2 Corinthians 1: 3-4, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
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.
Ephesians 4: 32, Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Galatians 6: 2, Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Colossians 3: 17, And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
Galatians 2: 10, Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.
Matthew 25: 34-40, Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
I don’t know if I am going to say the right things but I pray that I am. I don’t know if I am really the one who ought to be saying these things but I believe somebody needs to. There’s a lot of talk these days about how the church needs to minister to this or that person/group/need. There’s a lot of talk also about how we need to be more holy, be more genuine in our faith, be more concerned about doctrinal issues and so forth. Both are right when taken together and done in order to please God and both are wrong if they are done for their own sake. What both are sometimes (not all the time and not by all) missing is the reason for doing any of it.
At Christmastime we tend to spout “Jesus is the reason for the season” and He is–but He’s also the reason for everything. He’s the reason we live and breathe and have hope beyond this very moment. There’s nothing without Him and no hope that doesn’t involve Him. Why is it then, that our churches so often seem devoid of this knowledge? Or, if their dependence on Him is acknowledged, why is it that there is little if any power in it? Before you misunderstand, I realize that Jesus’s name is often exalted in our churches but that really doesn’t mean much unless we are dedicated to obedience to His commands. “But works don’t save us,” you say. “You’re being legalistic.” Yes, I know works don’t save us but we are saved by the grace of God in order that we may do good works. Those works are proof of our salvation, not the road to it. And Jesus Himself told us that if we loved Him, we’d obey Him.
The point of all of this is this: If we loved Jesus as we say we do, we’d read His Word with a desire to understand it and obey it. We’d have a foundation upon which to rest our doctrine. Our pastors would be more bold to proclaim it as truth (and not, as one pastor said during a sermon that I was present for, hedge around the truth by saying, “I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes.”) And God’s people, the blood bought people of Christ, would live it out and it’d make a difference–in their families, in their churches, in their communities and, yes, even in our nation.
Folks, we’ve got to start caring about whether or not we’re right with Christ. I’m not speaking to those who already are but those who might think they are, to those who spout “I’m a Christian” without having any real understanding of just what that means.When we are saved, our lives have got to show it in holiness, purity and good works. And the good works needs to start right there in our own congregations.
There really are many of “the least of these” in our own churches, many who might have enough financially but who are hurting and in need of our prayers, but how many of us know it? Who among us really know whether or not everyone in our congregation is fed, whether anyone is living in poverty, whether any are doing without daily needs (not wants, needs), or whether any are living in abuse? What about those facing not terminal but chronic illness–how are they managing in their day to day lives? Or those who might be caregivers to those who are terminally ill? Do we know how those abandoned by their spouses are managing? How their children are doing? What about those whose husband or wife has died? Or their children? And if they know, do they really care? Or do they just care whether there’s money in their vacation fund, about some new thing they want, some new thing to do? I’m not against families having fun, having nice things or having new experiences. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting what’s best for your family or wanting them to have nice things. But I am against that if, in order to pursue that, they are ignoring the commands of Christ in order to achieve their desires. Is one command of His really less important than another? Or, as Christians, are we to take His whole Word seriously? If one part is not less important than another (and it isn’t), then why is it that those whose lives don’t fit the narrative of what we’ve come to expect in our churches are often forgotten? Don’t tell me it doesn’t happen for it’s not only happened to me and my children repeatedly, it’s happened to so many whom I know. I could give examples but that’s not the point of this article. The point is, are we really willing to obey Christ even when it inconveniences us? There are those Christians who do go the second, third and even tenth mile to help their breathren and I commend them. I’ve been blessed to know some of them and see their good works “done in secret” (Matthew 6: 4). But is what they do really true of the rest of us? Or, are we more concerned about ourselves than we are each other?
Are we really doing all that we do for Christ? Or is it ourselves we are serving?
Don’t think I’m talking only to the supposed rich here, I’m not. There’s so much that even the poor can do, so much those who have known deep suffering can do. Not every good deed involves helping financially. If we are willing, we can be used to comfort others, to listen to them, to pray for and with them, to live out the truth before them. Walk with them down the road you’ve walked yourself and help them in only the way someone who has “been there” can. Besides that there’s mentoring, Titus 2 womanhood, practical instruction, specific prayers for specific people, teaching skills others might be lacking (cooking, homemaking, gardening, car repair, budgeting, etc.) and so on. We should all think through how we can best “love your neighbor as yourself” and do it. Not to mention studying the Bible with them. Somebody in your church can benefit from what you know, is in need of your prayers or, in some way, needs your help.
I don’t want to ever dishonor Christ. I don’t want to bring dishonor on His body. But the fact is, they are bringing dishonor on themselves when they ignore Christ’s commands to care for “the least of these”. They are doing so when they don’t even try to love their neighbor as themselves. We get so worked up fighting against the social gospel that we forget that obedience to Christ means obedience in all things. It’s not the social gospel to serve our own members. Americans are used to having nice things; that might not always be true but for many of us, it is now. We’re used to being individualists, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and so on. But none of that is the Gospel. We’re not called to lay down our lives for success or things. We’re called to carry our cross for Christ and to treat others as we’d want them to treat us. Jesus was compassionate enough to us to save us, can’t we be compassionate enough to help the members of His body who might, in one way or another, need it?