Why the Church Must Care for Orphans

Eleven years ago, our family of five became a family of seven in the baggage claim area of the Cincinnati Airport. Since that time, my wife and I have answered a lot of questions about adoption and orphan care. Often, we find ourselves answering some version of the following: “Is adoption hard?” Our answer is always the same. Yes, it’s extremely hard.

It was hard when we started fundraising and filling out paperwork back in 2009. It was hard buckling five toddlers into car seats every time we needed to go somewhere. It was hard when the employee at Sam’s wouldn’t give two of our kids free samples because their “real” mother wasn’t there. It’s still hard now.

Lately, however, I’ve begun questioning why we always fixate on the difficulty level of such things. Why does it matter that it’s hard? When we obsess over such things, we wrongly insinuate that the difficulty of said task is the chief factor in determining the rightness of it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As Americans we are accustomed to making decisions based on the criteria of comfort and ease, but the Bible doesn’t seem to share those treasured values. Wise biblical decision-making is ruled by other concerns. Is it right? Does it reflect God and his love? Is it obedient?

Believe it or not, twenty-first century Americans aren’t the first generation to love comfort and ease. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote a letter to a church in the first century who shared those very same values. They defined “faith” as “just faith,” seeing it as a way to escape obligation and commitment. For them, faith meant assurance without life change, and James wrote his hard-hitting letter to show them they were wrong.

According to James, faith without works is dead (2:17). That kind of faith is no different than the faith of demons (2:19). He wrote to remind them that the “implanted word” of the gospel that saves souls (1:21) also leads to “religion” that visits orphans and widows (1:27). In other words, saving faith produces people who lovingly act to bring justice to the most vulnerable.

It may seem odd that James zeroes in on widows and orphans, but he wasn’t inventing this focus. From the very beginning, God has revealed himself as “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows” (Psalm 68:5). The prophet reminds us that in him, “the orphan finds mercy” (Hosea 14:3). God’s own heart overflows with compassion toward orphans.

When God sets his merciful favor on a people, he expects them to take on his own character. We are called to be holy as he is holy (Leviticus 21:8; 1 Peter 1:16). If he loves the orphan, we as his people must also love the orphan. In Isaiah 1:10-17, God’s judgment came upon Israel because they were performing outwards acts of worship while neglecting to care for the orphan and widow. Church attendance and outward acts of devotion mean nothing if the heart fails to love the vulnerable.

The very gospel that saves sinners comes to us as an adoption story (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:4-5). We were spiritual orphans, dead in our sin, and God adopted us into his family through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. His Spirit enables us to call him “Abba, Father!” James’s emphasis on visiting orphans and widows is rooted in the nature of God as well as in the very redemption where our hope is found.

Is orphan care difficult? It was for Jesus. He agonized over it and endured the wrath of God to make it possible. For Jesus, however, the difficulty of the task before him was overcome by a higher priority. He endured the cross for the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2). He finished the task because love defined his mission, not comfort and ease.

I can make a whole list of things in my life that have been difficult: work, marriage, parenting, and church membership, just to name a few. But here’s one of the things that adoption has taught me: If I made another list of the things in my life that have been most rewarding, it would be an identical list.

You may feel like you’re maxed out. You may think there’s no way you could handle any more. But our sufficiency is never limited to our own resources; God supplies the grace for his people to pursue the priorities of his kingdom. The problem is never that you can’t do anymore. The problem is that you can’t do anymore if you intend to keep your life the way you currently have it. We always make allowances for what we value the most. Let’s value what God values. Let’s care for orphans.

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