God’s Four-Letter Words
(Matthew 25: 31-46)
Give me some four-letter words that you associate with God and Jesus. I’ll give you a hint, the easy one is love. God is love. What are some others? A few I came up with were Hope, Help, Feed, Heal, Save, Cure, Free, Walk, Lead, Gift and Care. I’m sure there are others. Jesus uses us to tell people about the Hope that is in him. He instructed Peter to Feed his sheep. Through us, Jesus works to Heal the hurting and Cure those who are afflicted. We are there to Free those trapped in sin and to help them Walk in the light of his Love. We are charged with the Care of those who are weak and to Lead people to Jesus so they can accept the free Gift of salvation.
The four-letter word that I really want to talk to you about is Help. As disciples of Jesus Christ one of the greatest things we can give is ourselves as we stop to help those who are helpless and hopeless. Helping others is a commitment and is often more than we want to do at that moment in time. We can’t be bothered so we fall back on what it says in the Bible, “God helps those who help themselves.” After all, if they really wanted to all they have to do is to knuckle down and do it themselves. Unfortunately, there is no such verse in the Bible. According to a study done by the Barna Group, 8 in 10 Americans think that the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible. It is not.
Adam Hamilton in his book, Half Truths, God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say, explains that the phrase is sometimes used as a way of avoiding our obligations as Christians to help others, of doing our part to love our neighbors. The fact is, he points out, is that some people truly cannot help themselves. And for many others who find themselves trapped in poverty or struggling financially, self-help often isn’t nearly so simple as summoning the will and pulling themselves up by the bootstraps. Hamilton says that sometimes people are in a hole so deep that they can’t climb out without help. Sometimes people face challenges they don’t know how to overcome on their own, or they simply don’t have the resources to do it.
So, on the contrary, God does help those who can’t help themselves. Showing compassion and mercy for those who struggle is part of the very character of God. As Scripture reveals time and time again, God works through people using us has his instruments to change the world.
But where do we start? How do we know who really needs help? Where can we do the most good? We can and should debate the best ways of helping and not hurting, of creating independence and not dependence. We must be good stewards of our resources and our facilities. We must involve ourselves in missions that have an objective and a workable solution to the problems and issues. What is not debatable is our calling to help.
It is imperative that we, as a people, realize that sometimes we can’t help ourselves, not because we are poor or destitute or without resources but because we have descended too deeply into sin or despair. We’ve given up. We are without hope. We are helpless.
Often, all it takes to solve the problem is funding but we must be mindful that besides basic physical needs like food, clothing and shelter, people need acceptance, love and a sense of belonging. We need hope, peace, comfort, forgiveness, and interior strength. We need to know that our lives have worth. We need an understanding of our purpose in life so that we can pursue it and be fulfilled. We need grace. The essence of grace is that God does help those who cannot help themselves.
In The Character of a Methodist, John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist denomination, wrote “As he has time, he ‘does good unto all men;’ unto neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies: And that in every possible kind; not only to their bodies, by ‘feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those that are sick or in prison;’ but much more does he labour to do good to their souls, as the ability which God giveth; to awaken those that sleep in death; to bring those who are awakened to the atoning blood, that, ‘being justified by faith, they may have peace with God;’ and to provoke those who have peace with God to abound more in love and in good works. And he is willing to ‘spend and be spent herein,’ even ‘to be offered up on the sacrifice and service of their faith,’ so they may ‘all come unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
Bishop Ruben Job points out in his book, 40 Days with Wesley, that for John Wesley, Methodist life was marked by a deep and authentic personal piety that led to a broad and uncompromising social involvement. Methodists were known for their prayers and their commitment to the poor and disenfranchised.
Hamilton points out that there are times when people cannot make it on their own, and that this is when God prompts us to help. God lays his concerns for the helpless on our hearts. We then become the hands of God. We become God’s answer to someone else’s prayer, God’s instrument of grace.
For no other reason than it is the right and Christian thing to do, we must find ways to feed the hungry, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, to take care of the sick and to visit those who are in prison remembering that if we do it for the least of these brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, we are doing it for him.
Please join me in prayer.
Thanks be to God who helps those who work and pray. And, even more, thanks be to God who helps those, like all of us from time to time, who cannot help themselves. Show us the way, dear Lord, so that we can best serve those of your children who need help. Guide us to work in such a way that we do no harm to those who are already hurting and to create in them a sense of independence. Move us to do more than to just see to their physical needs, but to work in a way that shows acceptance and love and creates in them a sense of belonging and self-worth. Help us to instill in the lost an understanding of their purpose in life so that they may pursue it and be fulfilled. Use us to be that vehicle of grace that helps those who cannot help themselves. In the name of your most loving and compassionate son, Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.