Have you ever known a verse, heard a verse, even quoted a verse – only to later find out that there is more to it? Or if you are like me, I’m sure you have probably too often experienced someone using a verse way out of context. It is so very common these days to just spout off Scripture without knowing the full picture of what it is actually saying. But context is EVERYTHING. And one of the most simple ways to get some context of what a verse is actually saying, is to read the verses surrounding it.
This scenario of finding out there is more to a verse recently happened to me. In preparing to do this “Loving Others Scripture Series” I compiled a list of verses about loving, serving, and caring for others. Naturally, I put Matthew 25:40 in there: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” You know, that passage where Jesus says to His disciples that they fed, clothed, and visited him when he was in need, and they were like, “Huh? We didn’t ever see you hungry or in need of clothes.” And Jesus explains to them that any time they cared for those in need, they were essentially caring for him. It is as well-known passage. I put it in my list without even thinking about it.
And then… right before I made a post on social media using this verse, I decided to read around it. I opened my Bible app and read the verses before it and after it. And I was kind of shocked at the context that I did not realize this verse was in. You might be too. Or maybe you’re a Bible scholar and totally already knew all of this… I want to be like you! But for those of us that aren’t, let’s read the WHOLE passage together and see how that changes what we think when we think of the “loving the least of these” verse.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Ok, are you saying, “WHAAAATTT?!?!” like me right now?? Y’all… I feel like we often think of Matthew 25:40 (the loving the least of these verse) as a verse for missionaries or other people in full time ministry, whose lives are fully devoted to the poor in Africa, or the homeless on the streets of Atlanta. We think it is a verse that pats those people on the back and says, “Hey, good for you, when you love those people, you are loving me. Great job, guys!” But when we read the rest of the passage, clearly that is not the case.
In this passage, Jesus is dividing out people into two categories: those who will inherit the kingdom of God because they loved the least of these, and those who will be eternally cursed (aka go to hell… yes, I said it) because they did not love the least of these. Clearly, loving the least of these is a big deal to God.
Now, before anyone thinks I am saying that salvation is based on works and how much you serve the poor, let me be clear – that is not what I am saying. Salvation comes through Christ alone and our faith in what He did for us on the cross. HOWEVER, I fully believe that true, saving faith produces works. Our belief in and gratitude for what Jesus has done for us motivates us to serve Him. If it doesn’t, then as controversial as this may be to say, I believe there really is no faith there to begin with.
James puts it this way: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-17).
James calls it dead faith, and dead faith really isn’t faith at all. So no, loving, serving, and caring for the least of these is not what saves us. But it is evidence of if we have faith or not.
That makes us look at the Matthew 25:40, the loving the least of these verse, a little different doesn’t it? It makes it hit a little (or a lot) closer to home. Because loving the least of these is not just an option. It is not just the job of “professional Christians”. It is the evidence of our faith. It is what Jesus will look at to determine if we truly loved Him, which in turn determines where we spend eternity.
So… what is your life looking like? Is it obvious that you love Jesus because of how you love the poor, the hungry, the orphan, the widow, and the sick? Is there evidence of your faith? Or is evidence lacking? I pray it is not. I pray you have faith so deep it compels you to serve and love others… and in turn love Jesus.
By Him, through Him, and in Him,