John Piper is often quoted as saying that when it comes to missions there are only three choices for God’s people: go, send, or disobey. (I looked for some time to find the origin of that quote but could not do so. The quote is everywhere—even on DG’s website—but the original source is not.) That’s a fairly clever way of framing the issue, but it is not unique to missions. Wherever God has given us a command to bless others we will do it directly or indirectly, or we will be in sin.
This is as true, then, for orphan care as it is for missions. As I hope to make clear in this sermon, God has commanded all of his people to join him in fighting for the cause of the fatherless. For that reason we will take in, support, or disobey—take in the fatherless, support those who take in the fatherless, or disobey God. Those are our only three options.
With that, let me welcome you all once again to Orphan Sunday at Grace Church. Our primary aim is to help you see God’s call on your life to join him in fighting for the cause of the fatherless. To accomplish this aim I mean to do three things in this sermon. First, I mean to guide you through all of the major passages of the bible that address this issue. Insodoing we’ll see six main principles. Second, I mean to briefly share a bit of my personal engagement in this cause; not because I’m a great example, but precisely because I’m not. Third, then, I mean to offer five specific ways in which you might begin to or grow in your fight for the cause of the fatherless today.
Let’s pray, therefore, that God would be pleased to help us see his heart and mind for the fatherless, to see his heart and mind for his people for the fatherless, and respond in ways that are for his glory and the orphan’s good.
ORPHANS IN THE BIBLE
Once again, in order to help you see God’s call on your life to join him in fighting for the cause of the fatherless, I want to begin by taking you through a scripture-saturated journey. God’s word is the place where we find God’s mind and heart for all things, including this. By my count there are around 20 key passages in the bible from which we learn the will of God for the fatherless. And from those 20 passages we learn six main principles.
1. We Are All Orphans
This is the central principle. Everything else we might know about orphan care finds purchase in the fact that adoption is at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Consider Paul’s words in Romans 8 in this regard.
Romans 8:14-17 …All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…
In Ephesians 1 Paul makes this even more clear.
Ephesians 1:3-6 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Be amazed by this, Grace. Sin severed our union with God. Sin made us fatherless with respect to God. But God caused his Son to die as a ransom for our sins and his Holy Spirit to fall upon us to bring life and forgiveness and adoption. By grace through faith God welcomes us back into his family as true sons and daughters. Really consider this, Grace. Being a Christian means that you have acknowledged yourself as an orphan. Being a Christian means realizing that you had no hope on your own. Being a Christian means that you’ve been adopted. Why is this so significant when it comes to orphan care?
Have you ever noticed who shows up to 5Ks to raise money for cancer or walks to end Parkinson’s or to autism awareness events? The vast majority of the people at those events are people who have been affected by cancer, Parkinson’s disease, or autism—who suffer from it or have a close friend or family member who has. The reason for that is obvious—those who have been most touched by the suffering those things can bring are usually in the best position to recognize the stakes of the game. They have felt the pain and misery those things can cause. They understand where they fit in the story.
In many ways that’s the case for orphan care as well. Until we realize that every one of us were at one time fatherless as well, we’ll never care well for orphans. More to the point, until we realize that central to the message of the gospel is the good news that God adopts those who hope in his Son, we will never care well for orphans. Most explicitly yet, caring well for orphans requires that we understand orphan care as a visible picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In caring for orphans we acknowledge the goodness of our own adoption and proclaim the good news that none need remain orphans. Everything else flows from this central principle.
2. Caring For Orphans Is A Mark Of True Conversion
For that reason, this second biblical principle should come as no surprise. The bible teaches that caring for orphans is a mark of true conversion. We see this in passages like James 1:27 which says,
James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
In the context of the passage James was trying to help his readers distinguish between genuine, saving faith in Jesus and the many counterfeit versions that were circulating in the days of the early church. Central to his argument is that true Christians are marked by a changed mind, heart, and life. They know sound doctrine, they increasingly love the things of God, and their lives are changing for good. In particular, genuine followers of Jesus are compelled by the Spirit to seek out the hurting-vulnerable and work to protect and provide for them.
We see this exact principle at work in Job. As Job was pleading the case of his righteousness—that he was not being mistreated by God because of his faithlessness, but because of his faithfulness—he pointed repeatedly to his care for orphans as evidence. We see this in Job 29:11-13 and 31:16-22.
Job 31:16-22 “If I have …17 eaten my morsel alone, and the fatherless has not eaten of it 18 (for from my youth the fatherless grew up with me as with a father, and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow), … 21 if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, because I saw my help in the gate, 22 then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder, and let my arm be broken from its socket.
We also see this in passages like Jer. 7 and Is. 1 where God names orphan care as a mark of true repentance.
Jeremiah 7:3-7 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: … 5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, … 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.
Pure religion, genuine saving faith produces, among other things, a love for the orphan and a willingness to help. If you entirely lack concern for the orphan, you should lack confidence in your salvation. Caring for orphans, the bible teaches, is a mark of true conversion.
3. God Does Great Things Through Orphan Care
This principle is one of my favorite—probably because it’s so subtle. We find it quietly embedded in a familiar OT story. The behind-the-scenes hero of the story of Esther is Mordecai. It was through his care for the orphan, Esther, that God rescued an entire nation.
Esther 2:5-7 Now there was a Jew in Susa the citadel whose name was Mordecai… 7 He was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, the daughter of his uncle, for she had neither father nor mother…when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.
If you’re not familiar with the story, through the trickery of one man, a man named Haman, King Ahasureus had commanded that the Jews be entirely destroyed. At that time, Esther, a Jew, was queen, Ahasureus’s wife. Mordecai, the man who had adopted her skillfully guided her through a plan that resulted in the saving of the Jewish people and the destruction of the evil Haman.
At least part of the point of all of this is that God does great things through orphan care. Indeed, God literally chose to use adoption to preserve a nation and remain faithful to his covenant. I love to imagine what God might do even today among us.
4. God is Constantly at Work on Behalf of the Fatherless
While the first principle is most central, the second is perhaps most revealing, and the third is (in my estimation) the most interesting, this one is the most encompassing. The majority of the bible’s passages on orphans speak to the fact that God is constantly at work on behalf of the fatherless. This is really good news on several fronts; most notably in that in caring for orphans we are simply joining God in what he is already doing. What we do matters, but we are not an orphan’s ultimate hope. Let’s consider several passages.
God watches over and upholds the orphan. And because his reign is forever, the orphan never needs to worry.
Psalm 146:9-10 The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless… 10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!
God, the God of gods and Lord of lords, ensures justice (ultimate justice), provision, and love for the orphan.
Deuteronomy 10:17-18 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.
God continually helps the fatherless.
Psalm 10:14 … you do see [oh LORD], for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless.
God listens to, strengthens, and protects the orphan.
Psalm 10:17-18 O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear 18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed…
Grace, these are just some of the ways in which God is constantly working on behalf of the fatherless. We ought to praise him for that. And, as the next principle highlights, we ought to join him in that.
5. God Calls His People to Join Him in Constantly Working on Behalf of the Fatherless
Understanding that we were orphans, that orphan care is a mark of salvation, that God does great things through orphan care, and that God greatly cares for orphans, all point to this next principle: God calls, indeed commands, his people to join him in his work on behalf of the fatherless. Indeed, in no uncertain terms God has declared that there are significant blessings for those who care for the orphan and terrible curses for those who do not.
God works for justice for orphans and so must his people. God protects the orphan and so must his people. If we join God in these things we will dine with kings. If we refuse, we will be destroyed. Truly, God does not deal lightly with those who take advantage of orphans. He does not tolerate those who do the orphan harm.
