What Is Your Interpretation of Matthew 25 in Regards to Helping the Poor?

Question from a reader:

I took the two paragraphs below from a comprehensive study on what the scriptures have to say about the Christian’s obligations to care for the poor. I have a different view of Matthew 25. It seems to me that we, the church, can and do for peace of mind and heart, produce for ourselves a whole litany of activities—noble, good, righteous activities that we tell ourselves meet the qualifications that Jesus has set down as criteria for making the “Sheep team.” Jesus Himself could have given us such a litany. He could have given us something more to make us feel good about ourselves, but He didn’t. Instead He just mentioned this one posture—an attitude of pro-active compassion for the lonely and the poor. Do we have hearts that respond to the needs of these hurting people? If not . . . . ?
     Then we look at Christ’s own life for the model He left us. We see the special place He gave the poor—the time He gave them. Do we imitate Christ in the giving of self to the poor and the lonely? I think Jesus issued this statement as a solemn warning to all who do not have the care of the poor high on their list of “do” priorities—the cost is most serious. I may be wrong about this. Have you ever written on this scripture? Your interpretation would be most appreciated. Can you help me?

“The story of the Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-46) is of limited value in understanding how the poor are to be treated. This teaching is given by Jesus at the end of a discourse to his disciples after they asked him when he would return. It concerns a judgment to be made either upon His pre-millennial return or at the great white throne at the end of the age. The issue is who will be allowed into His eternal kingdom. Its primary teaching is that the judgment will be made based upon how a person treats “these brethren of mine”. This probably refers to either how the Jews or Christians are treated during persecutions that will occur in the days preceding His return or the final judgment.

This story does not appear to be a universal teaching on how to treat the hungry, thirsty, naked, etc. If the teaching is applied universally to all hungry, thirsty or naked, it conflicts with teachings that we are not commanded to provide for those who can feed or clothe themselves but won’t.”

Answer from Randy Alcorn:

I do not believe Matthew 25 is of “limited value in understanding how the poor are to be treated.” On the contrary, it is of great value. Of course we are to use discernment as to who is truly needy and who isn’t (Paul talks about “widows indeed,” those who are truly needy and are to be helped), and of course people who are able-bodied should work (2 Thess. 3), but Matthew 25 teaches us we are to help those truly in need. There are many ways we can do so, with our time and money and possessions, and our prayers, but certainly the poor are close to the heart of God, and to help them is to do service not only to them, but to Christ.

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries