“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or without clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit you?’ “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:37-40 CSB).
God’s people can be found in hard situations. The Lord Jesus mentions some of these. His brothers and sisters can be hungry, thirsty, alienated, lacking adequate clothing, ill, and imprisoned. The life of faith does not equal a life of ease. We thank our God and Father for every provision that comes to us by his mercy. But there are often times when we must walk before him and feel some of the anguish of now living in a world cursed because of human sin. And we must walk with others in their difficult circumstances. God leads his people through places and times that are unpleasant. Some of these are due to their sins, while others come upon them because of the sins of others, or simply because we must live in a world that waits for the revealing of the sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:18-21). Regardless of the reason, Christ’s people must be ready to serve him in these hard places.
One of our friends was in prison. After the usual time of adjustment required by the officials, we could visit him. But he first had to put us on his list of ten visitors, and then we had to receive clearance before we were able to visit. Yes, he could only have ten people visit him, and the other eight on his list were family members, some of whom lived far away. We were glad to visit him month after month to encourage him.
However, what of the other brothers and sisters in Christ who loved and cared for our friend? They could not visit him. What could they do? Yesterday, our friend, now out of prison, visited us. He brought with him a box filled with cards and letters that he had received while in prison. Some were written by Sharon, who is a much better letter writer than I am. But in the box were many notes written by friends at our church and by our friends from around the country. We rejoiced greatly to see how many brothers and sisters in the Lord had written to him during those trying and lonely years. They couldn’t visit, but they did what they could (cf. Mark 14:8).
The believers in Philippi helped Paul in a similar way when he was in prison. They couldn’t go, but they could and did send one of their number to help Paul. Consider the joy and appreciation in Paul’s thanks to them. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God (Philippians 4:14-18 ESV).
When our brothers and sisters in Christ are in need, we ought to be alert and concerned about the hard place they are in. A long illness is complicated by loneliness and weakness that affect the person’s spirit. Some people simply need friends, because their family has cast them off. Others need physical and financial help, for food, clothing, transportation, and shelter. Some struggle with repairs needed on their car or house. Often people won’t make their needs known, and they suffer in silence and struggle spiritually. This is why we must share our lives with each other. We must draw near to others and allow others to get close to us (this is a two-way street!), so that we will be ready to help, strengthen, and encourage one another.
Our dear friends did this for our dear friend, while he was imprisoned. Again, how we rejoiced to see all those cards and letters! Now, let us look for ways to help others, because when we serve those in need, we are serving the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace, David