One of the essential characteristics of a truly transformative group is the ability to shape culture. As a group grows in obedience to Christ, it will work in the world around it, impacting lives, homes, and whole communities. But the “growing in obedience” part can be a battle. Loving the world like Jesus does and changing the world for Jesus can feel a lot like work. This is especially true when it comes to caring for the poor. In a bootstrap-boosting culture that preaches “make something of yourself,” compassion for the needy is a rarity. But Proverbs 14:31 and many other passages in Scripture tell us to be generous to the needy. A powerful way to lead your group to love the poor is to look to Genesis and help them see what they have in common with the needy around them.
1. Rich and poor share a common beginning.
Everyone, rich or poor, shares a common beginning that was very good. Genesis 1:27-31 teaches that incredible things were intended for the human race. We were made in the image of God. We were blessed by God to be fruitful and multiply. We were made to enjoy and hold dominion over creation. The default mode of humanity was to flourish, be fruitful, and know peace. Humanity was not divided according to wealth. There was God, His good gifts, and His plan for us to rule and thrive together.
Because of our beginning, no one you meet is merely a homeless person on the corner or a single mom with two jobs, but someone who lost paradise. Every needy person your group serves could have had dominion over the earth. He or she should have been as a king or queen. But they aren’t, and neither are you.
2. Rich and poor share a common brokenness.
Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden tree. Sin entered the world, and our very good beginning was ruined. What was made to flourish would wither. What was made to be fruitful would be sterile. What was once peaceful would be turbulent. We know this from experience. We are in fractured relationships with creation, other people, our own bodies, and with God. All of us, rich or poor, face tornadoes, sinkholes, divorce, cancer, and death.
That rich and poor share a common brokenness means we are all poor. In an attempt to repair this brokenness on their own, the rich collect money and stuff and refuse to give to those in need, while the poor grow bitter in their attitude toward the rich and struggle with despair. Whatever we have or don’t have doesn’t compare to the paradise both rich and poor lost in their brokenness. We long to flourish. We long to be fruitful. We long for peace. But our hope cannot be in wealth.
3. Rich and poor share a common hope.
Rich and poor share a common beginning and a common brokenness, but they also share a common hope: Jesus. When Adam and Eve sensed their brokenness, they immediately tried to cover their shame. We’ve never stopped trying. But God came to them, and though their sin had broken everything, He killed an animal and covered them with its skin. In doing so, He foreshadowed that a sacrifice could restore broken people. In giving them clothes, He didn’t give restoration, but He gave the hope of restoration. Paradise was lost. Sin destroyed everything it touched, but God was letting us know He did not intend to leave His people in the brokenness.
He knew before He drove them out that He would send Jesus and that Jesus would restore the broken. Jesus would make things flourish. Jesus would make things fruitful. Jesus would restore peace. Jesus would be the ultimate lover of the poor who turned the needy into kings. And all of us, rich or poor, can know the hope getting back the life we lost through Jesus.
So everyone you see and everyone your group considers serving is much more than just a service project. He or she has lost paradise, as have you. He or she is broken as thoroughly as you are. And he or she may one day rule the world with Christ if they give their broken lives to Him.
Help your group see the needy in light of what you have in common, and you can be what God uses to bring hope back in their lives.
Brandon Hiltibidal is a former church planter and multi-site pastor, and he is now part of the Groups Ministry team at Lifeway Christian Resources. He and his wife have two little girls. You can read about his group ministry and his girls on Twitter: @bmhiltibidal.