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How to be a messenger of good news to the poor
The bible clearly and unequivocally shows that God cares for the poor (Exodus 22:23; Deuteronomy 10:17-19; 24:14-15; Isaiah 41:17). Because of that attribute of God, we too, are commanded to show compassion and care for the poor (Leviticus 23:22; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 22:15-16; Proverbs 14:31).
While the bible does not categorize poverty, society distinguishes between two types – a relevant distinction because the two pose different challenges and call for different responses.
The first is generational poverty where an individual or family comes from three or more generations in poverty. The second is situational poverty which results from events or situations that may be temporary, for example natural disasters, death of a family member, loss of employment or an illness..
One of the main causes of poverty is injustice in its various forms. The scriptures speak very clearly and unequivocally against injustice, sometimes referring to it as unrighteousness. Another cause is economics, which can also be looked at as part of injustice.
There is a third cause which may not play as significant a role in the cause of poverty as the two, but, nevertheless, society – or some segment of it – perceive it to be the major cause, and that is personal responsibility, or irresponsibility. As a result of this perception the poor are blamed for their situation. In addition, they are held solely responsible for getting themselves out of the situation they put themselves in!
In our response – in the CARE (Compassion, Action, Relief, Elimination) modality, we will examine four areas of action: Social justice, Economics, Evangelism, Relationships (SEER). Randomly, we begin with evangelism.
The word evangelism does not appear, as such, in the bible. Nevertheless, it is a biblical concept and clearly stipulated therein. In its widest implications, it does, as we will see, encompass principles beyond scriptures. It is only in its narrowest – a view taken by some Christian traditions – that it becomes restrictive to the Christian message only.
Evangelism comes from the Greek word, euangelion which means a proclamation. Also in Greek, the person who does the proclamation is euangelos. One of evangelism's special or unique attributes is its proclamation. The second attribute is that of good news. Hence, in New Testament times euangelion came to mean the proclamation or preaching of the good news or the Gospel.
Even before the New Testament, good news was a familiar term. In the Roman Empire, news of military victory was proclaimed as good news. Similarly, the birth of an emperor's heir was proclaimed as good news.
Good news in the Old Testament:
There is wide proclamation of good news or good tidings in the Hebrew bible, for example in 1 Samuel 31:9; Psalm 96: 2-3; and Isaiah 40:9; 52:7. In 2 Samuel 18:19-31; 2 Kings 7:9; and Psalm 68:11 good news spreads quickly. Similarly, in 2 Samuel 1:20; Psalm 96:11-12; Isaiah 52:7-9 and Jeremiah 20:15 the good news is proclaimed and received with joy. Thus, the combination of good news and proclamation is attested to in the Hebrew Bible.
Good News in the New Testament:
In the New Testament, Isaiah 61 takes a particularly significant meaning when Jesus, in Luke 4:16-21 reads it in the synagogue in Nazareth and appropriates it to his ministry. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor (to preach, according to some translations) to proclaim release to the captives...to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor..."
The writers of the four gospels are the exemplary euangeloi, or Evangelists and the message they proclaim, the gospel, is the good news.. Every believer, though, every Christian, is charged with the proclamation of the gospel. In other words, evangelism is the prerequisite of every Christian and every believer.
While this principle is universally accepted by Christians, how it is to be practiced differs among the different Christian traditions.
The two sides of evangelism:
Some Christian traditions, for example those of the Evangelical persuasion, emphasize, almost exclusively, the dictionary definition of evangelism.
This is how Dictionary.com defines it: "The preaching or promulgation of the gospel; the work of an evangelist; missionary zeal, purpose, or activity". The Holman Bible Dictionary defines evangelism as "the proclaiming of the Christian Gospel.". It further defines evangelist - as a specialized term - as "each of the authors of the four Gospels in the New Testament..."
In practice, therefore – which is the main interest of this study – evangelism, from the "Evangelical" perspective, stresses personal salvation, or personal relationship with Christ. It is from this vintage point that preaching takes precedent; and preaching for the purpose of "winning souls" if you like, for Christ.
There is nothing wrong with this whatsoever, especially if we are talking about people who are not hungry or homeless or struggling to provide for themselves and their families. Those who are materially blessed need to be constantly reminded of the source and foundation of true richness; otherwise idolatry, apathy, disbelief and even egotism may prevail.
reads, "Two things I ask of you;...Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full and deny you, and say, 'Who is the Lord?' or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God".
This is very true today, that the immediate danger for the poor is criminal activity – a good percent of those in prison and jail are poor. It is not an excuse for criminal behavior; but poverty makes a person vulnerable. (Note too, that the poor suffer disproportionately in times of natural disasters).
writes, "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" (2:15-16).
Evangelism, therefore, as far as the poor are concerned, involves far beyond the proclamation of the good news; or rather, the proclamation must include the alleviation of physical suffering.
That was certainly Jesus' approach throughout his ministry. He restored sight to the blind, cured the sick,raised the dead, fed the hungry, comforted the bereaved and forgave sinners.
This other side of evangelism is sometimes viewed with suspicion by those in the "Evangelical" movement and even the conservative hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church for fear of social justice activism. Ironically, even Jesus was suspected of activism.
The proclamation of the Good News, or evangelism, to the poor must be accompanied by actions that alleviate physical suffering. The immediate pressing physical needs must be met, at least while the good news is proclaimed. Thus, evangelism must combine proclamation and action as Jesus demonstrated in his ministry and James 2:1-16 illustrates so powerfully.