Piper on poverty relief

John Piper distinguishes between the verses that call for helping poor Christians and those that call for doing good to all of the poor, which people often mix up (Matthew 25 being the most obvious). Both are important, he writes, but it’s important to interpret the passages properly in order to have the best biblical support.

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4 comments

  1. Piper seems to be saying that only Christians are our brothers and sisters. Certainly, a special relationship exists, but I’m not sure that those verses exclude non-Christians. Scripture is littered with references to unbelievers as brothers. Often, these were fellow Jews, but I think it points to the danger of narrowing the applicability of these verses to those who share our faith.

  2. Doug, do you think that you could give me some of those references? Are they where the apostles are exhorting Jews to believe in Christ?

    To me, it would seem that the New Testament was written to Christian communities and the “brothers” discussed in them were members of those communities. The universality of the imago dei is certainly true, but I don’t think that brotherhood is the best way to understand relations between believers and nonbelievers. But I am willing to be corrected.

  3. Scott,

    I agree that brotherhood is most fully realized among believers and that the degree of brotherhood between Christians and nonChristians is greatly diminished. I would also not have a qualm with a claim that Christians have a greater duty to love and take care of each other first. However, Scripture many times exhorts us to love and forgive our brothers, and I’m not convinced that it means those specific commands apply only to fellow Christians. For instance, I would have a tough time accepting the idea that Jesus was not exhorting Christians to forgive both Christians and non-Christians in Matthew 18. Similarly for I John 4:20.

    Given that the NT is written almost exclusively to a Christian audience, I think one would expect there to be an overwhelming bias toward referring to Christians as brothers more than non-believers. However, when one looks at the one book in the NT that describes interactions between Christians and non-Christians, one finds that the terminology is used interchangably to refer to fellow countrymen and to those who shared a religious heritage, though (critically) not faith in Christ. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same terminology was used for Greeks as well, but isn’t recorded, given how rare it is to have a conversation between a Christian and gentile recorded in Scripture. On to specific examples…

    Paul called Jews who didn’t believe in Christ his “brothers” and/or “fathers” in Acts 28:17, 23:6, 23:1 and 22:1. Clearly, familial terms were used to describe the relationship between Christians and non-Christians, even if it was only among Jews in the examples of Scripture which we have. To claim that verses commanding us to love our brothers and to help out our brothers cannot be used to justify loving and helping nonChristians strikes me as a tenuous and dangerous proposition, not unlike the reaction to Jesus when he told the lawyer to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    Doug

  4. Those are good examples and points. I guess that I don’t see the interpretation of brothers as referring to Christians as dangerous when it’s taken in context of the whole Bible.

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