“Least of these” ≠ “unsaved”

Least of These BannerI felt it was necessary to address a common misconception that is brought up in the church these days. The thing that is so dangerous about it is that we use religious language and inferences of Bible verses, but we do it in a way that gives us a dangerously inaccurate perception of the people we interact with.
We use the language of “Least of these” a lot in the church, especially when we are talking about “ministry” and “service.” This is not bad wording as it’s the language Jesus used when he told the Sheep in a parable why they were allowed to enter into His kingdom:
“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Primarly we say the “Least of these” when refer to people in need, whether that be the homeless, poor, low-income, etc. This seems like a good interpretation since Jesus himself describes the least of these as people with real physical needs: Hungry, Thirsty, Needing clothing, Sick, in Prison.
I think having concern in the church about the “least of these” is an extremely important and worthwhile use of our time. In fact it appears to be the longest and most direct words of Jesus about Heaven and Hell, which seems like it should get some attention in our after-life focused churches. (I met a guy in Atlanta who had a t-shirt with a picture of Jesus on it with the title: Angry Jesus and the quote: FEED THE POOR OR GO TO HELL! which seems like a pretty good paraphrase of Matthew 25 if you ask me.)

The misconception, the danger, and the wayward understanding I hear way too often in the church is an equating of the “Least of these” as “unsaved.” No where in the Matthew 25-where our language of the “least of these” comes from- is there any mention or inference that the people whom the sheep provided for where somehow “unsaved.” If anything Jesus says they are “brothers of mine,” implying they are part of the kingdom if they are anything.
Yet, in our churches today we talk about “ministries” and we tie so closely the idea of providing for folks physical needs with that of “saving people.” We create this idea that when you go to the soup kitchen you need to “tell people about Jesus,” as if they are unsaved, unchurched, and in need of your gospel. Let me make clear, there are a lot of people who need to know the love of Jesus, but there are just as many in the church pews and suburbs around you as there are in the homeless shelters and housing projects. Just because someone can’t make ends meet to put a roof over their head does not mean they some how do not know God or haven’t experienced the Holy Spirit.

We need to stop treating the “least of these” as “unsaved” and start treating them like the sister’s and brother’s in Christ that they are, and even more treating them as the Kings and Queens that they are, since according to Jesus, “Their’s is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Conclusion: Don’t stop the soup kitchen and homeless shelters, we need to continue providing for our sibling. If anything we probably need to step it up a couple notches since the most tangible way you can interact with Jesus nowadays is not in a church service or a song, it’s feeding him and clothing him (“When I was hungry you gave me something to eat.”).
What we need to do is stop treating “service” projects as some sort of charity, hand-out, that gives us the jollies, as if we are stepping down from our place of superiority to help these helpless people (Cause that is straight-up garbage).

3 thoughts on ““Least of these” ≠ “unsaved””

  1. I really agree with what you say in this post. In fact, John Wesley agreed that if you (we) do not feed the poor etc, we are in direct violation of God’s salvation, and are in fact unsaved. The poor are right next to us in church every Sunday and I think Jesus would like us to “practice” on feeding (ah…real food, not spiritual food) them before we pat ourselves on the back for feeding someone homeless.

    Thanks Ben F. for leading me here!

  2. Heidi,

    I emailed you for clarification because I think I might disagree a little. What I do agree with is the idea of caring for those in the “church”, but I think we need to expand our view of what church means. The body of believers does not know denominational or physical boundaries. Our brothers and sisters in Christ walk by churches and homes everyday with no place to live, our brothers and sisters starve to death across the globe with nothing to eat.

  3. Hey Ariah, I know this is an old post…I was looking for something about I had read last year about Thanksgiving and dividing up food for people according to where they lived in the world and the percentage of the world’s population that they represent. For example if you had ten people at your dinner, 2 would represent Americans and get to eat all they could put on their plates. 4 would get to have a piece of bread and some beans and eat on a plate with now silverware. Another 4 would get bread only in their hands and have to sit on the floor…it was something like that, didn’t know if you knew where I could find a write up about that. I already checked with Sam and Cool People Care and he wasn’t familiar with it. Anyway, I found this least of these post. Last night my neighbor and I were discussing this. We’ve each had stuff stolen from our yards in the last week. He works for an agency that provides care and support for mentally and physically disabled. I teach 4,5,6 graders in an urban school. We live and work with the least of these. We began talking about our arrogant position on this verse and how we think we are to be Jesus to these people. But that’s not what he seems to be saying. He seems to be saying that these people are Him. And like you mentioned, in the Kingdom, they are the greatest. This completely changes my response to the guy who took the spare tire off the back of our car, (Jesus took our spare tire) and the kids I work with everyday (I spend my days with 25 Jesus’s) Do I love them? It sure flips the perspective around from me being the “greatest” and serving the least, to me being the least and having an opportunity to humbly love the greatest. I miss interacting with you and Bryan on a more regular basis! I hope to renew conversation more soon.

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