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What Does 'Whatever You Do to the Least of These' Mean?

One of Jesus' most famous teachings is "Whatever you do to the least of these, you do for me." But when did he say this? How do we live out the teaching today?

What Does 'Whatever You Do to the Least of These' Mean?

What does “whatever you do to the least of these” mean? Perhaps you have heard clergy speak about this topic in a sermon. Scripture calls us to love one another and care for each other as Jesus would love and care. In all circumstances, the response of God’s people should be according to His Word in the Bible. We are called to show the love of God to everyone, including “the least of these.”

Where Jesus Says, 'Whatever You Do to the Least of These…'

The words “whatever you do to the least of these” are found in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew, a tax collector before becoming a disciple of Christ, begins the book with the genealogy of Jesus. The book continues with His birth, ministry, baptism, temptation, and teachings (including parables) and includes the arrest, trial, and death of Jesus.

The fact that Matthew was a tax collector at one point reminds us that God can (and will) use anyone to help others have a relationship with Him. Tax collectors were often despised in their communities because they worked for the Roman government. Matthew left his work as a tax collector and became a disciple of Jesus. Matthew’s example reminds us that people can change from living a sinful life to a Christ-centered life. There is always an opportunity to repent and start new.

People wondered why Jesus would share a meal with someone the locals hated. Jesus responded to their inquiries by reminding them that the healthy don’t need a doctor or healing. Jesus often shared His concern and love for all people, especially those in need. He spent time with lepers, tax collectors, prisoners, the hungry, and others. Jesus expressed love to all in hopes of helping them know His Father. When Jesus was asked to travel and heal a dying person, He went.

In an impactful statement, Jesus described the judgment that will come when He returns:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32 NIV).

As he described what would happen when the Son of Man separated the sheep from the goats, Jesus spoke words that touched the hearts and souls of people, then and now:

“For 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, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36 NIV).

The people responded by asking the Son of Man when they saw Him hungry and thirsty. They continued by asking when they saw Him as a stranger and invited Him in? When did they visit Him in prison or see Him sick?

The reply from Jesus was simple yet profound. “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40 NIV).

Who Are 'The Least of These'?

Who is Jesus referring to when he mentions “the least of these”? Biblical scholars say that some of “the least of these” are the people who are hungry, sick, thirsty, poor, and in prison. Jesus reminded his audience that when no help, food, drink, visit, or welcome was given, that meant none of those things were given to Him.

Although works do not guarantee our place in Heaven, we are called to show the love of Christ in our words and actions. Because we are children of God, we have the opportunity to share His love and glory with others.

God created man and woman in His image. His children are called to show love and forgiveness and to guide others to know the Father.

Is Jesus Talking about the Last Judgment?

In the book of Matthew, Jesus describes the judgment that will happen when He returns. He tells about the separation that will come with those who have followed Him and those who have not.

Jesus spoke about the Son of Man coming with all the angels around Him. He said the people would be separated like the shepherd separates sheep from goats.

Jesus states that all nations of the world will be presented for judgment. The righteous will have responded and followed Him.

The people who have not chosen to follow Him will be condemned.

As we wait and prepare for His return, our role as Christians is to live life for Him and show His love and glory in all we say and do.

What Does 'Whatever You Do to the Least of These' Mean for Christians?

For Christians, we are called to show love without judgment. Yes, we have laws and consequences for breaking those laws. To continue furthering the gospel’s teachings, laws must be obeyed. When the laws of God are broken, there are consequences here on earth. There will be judgment given by God when the time comes for that judgment. Only God knows when He will return. We can continue to love a person while not loving their actions.

When we love as Jesus loves, we love Him. When we hurt others, Jesus is hurt. Scripture tells that Jesus wept, too.

While we wait for judgment day, our goal is to develop and deepen a relationship with God and to lead others to Him. Christians are called to express the love of Christ and guide others to know Him.

The book of Matthew includes the Great Commission, in which Jesus reminds the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations and to teach the people to obey everything He commanded. Christians have the responsibility, honor, and blessing of leading people to Christ.

How Can We Love 'The Least of These' Today?

Who are the “least of these” in your community? Are there neighbors in need? Are there ways to offer assistance to strangers? Examples of helping “the least of these” can be helping a neighbor in need, visiting nursing homes, volunteering at a food bank, donating clothing to a homeless shelter, sharing time with the lonely, and many more opportunities. Listening can be a powerful way to help.

Perhaps you have been called to visit another country on a mission trip that involves obtaining clean water for residents. Maybe you have been called to volunteer at a domestic violence shelter.

Some local communities offer free backpacks filled with supplies for the upcoming school year. Some churches collect food and essentials to be delivered to homebound senior citizens. Sometimes a simple conversation or smile can show the love of Christ to those in need.

As Christians, we must pray and ask God to make us alert for opportunities to help.

Who do you think of when you hear or read “whatever you do to the least of these?”

A Prayer to Remember the Least of These

Father, thank You for opportunities to express Your love and glory. Help us to be alert for any situations where we can help others. Give us the wisdom to follow Your lead. Please give us the correct words to speak that remind people they are loved and cherished by You. Help us not to judge others as that is not our role in this world. Please give us humility, wisdom, and discernment. May we always remember the love You have for Your children. Amen.

In His Name,

Melissa Henderson

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/eric1513

Melissa HendersonAward-winning author Melissa Henderson writes inspirational messages sometimes laced with a bit of humor. With stories in books, magazines, devotionals, and more, Melissa hopes to encourage readers. 

Melissa is the author of Licky the Lizard and Grumpy the Gator. Her passions are helping in the community and church. Melissa is an Elder, Deacon, and Stephen Minister. 

Follow Melissa on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and at http://www.melissaghenderson.com


This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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