I was recently thinking about the passage in Matthew 25 where Jesus instructs believers how to interact with the “least of these”:
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
As I’ve walked with Christ and heard this passage preached many times, I’ve equated it primarily with meeting people’s physical needs — things like buying a meal for a homeless person or donating clothing to the gospel rescue mission. Meeting people’s physical needs is primarily what this passage is addressing; these words were written in a time when physical poverty abounded. But there is a different kind of poverty that Jesus also speaks of … the poverty of spirit (Matthew 5:3). As I view the world around me, I see a lot of this soul poverty.
I began to wonder what Jesus might say to us today. Might a cup of cold water and a good meal also translate to the offering of “soul sustenance” for the lonely, disconnected and anxious people we encounter each day? The U.S. is facing a mental health crisis with elevated instances of anxiety and depression. Many in our world are “soul sick.” I may not visit prisons or serve the homeless, but I believe there is an underlying principle about caring for others that we discover from Jesus’ words. Here are four soul-nourishing gifts we can extend to those we know.
Gracious words. I cannot name the number of times my whole day has been changed by the encouraging words of another. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” People in our world are craving the sweetness of kind words as an antidote to harsh, hateful speech.
Words are powerful. This is why Ephesians 4:29 exhorts believers to, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” When we allow the Holy Spirit to work though us in the words we speak, we extend a sweet honeycomb to those who listen.
Forgiveness. A friend gave me a great definition of forgiveness: Forgiveness is giving it to God. When we forgive a brother or sister for an offense, we put that offense in God’s hands to handle as He sees fit. Ephesians 4:32 equates forgiveness with compassion: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Choosing to forgive someone pays forward the grace you have received from Christ. It is a gift He gives freely, and we resemble Him when we do the same. It is also a great soul-sustaining gift for the forgiver.
Comfort. We live in a world that needs comfort. Everyone is going through something. We all have hurts, trials and struggles. I’ve learned you really can’t tell from looking what someone may be walking through or what they have been through in their past. The amazing thing about being a Christian is the promise that God comforts us in our suffering.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 reminds us that comfort is a gift we pass on: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Comfort is a precious soul-sustaining gift we can offer others. When I was going through a painful situation, I called up a woman I knew who had experienced the same trial. Her words of comfort were life-giving and strengthened me to move forward, confident in God’s faithfulness and ability to work in my circumstances.
Care. This goes back to the physical needs Jesus spoke of in Matthew 25. The mandate to care for these needs is repeated in 1 John 3:17-18, which says, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
Copyright 2023 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.