By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40)
I can’t remember what grade it happens in, but somewhere in your elementary school journey, you learned about greater than or less than. (Don’t worry, there is no surprise math quiz at the end of this article.) Even though this is a mathematical concept, we don’t limit this idea to the sphere of math. We carry it into everyday life. We live in a world where we define people as greater than or less than. If we are going to be brutally honest with ourselves, there are those we would even say we are greater than, or at least better off than.
In Matthew 25, Jesus mentions people who fall into the category of the least of these. Clearly, by the world’s standards, these are less than. Yet, as much as this verse is about them, it is also about you and me. Jesus establishes a set of parameters that highlight the type of person you really are. It exposes the condition of your heart towards people and ultimately towards him.
Who Are the Least of These?
Earlier in Matthew 25, Jesus identifies who the least of these are.
“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)
Jesus chooses to identify with people who lack something. He even calls them brothers and sisters. These are unique family members because they all have a need.
Our society has become quite good at judging people who are in need, often blaming them for their condition. When we do this, it makes them feel less than others. This is especially true in a culture that tells you to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and celebrates those who have achieved massive success. The “pull yourself up” message becomes even louder if people have to overcome incredible odds to get there. Everyone loves to be associated with these types of people—they’re the winners, the ultimate “greater thans.”
Yet here, Jesus is not passing judgment on the least of these. He reminds us of those who don’t have, who may have nothing to offer and may be victims of their circumstances. They are also our brothers and sisters; we should welcome them and treat them like they are. Here is another article that tackles who are the least of these?
How Does Jesus Change How We See the Least of These?
The underlying message in this teaching from Jesus is more than just the least of these. They are central to the teaching, but Jesus directs his words to you and me. There will always be people in any society who need food, water, shelter, etc. The issue is how you view them. How do you respond to their need? Your answer to that concern will reveal what is inside you.
People who are hungry, sick, or imprisoned are often faceless and nameless. When they have no name, they become easy to overlook. Jesus doesn’t just give them a name; he puts his face and name on these people. He tells you how you treat them is how you treat him. The verse exposes the condition of our hearts towards others and Jesus himself. The more you ponder these words, the more sobering they become.
Why Does Serving the Least of These Matter so Much to Jesus?
One reason serving the least of these means so much to Jesus is that he did that in his own life. He assisted people in need throughout his ministry on earth.
However, his teaching goes beyond that. Guess who else was hungry, thirsty, naked, an outsider, sick, and in prison? You were. So was I. At one point, we were the least of these. Our sin separated us from God and kept us in prison with no hope of deliverance. How did Jesus respond? Did he leave us in that state and not care about us? No. He responded with compassion. Our condition moved him to where he had to do something about it.
Jesus left his throne in heaven and came to earth because he cared about you and me, the least of these. Philippians 2 reminds us that he laid aside his position and took on human flesh to redeem us.
When you care for the least of these, you do in the natural what Jesus did for you in the spiritual. You are paying forward the grace you have received from God toward another person. When you do this, you reflect on who Jesus is. Jesus didn’t have to die for us. He chose to because it showed how much he really loves us. When you remember his love and display it towards others, that shows how much you love him.
“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)
How Do We Care for the Least of These?
Caring for the least of these comes down to one thing: meeting people where they are. Melissa Henderson talks about this in her article on the least of these. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are responsible for sharing the gospel with people. However, the gospel is not just heard by the message we preach. People see it by the actions we take. Sometimes, before we can get to the gospel’s good news and address a person’s spiritual condition, we must deal with their physical one. If someone is hungry, before you preach to them, feed them. If they are sick or in prison, don’t just tell them Jesus loves them, you love them too. When you match the good news of the message of the gospel with actions that validate your genuine love and concern, you open the door for people to hear the message loud and clear.
Why hat Shows How We Are Treating the Least of These?
How you respond to the least of these speaks volumes about who you belong to. When Jesus talks about the least of these, he does so in a story about the judgment seat of Christ. Jesus gives a clear marker to tell who will inherit eternal life versus eternal punishment. The marker is how they treat the least of these. Jesus is not saying helping people in less fortunate situations will earn your salvation. However, if you don’t care about them, then maybe that will tell you everything you need to know about your relationship with Jesus Christ.
If the love of God has transformed your heart in Christ, then you can’t help but show compassion for those who are less than you because this is what Jesus did. If our heart reflects Christ’s heart, we should do the same thing. If you lack compassion, then it is time to examine your heart. Caring for the least of these is a measuring stick to see if God’s love dwells in your heart.
“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:20-21)
As I said before, the more you ponder these words, the more sobering they become.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. His most recent book is The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. Clarence is also committed to helping 10,000 people learn how to study the Bible and has just released his first Bible study course called Bible Study Basics. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.