Jeremiah 22:3-5 Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness…And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. 4 For if you will indeed obey this word, then there shall enter the gates of this house kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses…. 5 But if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation.
We see the same thing in Exodus 22:21-24. In that passage God strictly prohibits wronging the fatherless under penalty of curse and death.
And yet, God does not merely command his people to refrain from harming the fatherless. He does not merely prohibit their mistreatment. He also commands that his people work to provide for them. God calls his people to actively care for the orphan. God commands his people to take a special offering be taken for the provision of the fatherless.
Deuteronomy 14:28-29 “At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. 29 And … the fatherless… who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.
The same heart shows up again a few chapters later in Deuteronomy (24:19-21). God commanded his people to provide for the orphan by not picking their fields or trees or vines completely clean, but to leave some behind at harvest so the fatherless would have a means of providing for themselves. God would bless those who obeyed.
Even more significantly, God commands his people not only to do no harm and actively provide for the orphan, he also commands his people to have a certain heart towards the orphan; not hearts of coldness or indifference, but hearts of genuine kindness, goodness, and mercy.
Zechariah 7:9-10 Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, 10 do not oppress … the fatherless… and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”
Grace, if we read the bible well we cannot miss the fact that God calls his people to join him in caring for the orphan. Indeed, God’s commands for his people to care for the fatherless were to be declared aloud to the gathered people of God. And they are to respond together with one voice!
Deuteronomy 27:14, 19 And the Levites shall declare to all the men of Israel in a loud voice: 19 “‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the … fatherless …’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
In all of this it’s important to remember that God’s commands are not arbitrary. They all point his people to the place of blessing or away from the place of destruction. Therefore, wherever we find a command of God, we have found the good heart of God for his people. In other words, God’s priorities are revealed in his commands. And that means that his heart, once again, is for the orphan.
6. There Are No True Orphans
The first principle I pointed you towards is that we were all orphans. This last principle, then, might sound a little funny at first. I want to close this section of the sermon with a principle of tremendous hope. Lest we be discouraged by our own weakness, feeble attempts to engage the cause of the orphan, or the enormity of the problem, we must learn from passages like Psalm 68:4-5. The heart of this psalm is that there are no true orphans, for God is the father to the fatherless.
Psalm 68:4-5 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the LORD; exult before him! 5 Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.
The first principle highlighted the fact that sin has made everyone is a spiritual orphan. That point remains. This point, however, is that there are no physical orphans who are outside of God’s fatherly care. We’ve seen particular examples of how God fights for the cause of the orphan already. Here we see explicitly that they all flow from God’s fatherly disposition to all the vulnerable of the world.
Our hope in orphan care, then, is not that we will ever be able to do enough. Instead, our hope must be in the fact that every time we foster or adopt or pray or give toward the cause of the fatherless we are joining God in what he is already doing. Again, let’s praise God for this, and rest well in this, Grace.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH ORPHAN CARE
I imagine that upon hearing all of this some of you are giddy. God has already worked this heart in you and you are glad to hear this trumpet blast. I also imagine, however, that there are a number of others among us who feel largely overwhelmed at all of this. Kids aren’t your thing, you’re too old, it’s scary to think of all that could go wrong, you don’t have a lot of money, you’re not sure you could love a kid that isn’t biological in the same way, etc. On behalf of that second group—the overwhelmed group—I want to share three minutes of my story in the way of encouragement, for I was and still am to some degree, among you.
Many of your know our family’s story. We’ve fostered a number of kids and have adopted two amazing little girls. What you may not know, however, is the change that God needed to work in my heart to bring us to this point. I don’t mean to suggest that our family is the perfect example of orphan care (or anything else for that matter). I also don’t mean to suggest that I, personally, have come to full maturity in my approach to orphan care (or anything else for that matter). What I do mean to suggest—the reasoning for which I hope becomes clear as I briefly share of God’s work in my life—is that if God can use someone like me, he can use anyone.
