Helping Distressed People
Introduction: I wonder how many Christians with the ability to speak Spanish witness to the men outside of Home Depot. I know a few who complain about the fact that these men gather in the parking lot.
Without getting into immigration controversy, let me suggest that we have a responsibility to these men. I wonder what it’s like to leave your homeland and travel to a place without your family or those close to you. I wonder how difficult it is to avoid be taken advantage of or ripped off. It must be difficult for some of them.
Does the Word of God address this matter?
21 You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 22 You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. 23 If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; 24 and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.
1. Israel was not to mistreat or oppress the stranger since they experienced mistreatment and oppression when they were strangers in Egypt (v. 21).
Explanation: Strangers are people new to Israel – people from other countries. We call them immigrants today. People from other countries would not have known the ins and outs of Israel’s culture, monetary system, and so forth. They also would not have anyone to help them matriculate into society. The children of Israel might be tempted to take advantage of this situation, so God gave them a specific command in v. 21.
God reminds Israel of its own plight in Egypt. The experience of their fathers should serve as proper motivation to treat foreigners in an acceptable manner. Israel must not oppress foreigners with oppression they themselves suffered through.
God wanted Israel to treat the stranger in a welcoming and loving way.
34 The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
2. Israel was not to afflict widows and orphans. To do so incurred God’s wrath and judgment. This judgment would leave their own children fatherless and their wives widows (vv. 22-24).
Explanation: Widows and orphans lived precarious lives in ancient Israel. Widows no longer had their husbands to love, protect, and provide for them. It is difficult for us to understand how difficult this is because we live in a society in which people are well-cared for – more than that’s deserved. Fatherless children needed the same love, protection, and provision.
The neglect of widows and fatherless children kindled the burning wrath of God. Retribution was sure to follow if Israel was guilty of this sin. Those guilty are told that they, too, would leave their own children fatherless and their wives widows.
· God still loves the widow and the orphan today. We have a responsibility to be loving and caring – to be filled with compassion – when we see people like this in need.
· People who enter our country for a good education or to provide for their families need our compassion and love as well. We should remember that they may end up back in their own country one day with the Gospel we’ve shared with them.
· California is a unique place because of the diverse number of people groups that congregate and settle here. Many of these people live here for a bit and then return to their native homeland. This is a tremendous opportunity and privilege for us.
· As local churches grow, God may enable them provide housing, food, transportation, and language help for different nationalities – all for the purpose of leading them to the Lord Jesus Christ!
· If we are able to help the stranger among us, we should remember the NT principle of hospitality:
Hospitality – philoxenia; compound word (philo – fondness; love and xenia – stranger = fondness or love of strangers).
13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
2 Do not forget to entertain strangers (show hospitality toward them), for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.
· NASB – show hospitality
· Message – extend hospitality
· Amplified – sharing the comforts of your home; generous
Hospitality has the sense of showing benevolence outside of our normal circle of friends. Failure to show this type of love may lead to a stranger crying out to God. God will hear the cry of the afflicted stranger today just as He did in ancient Israel:
· Widows in congregations need proper attention and care. Friendship, provisions, and practical help are always needed and the people of God should provide it.
· Boys and girls who do not have fathers or mothers may find them right here within the church.
27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
5 A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation.
Since God is a father to the fatherless and a defender of widows, He expects the same from us.
25 If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest. 26 If you ever take your neighbor’s garment as a pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down. 27 For that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin. What will he sleep in? And it will be that when he cries to Me, I will hear, for I am gracious.
Explanation: Money lenders are notorious in Scripture for taking advantage of the poor man’s plight. Money was commonly lent out for the relief of poverty brought on my misfortune or debt. Taking interest from the misery of others was forbidden in Israel.
Receiving collateral for money lent was permitted; however, that was even regulated. The garment spoken of in vv. 26 and 27 was actually a cloak that kept one warm and protected on cold nights. The lender was to return it before the sun went down in order to show compassion on the person incurring the debt. Otherwise, he would have nothing to sleep in and he would cry out to God. God certainly would be moved and act on the debtor’s behalf.
1. God expects us to meet the needs of the poor. There may even be times when we provide an interest-free loan for those who are indeed poor. This seems very difficult to comprehend in such a rich country!
2. Note what Jesus says about a parallel situation:
34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.
· Lending money to needy people without interest may be a good thing, but Jesus taught that we should not hope to get back or hope for nothing in return. He spoke of enemies in this context! It’s one thing to lend and hope for nothing in return from a friend or a loved one, but an enemy?!
· We certainly need to show compassion toward the poor. There may be times that compassion and mercy takes the form of withholding money. If we know a person will use it to destroy themselves or their family, then obviously we must exercise discernment.
35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. 36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.
· When we do what Jesus calls us to do – hoping for nothing in return – our reward will be great. Just as God is kind to unthankful and evil people, we must be merciful as He is merciful.
· God has shown us great mercy. He has withheld what we truly deserve – start Gospel with God.
In 1980, while living in Illinois, Phyllis Williams and her family began housing immigrants for the next seven years – more specifically, they provided housing for 32 immigrants.
During the 80s, ‘boat people’ were fleeging from Cambodia and surrounding countries. Phyllis quit her teaching job and became involved. She said that refugees were literally being dumped anywhere.
When the sponsor for a Hmong family of six dropped out, Phyllis and her family stepped in. The Hmong are a people that lived in southern China and adjacent areas of Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Many of Hmong peple have emigrated to the US. The family Phyllis sheltered consisted of a widow and her five children.
They shared the Williams’ home for three months. Phyllis fed them and pantomimed for simple communication. When she found an Asian grocer, her house guests went shopping with her to point out items they recognized.
Because Phyllis and her family wanted to share the underlying reason for their hospitality--their love for Christ--most of the foreign guests attended church, too. Grateful for the temporary quarters but lonely for the fellowship of other Hmongs, the family eventually moved on. Today they live near Boulder, Colorado, and are active in a local Hmong Christian church.
The departure of the Hmong family made room for a stream of international wayfarers--Ethiopians, Cambodians, and a Laotian girl. That girl recently completed her college education and affectionately calls Phyllis and her husband, Edward, “Mom and Dad.”
Empty-nesters now, Phyllis and Edward keep in contact with their extended family through letters and visits. Phyllis admits she didn't grow up wanting to be a missionary, but she wouldn't trade her “home missions” experience for anything. Phyllis and her family were giving some strangers a start in a strange land. They were also reaching them for Christ!