One of our readers has asked: "Who are the 'my brethren' of our Lord Jesus Christ referred to in Matthew 25:40?" He asks this question in connection with what Jesus says about feeding, clothing and visiting in prison these "brethren." The brother's comments are too long to reproduce in their entirety, but the brother questions the use of this verse and the context to justify so-called "prison ministries" and church programs in which food is often distributed to those who are "destitute because of spending their welfare money on alcohol." He also mentions the Dispensational interpretation of the passage which makes these "brethren" remnant Jews who preach during the tribulation.
The question as to who these "brethren" are is easily answered. Jesus Himself tells us in Matthew 12:50 that anyone who does the will of His Father is a "brother" and belongs to His family (Mk. 3:35; Lk. 8:21). This is confirmed by other Scriptures. Romans 8:29-30 show us that these brethren are those who are predestinated, called, justified, and glorified; and Hebrews 2:11 makes it clear that they are those who are sanctified with Christ.
Thus, the Dispensational interpretation of Matthew 25:31-46 is shown to be false. These brethren cannot be limited to some Jews living during an imagined three and half years of tribulation that follow a supposed pre-millennial, pre-tribulation, secret rapture. Clearly, these brethren are fellow Christians, especially those who are in need or in prison for the gospel's sake (note vs. 40, "ye have done it unto me"; cf. also I Pet. 4:15).
That there are Christian brethren means, too, that there is no warrant in this passage for various "social" programs on the part of the church or of the people of God, for so-called "prison ministries." These things may not necessarily be wrong, but if one is looking for Biblical warrant for them, it cannot be found in this passage.
We believe that there is a place for preaching the gospel in prisons as long as one is faithful to the Word. We believe, too, that individual Christians and even to some extent the church have a calling to feed and clothe those who are in need, even if they are not Christians. The parable of the Good Samaritan makes this clear (Lk. 10:25-37) as does Galatians 6:10 (though even that passage says "especially…the household of faith"). Matthew 25:40, however, has nothing to do with such things.
But there is more that needs to be said. First, Scripture makes it clear that we have no obligation to those who are destitute as a result of their own sloth and sin (II Thess. 3:10). Second, the emphasis in Scripture is always on the "neighbor," that is, the one who comes into my life and crosses my path. There is nothing wrong with sending food and clothing to Ethiopia, but that is not so important as helping the man who lies in my own path wounded and in need. All too often dropping a coin into the box of someone collecting for charity or giving a donation to some charity is done to the neglect of the neighbor. We may not be like the Priest and the Levite in the parable.
Third, the purpose of doing these things is to demonstrate to those who are in need the mercy and love of God (Matt. 6:43-48). That means that all such endeavors are useless unless there be a witness accompanying them and the opportunity taken to explain why these things are done. For that reason, it is better that Christians, when not able to give help directly, give it through a responsible Christian organization (especially the deacons in the church) and not through the social welfare organizations of the ungodly. Rev. Ronald Hanko
- Volume: 8
- Issue: 7
Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)
Ordained: November 1979
Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/
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