure that their “mercy ministries” are working towards the same goal, the same end that Christ was. It is my belief that some, if not many, mercy ministries and those that work in them misunderstand the purpose of ministering to the poor and needy to the point that they are actually doing what Christ went out of His way to avoid- they are feeding the poor just for the sake of feeding the poor. This was never the purpose of Christ, and it was never the purpose that we were called to. Jesus said, “the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Jesus sent the seventy out to preach the gospel and to only heal and minister to the needs of those who were elect. The cities that rejected the seventy were to be told of the coming judgment and not to be ministered to.
My concern is that many are working to feed the poor because they think Jesus was concerned that the poor be fed just so that they would not be hungry or sick or needy. My concern is that many think starving and sick people don’t deserve to be starving and hungry but actually deserve to be fed and have their physical ailments treated and cured. My concern is that those who believe starving and sick people deserve to have their physical needs met will likewise think that they deserve to have their spiritual needs met, and because of this they will never preach the true gospel, the gospel of grace, because grace by definition is undeserved. If sinners deserve grace, they cannot receive it.
Now none of this is to say that we shouldn’t minister to poor people who are unbelievers. I am not saying that we are to ignore poor people that are unbelievers. I do however believe that our priority to unbelievers that happen to be poor or sick is the same as to any other unbeliever, and that is to preach the gospel. That is what Jesus said and commanded, and that is what we are to follow. Mercy ministries need to be focused on the gospel when it comes to ministering to the poor and needy and sick, its focus and focus of purpose should NOT be on feeding them or curing them of their physical ailments. This is not a contradiction, this is what Scripture teaches! A mercy ministry that spends 90 percent of its time on meeting physical needs and only 10 percent of its time on spiritual needs is hardly worthy of being called a mercy ministry, much less a Christian organization. The percentage should be flipped, a mercy ministry that is truly Christian and is truly striving to obey Christ will focus the vast majority of its energies and effots and monies and planning in preaching the gospel to the sick and needy, because the gospel, salvation, is their true need. No, I am not saying a mercy ministry altogether ignores the physical needs of those to whom it is ministering, but that is not its priority, and that ultimately is not its purpose. Meeting the physical needs is a means to carry out the true purpose of a mercy ministry, which is the preaching of the gospel, but meeting physical needs is not an end of itself or the purpose of itself, yet many mercy ministries act and operate as if it is so.