When Gerri and I first started dating she told me that she wanted to become a nurse so that she could help vulnerable people. I thought that sounded noble in theory and I assumed she meant that she would work for a hospital or something like that where she could punch in and punch out (and frankly keep it away from me). It didn’t take long however, for her to make clear that one of the primary ways she meant to do so was through adoption. Again, I thought this sounded noble in theory but we were young and at the earliest this was a decade away (or so I thought). It was fine as long as it was theoretical.
Then we got married and she continued to talk about it. I even joined her in talking about it because it earned me some Christian street-cred with (in my mind) no commitment, no risk, and little chance of it actually happening. Within a few years we had Jeremiah, then Daniel, then Anna. It almost became easier for me to talk about adoption at this point because we already had a pile of kids and that would certainly scratch whatever itch Gerri had, right?
After Anna, though, it became clear that having more biological kids probably wasn’t going to be in the cards for us. At this point then, when I’d assumed Gerri’s eagerness would fade, it actually began to increase. Not only did she want to adopt, she wanted to adopt in ways that would allow her to use her training in nursing.
The short version of what followed is that in a truly holy way God and Gerri conspired to confront me head on with three questions: 1) Was God’s word my standard, 2) Did I really believe the promises of God, and 3) What did I really believe about my role in the cause of the fatherless. Up to that point I’d been able to skirt those questions in this particular area. That was no longer the case. I had to finally and truthfully answer those questions for myself.
It was a battle. I prayed and read and questioned for some time. In the end, though, a couple of books, the prayers of my wife, a pretty little Colombian girl, and the Spirit of God all coalesced to change my heart; to soften it, to humble it, and to make it more like God’s.
Again, the point of sharing all of this is simply this: If God can change a heart like mine toward orphan care, he can change anyone’s. There are many ways to engage in the cause of the orphan (several of which I’ll share in just a moment), but don’t count out the possibility of doing so through foster care or adoption just because you’re not “wired that way”. If anyone’s not wired that way it’s me and yet God was able to change me and bring me some of my greatest joy through adoption.
CONCLUSION – WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
In conclusion, let’s get really practical. My aim in this sermon was to open your eyes to the reality that scripture does not allow us to be indifferent concerning the cause of the orphan. We will take in, support those who do, or disobey. Those are our only options. You and I, as adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, must care and fight for the hundreds of thousands of orphans around the globe. Not everyone who calls on the name of Jesus is called to adopt a child, but we are all called to engage in the battle for their lives and souls.
The question, of course, is “where do we begin?”. I want to close my sermon by suggesting five simple places:
- Carve out a time each day to read God’s Word, pray, and worship him. The more you fall in love with God, the more you’ll care about the things God cares about—including the fatherless and vulnerable.
- Evangelize. The more the gospel is able to take hold, the fewer orphans there will be—because the gospel produces godliness and godliness produces healthy homes and people with a heart to invite others into them.
- Talk to one of the many families at Grace Church who have adopted or are fostering. Hopefully we’ll be able to share our heart, describe the reality of the process, and answer any questions you might have. You may realize that adoption/fostering isn’t for you after the conversation, but at least you’ll better know how to pray and support those who do.
- Pray for and give lots of money to adopting couples, godly grant and adoption agencies, and those who are engaged in orphan care. Satanically, orphan care (domestically and internationally) costs lots of money and would be cost prohibitive for many without the generosity of others.
- Seriously consider becoming foster or adoptive parents. Obviously, the most direct way to care for an orphan is to bring them into your home.
All the greatness of God is for the orphan. All who have seen the greatness of God are called to join him in that holy ambition. All of this is because physical orphan-rescue provides a visible picture of the spiritual orphan-rescue that God offers in Jesus Christ. Look to God, therefore, in all his greatness. See how he directs that greatness toward the vulnerable and imitate him in it; knowing that insodoing you are painting a living picture of the gospel for the world. I charge you, therefore, by the mercies of God and according to the grace of God: take in, support, or disobey.