For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Titus 2: 11-14

Purification is hard to endure. Most of us do not like it all that much. We may think that we truly want to know God and to be in a relationship with Him through the Son, Jesus Christ, but when the reality of what that means to me is looking me in the face, I am no longer so certain or sure. It is not that I do not love Jesus or believe in the holy God of redemption, it is more that I am not fully committed and so yielded to His will for me and His path for my life in response to that will. So, living as a follower of Christ might seem to be a simple thing until the actual cost of doing this is counted; yet, God does ask me to face reality and to do that very thing. He then asks me to grant the Spirit access to all of the darkened corners of my heart and mind so that every aspect of who and what I have been can be reordered into those of a person who reflects Christ fully in the conduct of my life.

For make no mistake about this fact regarding the world where we live and the age that it is in, we do exist in lawless times. Listen to the dialogue of our day, consider the violence that is present in every corner of the globe, and contemplate how little of the bounty that we possess is being used to care for the millions upon millions of starving and homeless people that are present almost everywhere. This is not a time when the world’s heart is in any way in synch with Christ’s. This world is spinning ever further away from the gospel of grace, love, peace, and redemption that is the center of Jesus’ call and appeal to His followers. As we know Christ, we are to be the people who work to bring about changes in this world. When we listen to the Lord’s voice, He is speaking faith, courage, engagement, and hope to us, and He is saying to us that we are to go out into this world and touch its inhabitants with the healing hand of grace and mercy that is directly attached to Christ’s heart.

The purity that Christ leads us into is not one of separation from the world around us. Rather, it is a form of holiness that seeks to get down into the ragged mess that is life on this planet and that is willing to breathe in the foul air of its most desperate of places in order to hold up the heads of those who are oppressed, defeated, and alone. Christ’s righteousness has no space within it for the categorical rejection of people, and it does not grant to us the right or the authority to make decisions regarding the worthiness or the worth of others. We are to love and to care for all of the people of our world without regard to any consideration beyond that of following Christ and of doing the sorts of things that He did. The good works that we are called to do are real and tangible, they also involve on-going and unceasing prayer, they require sacrifice, and they will bring about personal pain, suffering, and loss. Yet, Christ is committed to providing us with the strength, direction, and courage to go out and to do what He is calling each of us to do. His power and heart for redemption provide the zeal that keeps us going through dark days and hard times as Christ leads His people into the holy work of loving others.     

Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,

   but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.

Proverbs 14: 21

The people who live near us are not always nice and pleasant to be around. In fact, they can be utterly nasty and difficult. So, when the concept of neighbor is expanded to include the much wider range of locality that God tends to place into that word by way of meaning, the prospects for being required to engage with people who cause me anxiety, anger, or even who invoke hatred is greatly increased. But Solomon was not finished there when he set down these words of wisdom for the ages to come. He jumps from people who live in some form of proximity to us to the inclusion of others who have little to no economic means, the poor. Although any one of us may not have financial resources that place us among the elite of our world, most of us are also not living at the level wherein meals are doubtful and shelter is not even a dream that we can entertain. Yet, there are large numbers of people who, for various and often complex reasons, exist well below the governmentally defines poverty line.

These poor are everywhere in the world. There is really no culture or location that does not have them in its midst. This has been true for most of the earth’s history, too. In this simple, proverbial statement, the poor of the world are transferred from the realm of those who exist out there away from my door and they are brought into my front yard. Thus, they are defined as people that I need to care about at the level of individuals who have a story to tell and whose lives have an impact upon my own. There is no longer any escaping a certain responsibility to them that is placed upon me by God. Even if society might turn away from them, governments may try to regulate their coming and going, and the world attempt to deny them the basic dignity of recognition as God’s own beloved children, God does not grant His people with the right to think and to act in these ways.

We are to open our doors to our neighbors and to seek to know and to understand them. In so doing, we have the best opportunity to present Christ and His gospel of redemption to them. We are also made vulnerable and our personal strength and capacity to care for others is severely tested in the process of entertaining these neighbors. Yet, these are also times when we are taken ever deeper into our faith in God and dependence upon Him as the resource that we call upon when we reach the end of ourselves. Now, Christ adds to the mix of people who fill up the neighborhood where we dwell with the poor, the disadvantaged, the homeless, and the troubled people of our world, and He tells us to treat them as we do our neighbors. We are to look them in the eye, reach out with the hand of fellowship and care, and grant them the dignity that is their right as God’s creation. Christ loves these people greatly, and He calls upon each of us who follow Him to do the same.

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his maker,

   but he who is generous to the needy honors him.

Proverbs 14: 31