Associate with the Lowly


Francis Grimké thundered against a church that had lost her way. The year was 1898, and the pastor called his church to repent of its hypocrisy. He said:

The pulpit should be a tower of strength to every weak cause. Women should hasten to church, saying—Our cause will be upheld there. Homeless little children should speed to the sanctuary, saying—We will be welcomed there. Slaves running away should open the church door with certainty of hospitality. [1]

Grimké’s point is simple: society’s lowly should find solace in the church.

Is this true in your own life? Is this true in your church? Do you associate with the lowly?


“Lowly,” for the purpose of this article, refers to societal outcasts. The lowly are those upon whom society frowns. In-groups and out-groups are nothing new. By the time a child arrives in middle school, she discovers an entire caste system. From the schools to the streets, from the backrooms to the board rooms, from the neighborhoods to the nations: you are either in or out.

Outcasts change according to our time and place. In Jesus’ day, there were a number of outcasts with whom he boldly associated:

  • Ethnic Outcasts: Jesus speaks of a good Samaritan and shows kindness to theSamaritan woman at the well.
  • Moral Outcasts : Jesus halts the stoning of a woman caught in adultery and shows forgiveness.
  • Ceremonial Outcasts: Lepers come to Jesus, and a dangerous demoniac runs to him.
  • Imperial Outcasts:A Roman centurion places faith in Jesus as Jesus declares that he has more faith than all of Israel. Jesus invites a tax collector into his inner circle. [2]


Jesus describes himself as lowly (Matt. 11:29). We must remember that humility was not a virtue in Jesus’ day. [3] The same term is often used to reference a status of low degree (Romans 12:16, James 1:9). In Jesus’ humility, he associated with the outcast. He took on a lower status. Christians are called to do the same.

So, why wouldn’t we associate with the lowly? Mainly because of our pride. Pharisaic religion is filled with pride and, as a result, filled with disdain toward the outcast.

Proud people will not associate with the lowly, for a few reasons.

1. Pride seeks honor.

Pride says, “I deserve God’s love, others don’t.” In today’s social media culture, we’re filled with self-absorbed braggadocios who demand entitlement. In Luke 14, Jesus is invited to the home of a Pharisee. He notices the jockeying for position that’s going on and so he says, “When you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place” (14:10).

Humility doesn’t seek its own honor. Christians don’t live for social praise. What your neighbor thinks of your car, your house, your furniture, and your friends should not matter to you. What matters is not our display of hope in a world that fades, but rather our display of hope in a world to come.

2. Pride seeks self-benefit.

As Luke 14 continues, Jesus turns to the man who invited him and rebukes his guest list:

When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. (14:12–14)

The proud invite friends who will prove to be a benefit. They invite those who are known to bring a good dessert. They invite good conversation partners. They invite those who will make them look good. They invite for self-benefit. In contrast, love does not seek its own.

In a horrific turn of events, Jesus eventually tells us the proud are shut out from the eternal dinner (Luke 14:24).


Jesus went to the outcasts, and we are called to do the same. James 2:1–7 resolutely condemns showing partiality toward the rich—in other words, the in-group. The rich need Jesus as much as the poor. Jesus doesn’t call you to associate with the lowly and to avoid the rich. Instead, he calls us all to impartiality.

Here’s a case study: It’s Sunday morning. There are two guests at your church service. The first is a young professional. He’s new to your town, works at some kind of firm, and his wife is beginning her residency. They’re looking for a new church home. The other visitor is a single mom from the housing projects down the street. She’s clearly disheveled and poor. Feeling a bit out of place, she takes a seat in the corner and quietly sits alone.

Question: In your church, who is most likely to receive a lunch invitation? Which visitor will spark excitement? Who is swarmed after the service? Who’s coming over to dinner that week?

While many of us think of our churches as welcoming places, I wonder if we subconsciously violate James 2:1–7. I wonder if they are welcome to some and decidedly not welcome to others.

It’s worth asking the question: in our hospitality and our affection, do we show partiality? We remember the names of the upper-middle class couple. We even know where they attended undergrad. Yet we never found the time to get the name of that single mom from the projects. And this has happened more than once.


The application is simple: make it your goal to associate with the lowly. Who are the outcasts in your community? Who is overlooked? And when are they coming over for dinner?

Praise God that he didn’t avoid us. Who are the lowly? Those who have no other option but Jesus. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). The Apostle Paul, though he wrote much of the New Testament and was God’s chief apostle to the Gentiles, considered himself the worst of sinners. All who come to Christ view themselves in this way. We are spiritual scoundrels who were found by a sufficient and merciful Savior. We’ve been saved by God’s love, so we who were at one time spiritual outcasts must go to societal outcasts and show that same love.


I’ll close with a few words of thankfulness for members from my own church. Eric and Aisha moved into a depressed neighborhood to display gospel-motivated hospitality among the forgotten. Mike and Bekah systematically invite drug dealers into their homes for dinner. Bethany visited an elderly woman in an assisted living complex and loved her through her final days. Alton and Mike made an effort to know and love all the neighbors on their tough little block in Baltimore. Carde chooses to associate with the homeless after church instead of small talk with friends.

This is not “us serving them.” This is not the “Haves” helping the “Have-Nots”. Rather we say: “There is no “us and them.” There’s only a bunch of lowly people, seeking to do good to everyone for the sake of Christ.

[1] Grimke, Frances J. (Francis James) The Negro His Rights and Wrongs, The Forces for Him and Against Him, Cornell University Library, 1898

[2] It’s easy to romanticize the “outcasts” of Jesus’ day. We wonder, “How could these Pharisees have been so hard on them?” We must tread with humility. Rome dominated Israel requiring huge taxes. Tax collectors were Jews who sold out their own people for selfish gain. I may have easily sided with the Pharisees who were fighting for the dignity and rights of their people.

[3] Thinkers and writers such as John Dickson, in Humilitas, have sought to show that the modern concept of humility actually comes from the person, work, and life of Jesus. In the Roman empire, the opposite was true. Virtue was to seek one’s own honor and status.

Joel Kurz

Joel Kurz is the lead pastor of The Garden Church in Baltimore, Maryland. You can find him on Twitter at @joelkurz.

9Marks articles are made possible by readers like you. Donate Today.