1. God cares for orphans and widows. "He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows his love for the alien by giving him food and clothing." (Deut.10:17) In Psalm 10:14 God is actually called "the helper of the fatherless…"
God's attitude towards orphans and widows is revealed in the commands He gave to Israel in the Old Testament. Because of His concern for the needy, God commands his people not to take advantage of widows and orphans. "You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow's garment in pledge." Beyond that, He commands his people in the Old Testament to give sacrificially to widows and orphans. "When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again, it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, it shall be for the orphan and for the widow…" (Deut.24:20,21) And the reason he gives them for this command is in verse 22, "And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing." They are to serve the helpless in this way because of the way God treated them while they were helpless, and serving widows, orphans and aliens will actually be a reminder to them of their own redemption.
2. Concern for the orphan and widow is given as a mark of holiness throughout the Old Testament. Remember how Job's friends attacked his character? One of the ways he proved his godliness was by his concern for the orphan. "I delivered the poor who cried for help and the orphan who had no helper." (Job 29:4) He goes on to say in chapter 31, "If I have kept the poor from their desire, or have caused the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone has not shared it…If I have lifted up my hand against the orphan, because I saw I had support in the gate…Let my shoulder fall from the socket and my arm be broken off at the elbow…" In other words, "I deserve God's judgment if I didn't care for the orphan and the widow."
3. Lack of concern for the orphan and widow is given as a mark of wickedness. In Isaiah 1, Isaiah cries out against the wickedness of the people of Israel. God tells them He hates their religious activity. He says in verse 16 , "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight, cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice…" and what will that look like? "reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow." An old Puritan, Nathaniel Samuelson who was used by God to establish a network of clinics, hospitals, and missions that in fact became the model for William Booth who established the Salvation Army, once said, "Sodom was crushed in divine judgment. And why asks me? Was it due to abomination upon abomination such as those perpetuated against the guests of Lot…" That's not the reason Scripture gives. "Was it due to wickedness in commerce, craft in governance, and sloth in manufacture?" That's not the reason Scripture gives. "In Ezekiel 16:49 Scripture says, "Behold this was the guilt of your sister Sodom, she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy."
4. This concern for the poor, especially widows and orphans isn't only an Old Testament concept. One of the very first things the leaders of the early church did in Acts 6 was what? Establish a way to care for widows. And when Paul writes a letter to Timothy explaining how to run the church, he gets very specific about this in 1 Timothy 5, saying "honor widows who are widows indeed…" and laying out a plan for exactly how the church is to go about doing that. A quick survey of the New Testament reveals as someone else has written, a "startling level of commitment to ministries of compassion. Tabitha was a godly woman whose chief occupation was helping the poor. (Acts 9:36-41) Barnabas was a man of some means who made an indelible mark on the early Christian communities, first by supplying the needs of the poor out of his own coffers (Acts 4:36-37) and later by spearheading efforts and taking up collections for famine stricken Judeans. (Acts 11:27-30) Titus was the young disciple of Paul who organized a collection for poor Christians in Jerusalem. (2 Cor.8:3-6) Later he superintended further relief efforts in Corinth (2 Cor.8:16-17) When we last see Titus, he has taken over the monumental task of mobilizing the Cretan church for similar good works. Paul was a man himself deeply committed to remembering the poor. (Gal.2:7-10) His widespread ministry began with a poverty outreach (Acts 11:27-30) and he went to great lengths to network the churches of Greece and Macedonia for relief purposes. (2 Cor.8-9) In the end he willingly risked his life for this mission of compassion. (Acts 20:17-35) The Good Samaritan is the unnamed lead character in one of Christ's best love parables. When all others including supposed men of righteousness had skirted the responsibility of charity the Samaritan took up its mantle. Christ concluded the narrative saying, 'Go and do likewise.' (Luke 10:37) These early Christian heros fully comprehended that religion that our God and Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows and distress…They knew that true repentance evidenced itself in sharing food and sustenance…" with the hungry.
5. Mercy is a test. It's a test of the reality of our religion. Pure and undefiled religion is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress. Timothy Keller explains, "…the poor and needy are a test. Our response to them tests the genuineness of our faith toward God. No passage is clearer at this point than Matthew 25:31-46. This describes Jesus' examination of mankind on Judgment Day. He distinguishes those who have true faith from those who do not by examining their fruit, namely their concern for the poor, homeless and sick prisoners. How can this be? Jesus, when he says, "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me," is merely expanding on Proverbs 19:17…He is also agreeing with James, John and Isaiah in saying that a sensitive social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of mercy to the needy is the inevitable outcome and sign of true faith. By such deeds God can judge true love from lip service."
Robert Murray Mcheyne commented on Matthew 25 saying, "I fear there are some [professing] Christians among you to whom Christ will not say "Come Thou Blessed…inherit the kingdom" Your haughty dwelling rises in the midst of thousands who have scarce a fire to warm themselves at, and have but little clothing to keep out the biting frost; and yet you never darkened their door. You heave a sight, perhaps at a distance, but you do not visit them. Ah! Dear friend! I am concerned for the poor but more for you. I know not what Christ will say to you in the great day…I fear there are many hearing me who may know now well that they are not Christians because they do not love to give. To give largely and liberally, not grudging at all, requires a new heart; an old heart would rather part with its life-blood than its money. Oh my friends! Enjoy your money, make the most of it; give none away, enjoy it quickly for I can tell you, you will be beggars throughout eternity."
George Grant writes regarding Charles Spurgeon's mercy ministries, "Both Rippon and Spurgeon looked upon their work of sheltering the homeless as part and parcel of the rest of their ministry. It was inseparable from their other labors, preaching, writing, praying and evangelizing. It was inseparable in fact from their faith in Christ. Once a doubter accosted Spurgeon on a
London thoroughfare and challenged the authenticity of his faith. Spurgeon answered the man by pointing out the failure of the secularists in mounting a practical and consistent program to help the needy thousands in the city. In contrast, he pointed out the multitudinous works of compassion that had sprung from faith in Christ: Whitefield's mission, Mueller's orphanage, Bernardo's shelter. He then closed the conversation by paraphrasing the victorious cry of Elijah, boisterously asserting, "The God who answereth by orphanages, let him be God." True believers prove themselves to be children of their Father by demonstrating His concern for the helpless. They are marked by compassion that acts. They see the needs of others. They are moved by them. And they act to help in whatever way they can. True Christians aren't just concerned about themselves.
6. Mercy isn't an option for the believer. "He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, But he who is gracious to the needy honors Him." (Prov.14:31) "He who is gracious to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed." (Prov.19:17) "Pure and undefiled religion is this, to visit orphans and widows in their distress…" (James 1:27) And we don't just sin in what we do when it comes to this, we sin in what we don't do. James 4:17, "Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin."
7. For those for whom the preceding isn't enough, let's talk strategy. Seriously. I'm hesistant to even bring this up but I know it's the way some people think. So here goes. If you move into a culture that is far from God and you were just dreaming about ways that you could impact that culture – could you possibly think of a more strategic way to make an impact than to have 10-40 million children placed in solid Christian families? Imagine say 2 million orphans, that is 2 out of 10, placed in solid godly families who are a vital part of a solid godly church starting at age 2 or 3 or 4 and being trained there for 14-18 years. Please, can you come up with a better way from a human perspective to actually be used by God to change an entire culture?