What is the sanctity of life?
In Genesis 1:26-9:7 we find the basis for the sanctity of all life. Sanctity of life means that God set us apart from all other creation (earth, sky, plants and animals), forming us in His image and breathing life into us. All human life has value, no matter the state or circumstance because it bears God’s image. The image is marred by sin, which came into the world through Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God. However, though marred, we still bear His image and are set apart from the rest of creation. This is affirmed in Genesis 9:6, where the murder of fellow man shows contempt for God. How humans treat one another matters, because of the sanctity of life. This intersects issues of abortion, euthanasia, sex and bond slavery, brutalization of women, oppression of the poor and orphans, and all injustices.
Does the Bible specifically address mistreatment of the poor? Yes.
Here is an overview:
“Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…”
Exodus 19:5-6 (NASB) is a key verse in the Old Testament. God communicates the idea of a covenant or legal agreement to Abraham’s offspring. What was its goal? In part, it was relational. However, there was more. If Israel obeyed the terms of the covenant, then they would be so set apart by His ways, teaching, and justice, that they would reflect God’s person to the surrounding nations.
Among the terms of the covenant were the commands regarding how the poor and refugees/foreigners were to be treated. Between the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy there are at least 18 commands given regarding fair treatment of the poor and 7 commands regarding fair treatment of the refugee/foreigner. This attention was NOT common to the other nations. Just think how Israel was treated in Egypt.
God establishes, through His laws, His expectation of righteous living and justice. Fast forward about 700 years past Israel’s wandering through the wilderness, entering the promised land, and conquering the surrounding nations, past the period of the Judges, Saul, David, and Solomon, to a split kingdom—the North (Israel) and South (Judah). Here, the major and minor prophets come on the scene. The minor prophets specifically call out the hypocritical worship and social injustice present during their time. Some of the minor prophets wrote during the time period leading up to the 70 years of captivity and exile; some wrote after. Yes, even after God uses the terrible nation of Babylon to devour Israel for their injustices and evils, even after He, with great mercy, restores Israel back to their own land, providing for the rebuilding of their temple and city walls, Israel continued in hypocritical worship and social injustice!
Some of the most powerful imagery for me during the minor prophets occurs in the book of Amos. Amos is a sheepherder and fruit farmer in Tekoa, which is near the border between the two kingdoms. Written before Babylonian attack, the book of Amos is a compilation of his sermons, poems, and visions meant to be one overall message. Against Israel he announces judgment for social injustice (2:6-8a; 4:1) and hypocritical worship (4:4-5; 5:12, 21-24). God was TICKED about the way Israel cast aside the dignity of the poor. Israel had no regard for their sanctity of life. For this evil, judgment was coming.
Fast forward another 500 years to Israel at the time of Jesus’ ministry. The religious leaders and scribes turned their nose to the poor and forsook the needy, except to profit from them. Luke 16:14-15 says that the Pharisees were lovers of money and esteem from men. In the face of their selfishness, cruelty, and greed, Jesus physically reaches out to those who were deemed the “least” of society. He not only converses with the poor, deaf, lame, and impure, but also he touches them! He tells His disciples that people will be judged on how they treat “the least” of society as though they had been treating Jesus Himself in that same way (Matthew 25:31-46).
After Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, the “good news” gets to work in Jesus’ followers. We see in Acts 2 that as a result of their belief they came together and shared their resources. As numbers were added to them, needs were continually noticed and addressed. In Acts 6 we see that the widows were being neglected (widows were most often poor); out of this situation, we see leaders rise up to devote efforts to meeting their needs. As the Church grows God addresses issues of how Christ followers are to relate to one another and those who were outside of the family of God.
As believers, we are to look on one another without partiality, for God is not one to show partiality (Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; 1 Cor. 3:4; Gal. 2:6, 3:28; Eph. 6:9; Col. 3:25; 1 Tim. 5:21; Ja. 2:1-9). This applies to favoritism in general, discrimination on gender and ethnicity, and partiality against the poor. As believers, our love for God should translate into the love of others, especially with actions of love toward the poor (Ja. 2:14-17; 1 Jn. 3:17-18).
That overview is merely skimming the surface of God’s concern for the impoverished. If you have time, read through Proverbs (Pr. 3:27-28, 11:25, 14:21&31, 19:17, 22:9&22-23, 28:27, 31:8-9), the Psalms, and Isaiah (1:17, 10:1-3, 25:4, 58:6-11). Read through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and track Jesus’ compassion. Read, read, read and let His love for the poor compel you to serve the poor—He came to serve not be served.
Okay, so we have established the Bible is relevant. Now what?
Let us examine the implications of Amos 2, for starters…
I am going to go out on a limb here and suppose you don’t “sell the poor into slavery or the needy for a pair of sandals” (Amos 2)? But, do you realize that globally there are people who do? How much does that affect your prayer life? I’ll let you in on a secret: the basis of our audience at the throne of grace is Jesus, no matter what our age or stage of maturity (Hebrews 4:5-16). Your prayers matter and make a difference. If you value the lives of the poor, you will choose to pray for them instead of spending five minutes scrolling through Instagram stories. And five minutes is not a long time.
You may not “pant after the very dust of the earth on the head of the helpless,” viewing every last resource of theirs with insatiable greed (Amos 2). However, is your mindset constantly about keeping up with the trends in clothing, cosmetics, athletic gear, and electronics? Can I challenge you to see that your spending could otherwise be saved and put towards the poor? In a sense, you are robbing from God the resources He has given you to serve and meet the needs of the poor. I am not saying you should skip out on buying deodorant; trust me, we all want you to wear that. But, maybe you don’t need four perfumes or three pairs of soccer cleats. You won’t find your worth in the possession of them anyway.
Do you turn aside those of humble means (Amos 2)? Do you even realize that you do? Do you know who in your grade, in your dorm hall, or at your job is poor? Are you a true friend to them? Do you take pride in being their friend? Or are you embarrassed by them? Do you slander them or belittle them in speech with other people? Or are you quick to advocate for them, whenever they are misunderstood or slandered? It may be a surprise to you, but most people judge the poor. Be that one person who seeks the poor out and affirms them. Let them matter to you by making sacrifices for them without expectation of appreciation or restitution.
Teens and young adults, please hear my heart. I want to equip you to engage with culture as salt and light. Caring for the poor God’s way is counter-cultural. You can give money to charities and spend every weekend at the soup kitchen, but if those efforts are not done with God’s love and affection for His glory, then its merely a clanging cymbal (1 Cor 13). The ‘how’ and ‘why’ matters. We love, because He first loved us. We don’t grow weary of loving others, because He is our strength. We aren’t heavy-laden by the brokenness of the world, because we are yoked up to Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30), whose attitude of trust and obedience we can learn from, live out, and find rest by. Once you start to really step into the shoes of the poor and walk through life with them, the last three sentences will mean a lot to you.
Also, can I encourage you that caring about the poor is a privilege? Serving the poor with your whole self—resources, privilege, body, spirit, and soul—by the grace of God results in unparalleled joy. It’s a fierce love that develops in you, that is a fathomable taste of the unfathomable love God has for His children. It comes with costs, but so does the ‘American dream’.
~ Written by Abbie Kuhne