Why Feed the Hungry?
KS: What biblical connection do you see between caring for the hungry and the gospel?
MD: The most obvious passage that comes to mind is in Matthew 25: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. …Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?’ …The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’” (vv. 34–35, 37, 40). Also Proverbs 25:21: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.”
The Gospels reveal that a significant portion of the Lord’s ministry was meeting physical needs of people such as hunger, thirst, and sickness. He met many of those needs unconditionally, but He always addressed the spiritual needs of the people as well. Meeting basic human needs seems to be a very significant part of ministry throughout God’s Word.
It is interesting that we are to feed not only our brothers and sisters but also our enemies. Our visible actions toward others are just as important as our words.
KS: How would you answer those who call such work “the social gospel” and relate it to the thinking of liberal theologians?
MD: James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James does not say that pure and faultless religion is “witnessing” to orphans and widows. He uses the word that means “to look after.” We reflect genuine Christianity when our faith drives us to care for others’ physical needs. This does not preclude the need to present the gospel, but our actions validate the reality of our message.
James 2:14–16 says, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has not deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”
To me, providing for the physical needs and spiritual needs of people is inseparable. I cannot genuinely love people and share only the gospel without also addressing their physical needs. Sharing the gospel is not just a task or ministry objective; it is also an expression of agape love for a person—the whole person—body, soul, and spirit. Agape love is the foundation of Christianity as expressed in Christ’s ultimate sacrifice. His own life is a testimony of providing for the physical and spiritual needs of others because of His love for them. Can we do anything less?
KS: What parallels do you see between physical and spiritual hunger?
MD: The body reacts physically to the lack of food and water and craves nutrition to survive. If the body does not get food and water, it experiences a painful death. The spiritual “body” is similar. Each person has an intuitive need for a relationship with God, and the soul is incomplete without it. The one who does not develop a relationship with Christ experiences a painful death.
KS: How can the average Christian make a difference regarding world hunger?
MD: Opportunities abound—it is just a matter of awareness, desire, and action. Some options are prayer, volunteering, providing financial support, or giving in-kind gifts. Almost every community has food programs, and many ministries address this issue internationally. Research the opportunities in your community and internationally through the Internet, your local church, or fellow believers. Choosing the manner in which you serve should be a matter of prayer and intentional personal and family ministry planning. Helping “the least of these” must be a life ministry—not just something one does at Christmas and Thanksgiving. It is an expression of who we are as believers and the fruit of the sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ. As James wrote, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (2:18).
Kelley Mathews (ThM, 2000) is coauthor of several books, including New Doors in Ministry to Women.