Missions Monday: Why Matters
I'm thankful for the focus in many churches, and among many individual Christians, on mercy ministries. Things such as feeding the hungry and helping the homeless are clearly things Christians should be engaged in. What I often find lacking, however, is deep thinking into why we should be doing these things.
Two Camps In general I hear two ideas about why we should have mercy ministries. At the risk of trivializing them (which is not my goal), I will call the first group the WWJD team. Essentially these folks say, "Jesus cared for the poor, so we should, too." This is, of course, true.
The second group we can call the evangelizers. They do everything in order to create an opportunity to share the Gospel. And this is not bad.
The problem with both of these is that they are incomplete, and so they are seriously lacking. Why does this matter? Because our motivations matter. God does not judge by appearance (or our actions), by looks at our heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Jesus quoted Isaiah's warning about honoring God only with our lips, and not our hearts (Matthew 15:7-9). Why matters.
In my experience, people who say they are trying to follow Christ's example often never speak the Gospel. There is this odd idea that, if we are nice enough to people, they will turn to God and love him. Our actions need to reflect the love of Christ, but it takes much, much more to help them see Christ for who he truly is. And if we never tell them about Jesus, we do not truly love the people we are trying to serve.
On the other hand, people who only serve to try to fit a Gospel presentation in tend to dishonor the ones they claim to love. The danger is viewing people not as people created in the image of God, but as projects. I have known of more than one ministry that actually requires people to sit through a presentation before receiving help. Why is this bad? Because it dishonors both God and the person. If you're told "We will not feed you until you hear about Jesus" how likely are you to turn them down? And how likely to go along for fear they will not help if you reject it? How, then, does this actually accomplish the stated goal?
We need to follow Jesus into the homes of the poor. And we need to share Jesus with everyone. These things are necessary but, as motivations, they are insufficient.
So, what should we do?
The Kingdom of God
Everything we do -- including mercy -- needs to be rooted in a desire to glorify God. I agree with John Piper when he states that the motivation for missions is worship: We seek to create worshippers of Christ. There are many ways to do this when it comes to serving others. I will suggest one way to think about this.
In the Kingdom of God things will be put right. The final consummation of this will be after Christ returns, but Jesus declared the coming Kingdom in much of what he did. Sickness is a result of sin so, when Jesus encountered it, he healed people. Hunger is a result of sin and so he fed the multitudes. Death and separation from God are the ultimate results of sin, and Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection defeated them both.
I cannot heal the sick, or miraculously fed thousands. I certainly cannot rise from the dead. But I can help those in front of me. I can my small part -- and it is small -- to declare that the Kingdom of God is here, and that it is coming. I can serve, and tell people as the opportunity arises why. I serve because Christ came to set things right, and calls me to declare the same message.
There is a lot more to be said on this, of course. My goal here is to call people to consider why they do what they do. We need to serve, and we need to share the Gospel. But they why behind it matters.