Before I was a Christian, I rarely thought about God or the church. However, I did have an idea of what I thought churches should do. Like anyone growing up under the skirts of television, my perception was shaped by how churches were portrayed on it. In that perception, churches were a bastion of hope for those without it. That same perception said that they fed and clothed the poor and hungry. 

Imagine my surprise when I became a Christian and discovered that churches didn’t see the poor and hungry being part of their mission. At least, I learned, not the poor and hungry who weren’t Christian. I heard such things as “We’re not a church like that. There are other churches where people can go for those things.” Having spent most of my life in Santa Barbara, California, surrounded by opulence contrasted by the homeless, I found such things difficult to comprehend. More so from churches in the heart of Santa Barbara.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus talks about the sheep and the goats. The sheep are those who will be allowed to enter Heaven at the end of the age, while the goats are those who will not. Jesus has this to say to the sheep.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Matthew 25:35-36 (NIV)

On the other hand, the goats are told that they didn’t do those things, so they’re going to hell. 

Surely, we might think, Jesus is telling us that we should help the hungry and thirsty, be kind to strangers, clothe the naked, look after the sick, and visit people in prison. It would also seem like these are requirements for salvation since the goats didn’t do any of those things and were sent to hell. 

Before I continue with Matthew, let’s consider what the Lord said to the people in Isaiah.

In Isaiah, the Lord confronts the Israelites about fasting. The Israelites have been fasting and complaining to the Lord that he hadn’t taken notice. The Lord points out that when they fast, they quarrel and bicker amongst themselves, so the Lord asks them these questions:

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Isaiah 58:5 (NIV)

Instead of fasting as they have done, the Lord presents the people with a different idea about fasting.

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (emphasis added).

Isaiah 58:6-7 (NIV)

The problem with the Israelites’ fast was that they took one day to “honor” the Lord. Still, even in one day, they did whatever they wanted. They treated the fast as just any other day. Hence, the question in verse 6. The Lord isn’t telling the Israelites they are to fast from food and such for a single day. Instead, they are to turn away from their selfish desires “to set the oppressed free and break every yoke” every day. Furthermore, when they see their own “flesh and blood” homeless, naked, and downtrodden, they are to care for them. The “fast” the Lord presents is one of selflessness instead of the fast the Israelites have chosen that is still selfish.

We gain further insight into the need to care for those of the same “flesh and blood” from Paul. 

The Apostle Paul gives us further insight into how Christians were divided in those times. 

for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk (emphasis added).

1 Corinthians 11:21 (NIV)

Paul gives this description of the life of the missionary in 1 Corinthians. 

To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.

1 Corinthians 4:11 (NIV)

Jesus gives us this insight into how we are to treat one another. 

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:35 (NIV)

In Mark, Jesus gives us this promise about those who help other Christians. 

Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

Mark 9:41 (NIV)

Therefore, the story of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46 is about Christians helping other Christians. We do those things because we love one another. It’s not about helping those outside the church, nor does it tell us what we need to do to be saved. We are saved by faith and not by works. 

Given all of this, the question remains. Should the church help people (who are not Christian)? Yes, without a doubt. I see the primary help that every church, indeed, every Christian, should provide is found in the Lord’s edict to the Israelites here from what we’ve looked at already.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (emphasis added)

Isaiah 58:6 (NIV)

The bastion of hope I perceived the church to be before I was a Christian was a correct perception. However, the church I thought of before becoming a Christian isn’t the building people go to on Sundays. No, the church is the body of Christ made up of you and me. As for us, we should love our neighbors as ourselves, providing whatever aid we can in these perilous times. 

Do you know God? God knows you, and he loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, and he wants you to know him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, freed from death, and live eternally with him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away.

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe that you died on the cross, were buried, and on the third day, God the Father raised you from the dead. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart and receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.