Posted by: Kerry Spencer | January 4, 2009

The eternal significance of caring

Matthew 25 describes an awesome and terrifying scene. Jesus, the Son of Man, in all His glory, is seated on His throne, surrounded by the angels. From there He separates the people of all nations, “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (vs. 31-33). The separation, of course, is between the righteous – who inherit eternal life in the kingdom of God – and the condemned – who inherit eternal punishment in the eternal fire.

Now I am a firm believer that salvation is through faith and by God’s grace. We don’t earn it and we don’t deserve it. But Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross has bought our deliverance from the eternal punishment that we deserve. Now we need only trust in Him and repent from our sins in order to gain eternal life in His kingdom. That is my understanding of the Gospel. And that is why this passage in Matthew 25 puzzles, and sometimes, scares me.

In this passage, Jesus bases the separation of the righteous and the condemned on how they treated the needy. Those who fed the hungry, welcomed the strangers, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned were counted as righteous. Those who neglected the same . . . “went away into eternal punishment” (vs. 46). And what is even scarier, neither the righteous nor the condemned realized the importance of these encounters with the needy.

I have not changed my understanding of salvation based on this passage, but it does raise some vital questions. What is clear to me is that this passage illustrates the weighty importance of caring for the needy. Apparently the giving of drinks, meals, clothes, and visits can be of eternal significance. Some may find this out too late, but we must consider ourselves warned. As Christians, TODAY, we need to consider with extreme seriousness how we are loving our neighbors, especially the needy.

I will close with some words from the Apostle Paul on the subject: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

((for those who might be interested, a far from exhaustive list of verses on the importance of caring for the needy: Luke 10:25-27, Proverbs 14:21, 31, Matt. 6:2-4, Proverbs 28:17))

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