Q&A: Matthew 25:31-46

by Aaron

What does Matthew 25:31-46 mean when Jesus says “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Is He calling the people on His right His brothers, or is He talking about actually clothing, feeding & visiting Christian brothers? I had always thought (and probably wrongly) that it was a 'least of these' statement that would include non-believers. Also, how does it (if it does) apply to mission? 

This is a huge concept that I think incorporates almost everything you asked.
Matthew is written with a Jewish mindset and is constantly answering questions (sometimes unasked or unwritten) in regard to the Kingdom of God. Many Jews understood Daniel 2, 7, and 9 in view of God's plan to restore the Davidic kingdom in the Messiah. What they didn't grasp was the nature of that kingdom, which would not be political like Rome, but it was a kingdom of sacrificial service; this is seen in places like the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6.
Throughout Matthew's gospel there are distinctions of obedient and disobedient Jews. They are wheat and chaff, wise/foolish builders, fertile/unfruitful soil, wheat/tares, and sheep and goats. Matthew is not writing to translate Jesus' ministry into 21st century Western Christendom, He is writing to convince and reassure Jews that Jesus of Nazareth really was who He claimed, the anticipated Messiah.
When coming to Matthew 25 the setting shouldn't be ignored. Matthew 25:31-46 is about Jesus as not just the Jews inaugurated King, but everyone's King. It will be Jesus who divides the sheep from the goats, it will be Jesus whom the sheep have served, and it is these sheep who live in the Kingdom of God. The interesting thing is that the sheep did not know they were serving the King by serving His "brothers" which seems to indicate that yes we are to serve other believers, but also everyone else as well. It is like Paul says in Galatians 6:10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
In the context of Matthew 25:31-46 there is strong support for Jesus meaning "followers" when he says "brothers," because the King is indicating that whoever did not help the least of the "these" (implying the "goats") did not help Him. But for us, I think it does come down to an idea of helping those we can because we don't know who is or is not a Christian.
We must also understand that "helping" someone means that at times we have to say no when the "help" could actually hurt and further addiction. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 Paul speaks about NOT encouraging people in idleness when he says For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
There is a lot to Matthew 25, but I would say that as we, as God's people, live on mission we should go with eyes open, looking for opportunity to help. Sometimes needs are global, sometimes they are local, and sometimes they are right in front of us. I don't think any act is too small to reflect the glory and grace of God.