From The Story of the Other Wise Man, by Henry Van Dyke:
“‘And remember, my son,’ said he, fixing his deep-set eyes upon the face of Artaban, ‘the King whom you are seeking is not to be found in a palace, nor among the rich and powerful. If the light of the world and the glory of Israel had been appointed to come with the greatness of earthly splendor, it must have appeared long ago. For no son of Abraham will ever again rival the power which Joseph had in the palaces of Egypt, or the magnificence of Solomon throned between the lions in Jerusalem. But the light for which the world is waiting is a new light, the glory that shall rise out of patient and triumphant suffering. And the kingdom which is to be established forever is a new kingdom, the royalty of perfect and unconquerable love.
“‘I do not know how this shall come to pass, nor how the turbulent kings and peoples of earth shall be brought to acknowledge the Messiah and pay homage to Him. But this I know. Those who seek Him will do well to look among the poor and the lowly, the sorrowful and the oppressed.'”
In many cases, we may, by the rules of the gospel, be obliged to give to others, when we cannot do it without suffering ourselves. If our neighbor’s difficulties and necessities be much greater than our own, and we see that he is not like to be otherwise relieved, we should be willing to suffer with him, and to take part of his burden on ourselves; else how is that rule of bearing one another’s burdens fulfilled? If we be never obliged to relieve others’ burdens, but when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor’s burdens, when we bear no burden at all?
This is a vivid illustration. A poor man is a man walking with a burden – a burden of discomfort, inconvenience. So when a Christian says, ‘I can’t afford to help the poor,’ he is really saying, ‘If I help, it will cut into my style of living.’ In other words, some of the poor man’s burden would slide over onto the helper. The helper would not be able to take the vacation he wants or buy the car he wants. ‘Well,’ Edwards is arguing, ‘isn’t that exactly what the Bible demands? If your giving to the needy does not burden you or cut into your lifestyle in any way, you must give more!'”
Rodney Stark, in his book Cities of God:
the Christianization of the [Roman] empire was not the result of ‘reactions to public calamity,’ but to religious influences per se. That is, religion did not merely offer psychological antidotes for the misery of life; it actually made life less miserable!
…The truly revolutionary aspect of Christianity lay in moral imperatives such as ‘Love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive,’ and ‘When you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it unto me.’ These were not just slogans. Members did nurse the sick, even during epidemics; they did support orphans, widows, the elderly, and the poor; they did concern themselves with the lot of slaves. In short, Christians created ‘a miniature welfare state in an empire which for the most part lacked social services.’
It was these responses to the long-standing misery of life in antiquity, not the onset of worse conditions, that were the ‘material’ changes that inspired Christian growth. But these material benefits were entirely spiritual in origin.