Compassion ministries and the gospel

This past weekend at CHBC, Mark spoke on the theme of compassion from Ruth 2. After discussing the various ways compassion is expressed in that passage of Scripture, he went on to draw out implications for this on how Christians should think about compassion, particularly for the Christian, the State and the Church. This is a hot issue in evangelicalism today as people like Tim Keller, and to a greater extreme, N.T. Wright, are advocating (potentially) new understandings of how compassion ministry should fit with our understanding of the Gospel.

We had some good discussion on the sermon yesterday and here are some thoughts that are helping me solidify my thinking:

– Perhaps the easier inclination for Christians is towards expressing compassion through various church programs, which can be good and helpful. Particularly for subarbanites who do not have many in need around them, they are a great opportunity for them to show compassion. Yet, for others, the danger is that on our way to the mercy ministry activity, we trip over neighbors who are struggling to make ends meet and need our compassion. Perhaps the emphasis these days should be more on developing personal, individual relationships where we can express compassion to those around us who are struggling, rather than more programmatic ways to do mercy ministry. What’s the relationship between teaching on individual compassion actions and corporate compassion ministries? How can the church teach on this in a balanced way so that our participation in mercy ministry programs doesn’t just become an action item in order to relieve our guilty consciences? I’m still thinking through these questions.

– Much of the discussion of mercy ministries has been grounded in deep theological understandings of the kingdom of God. In the New Testament, we see that among individual Christians, as they are gathered in local churches, we are beginning to see a reversal of the effects of the Fall. We see this powerfully in the Holy Spirit’s work to regenerate the human heart and cause Christians to grow in Christ-likeness. But this is also happening not only spiritually, but in very physical, practical ways. For example, one way this is expressed in the NT church is in Paul’s instructions that there are not to be any poor and in need from within the church and that widows and orphans are to be cared for. We see churches cooperating generously to support each other so that there is equality and all are provided for (2 Cor. 8). But notice, these sorts of instructions are for the local church only. Notice how Paul doesn’t go on a moral crusade in the city of Corinth, but rather only commands the church to be sexually pure.

1 Cor. 5:9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.

The kingdom of God certainly has broken into this fallen world and we are to see this in the local church, in the lives of those who have been transformed by the Holy Spirit.

– One of the more powerful points in the sermon is that the local church is the only institution that has been uniquely commissioned by God with the task of spreading the gospel. There are ways that the gospel is uniquely and powerfully displayed through the preaching of the Word and the ordinances and through the unity and love of the congregation in the local church. So if the church fails to do mercy ministries, there can always be other organizations to do it. But if the local church were to somehow lose the gospel, this unique display of its message will be lost.

– Therefore, whatever the church does, it should only do it subservient to the gospel. Mercy ministry is important in so far as it commends the gospel. This doesn’t mean you have to go through a gospel presentation and press for a decision every time you buy a homeless person a lunch, or tutor a child. But if your motivation to help a person is only to fix his hunger or his grades, without giving thought to his eternal condition, you will not truly help him. So in all you do, strive to build relationships, act in ways that commend the gospel, be purposeful in your language to point to Christ… in other words, act in ways that will be strategic so that you can express your convinction of people’s greatest need, namely a savior from their sins.

Listen to the sermon and join the conversation.

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