Who are the least of these? Why is it important? In Mathew 25:34-40 Jesus says speaking to those on his right:
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world………….…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Then in verse 41-46 he says to those on his left:
“Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…………… Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me”
Those on his right were blessed and called into the paradise, while those on his left were cursed cast into eternal punishment, a drastic difference. What was it that made those on his right so different than those on his left? Jesus’ answer was how they treated the least of these. That is why it is so important. But once again, who are the least of these? There are many different ways to answer. Here are some possibilities:
- Those who are in general lowly esteemed or looked down upon: the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the unclothed, the sick, and the imprisoned (Mathew 25:35-38)
- Those who are looked down upon or thought as foolish by the world: Christians (1 Corinthians 1:27)
- Those who belong to God: children (Mathew 18:4)
- Those who have lesser support in this world: the orphans and the widows (James 1:27)
Let’s start with #1: the generally looked down upon in society. Often the sick, the hungry, the thirsty are looked upon as in the way. The world of unbelievers does not believe that all are created in the image of God, and thus their perspective is twisted. They think that the world would be better if we just got rid of all the sick, hungry, et cetera. ‘Why take care of them?’ they might think ‘The less we take care of them the sooner they’ll be gone’. A selfish attitude creeps in, where no one wants to take care of anybody and everybody wants to be taken care of. The ‘least of these’ in this sense are believed by the world to be just ‘unlucky’ or ‘messed-up’. Christians however, should know that people aren’t just ‘unlucky’ and that we all mess up. Jesus doesn’t care that we are messed up. He doesn’t think of us as in the way. He cares for all his sheep, no matter how sick, out of place, or messed up they seem. None of us are good of our own doing. If we are followers of Jesus, we should be imitating him and his humility, and not shrinking from those who need help.
The answers #2 and #3 fall in a similar category, as both answer the children of God. The world thinks of Christians as foolish or of lesser knowledge. As Christians, we know this is not true, and that true wisdom comes from God alone. A follower of Christ should live in harmony with his/her fellow brother or sister in Christ.
In Philippians 2:1-2, Paul says: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ……. complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
Later on in verses 14-15, he says: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world”.
How we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ is how we treat Christ himself: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Mathew 25:40). We must be lights to the world, and be the example. When we are of the same accord and love with our brothers and sisters in Christ, it shows the world who Christ is.
I think one of the most beautiful pictures of our relationship with Christ is the picture of a child. A child is the picture of humility, purity, and innocence. Jesus once said “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mathew 18:3)
The kingdom of heaven belongs to children. When they are too young to know right from wrong, too young to tell a lie, they belong entirely to God himself, and to his kingdom. Often we can think of children as in the way, foolish, and without understanding, but the irony is that often, because of their humility and innocence, they are far ahead of us in the kingdom of heaven. In Luke 9:48, Jesus says: “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”
Many people think of children as so much below them. Really, we need to be looking to children as an example. We need to be learning from them. What looks lesser outwardly is often greater inwardly. Just as Jesus says: “For he who is least among you is the one who is great” (Luke 9:48b)
James 1:27 says: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
As James points out in chapter 2, you cannot have faith without works or works without faith. “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”(James 2:17)
Works are the fruit of faith; what good is it to have a tree that does not make fruit? The tree would use up resources without ever giving back anything of use. Christianity is not about ‘just believing’. Verse nineteen of chapter two says: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”
True faith will produce works. You cannot produce works without faith. Faith is the root of the tree, and you cannot expect fruit without it. But with roots and without fruit, you cannot expect to escape being cut down! Here is the point: if we are truly the Christians we say we are, we should be caring for the widows and orphans. We should be helping the lost and sick. We should not scorn children or look down on them as a distraction and in the way. We should be caring for our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are not, where is our faith? It is dead.
The way we treat the least of these shows whether our hearts are truly devoted to Christ. Salvation is two-fold. It is about believing and repenting. It is about our faith and our works. It is about keeping our selves unstained from the world and visiting the afflicted. It is about what we believe and about how we show what we believe. You cannot have one or the other. You must have both. So I challenge you today: how do you treat the least of these? Do you care for and love them? Or do look down upon and despise them? However you treat the least of these, this is how you treat Jesus. Are you being Christ to the least of these? Yes, by feeding physical hunger if necessary and possible, but are you as a Christian helping to feed the spiritually hungry and thirsty? Are you pointing the lost and sick to Christ, because of your attitude and love? So challenge yourself and test yourself: How do you treat the least of these?
-2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV)
All Scripture quotes are from the ESV translation.