Poor children laughing and having fun

What the Parable of the Sheep and Goats Tells Us About Service

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a story about sorting all people on earth into two groups: sheep or goats. He praises the sheep and condemns the goats.

I think about this teaching every day. The lessons from this passage motivate me and they guide our ministry at Bethany Christian Services. If Jesus wants his followers to be like sheep, we ought to know what he means and do something about it.

Let’s start with goats. Goats are typically pushy, self-reliant animals. They are independent and think they know best. Goats do not respond well to shepherding. But Jesus frequently spoke of himself as the shepherd and his followers as sheep. In contrast to goats, sheep are gentle, they stick together, and they rely on their shepherd. It is these qualities that help us understand God’s desire for compassionate service in and through us.

Jesus explains why he calls the sheep “righteous”: “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.” When they question Him: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?” He says to them: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Who are “the least of these”? They are the most vulnerable among us. 140 million children around the world are single or double orphans. 80 million people have been forced from their homes by violence, conflict and persecution. More than 125,000 children in the U.S. are waiting for adoption from the foster care system.

These numbers are overwhelming. We must remember that every number has a name, every name has a story, and every story matters to God. And if these stories matter to God, they should matter to us.

Jesus’s message in Matthew 25 is simple: We are called to love God by loving people who are in difficult situations. It is not enough to preach about Jesus’ love; we need to walk the talk. When we act kindly toward someone who is vulnerable, we are doing it for Jesus.

There is a sobering gap between the way God sees people and the way the world sees people. Until every person is safe, loved, and connected, we need to stand up, speak out, and advocate for one another. This means opening up our homes – our most sacred spaces – to those who are vulnerable. It means offering our food, our time, and our treasure to those whose needs are greater than our own. Jesus particularly uses the term “stranger” to emphasize that we can’t limit our acts of service to those we know; the most impactful Christian service is directed not only toward those we don’t know, but also extends all the way to our enemies.

At Bethany Christian Services, our mission and privilege is to demonstrate the love and compassion of Jesus Christ by protecting children, empowering youth, and strengthening vulnerable families. Family holds an incredible power to connect, lift up, and transform the lives of individuals. Jesus Himself “took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them,” telling his followers, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:13-16). Family can change the world.

Research shows that children thrive when they are in loving families – research that’s supported by Scripture. Ephesians 3:15 tells us that “every family in heaven and on earth derives its name” from God. Proverbs 22:6 tells us similarly: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” This is why Bethany is committed to partnering with churches around the world to find families for children. Children can feel secure, loved and wanted only by a family.

It is difficult for families to stay together when they are facing dire circumstances – poverty, war, violence, addiction, or mental health struggles. Often these challenges are co-occurring. When families suffer, children suffer the most. This is why Jesus calls us to support families in their struggles.

I have seen lives utterly transformed through the basic principles of biblical hospitality. I have seen broken families built up again. I have seen new families created. I have seen children reunited with their family members who they once thought were dead.

Jesus’ message in Matthew 25 goes so much deeper than inviting hungry strangers in and feeding them. It is not the meal that is important – it is the love and care that the meal represents. Service extends beyond tangible gifts to the intangible – being seen, and loved, and valued for being a child of God.

If you feel called to welcome a stranger, support a struggling family, or open your home to a child who needs one, check out Bethany.org.

Chris Palusky

Chris Palusky is president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services, an international Christian nonprofit changing the world through family. Chris writes, “75 years ago, we at Bethany began our work by serving one child. Today, we partner with churches and communities in more than 30 states and nearly a dozen countries to strengthen and preserve families, support refugees and immigrants fleeing danger, and find safe, loving families for children who need them. Bethany demonstrates the love and compassion of Jesus, impacting hundreds of thousands of lives every year, because we believe everyone deserves to be safe, loved, and connected.”

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