Romans 15:25-28 “Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way.”
We evangelical Christians were few on the ground half a century ago, and in many places in the nation we were the only pulpits which preached man in a ruined state through the fall of our father Adam and through our own sin. We alone stressed the need of personal redemption through the blood of Christ, and that this could be accomplished for us by God giving sinners a new birth – a regeneration by the Holy Spirit. In the widespread famine of hearing this word of God we had little time for other biblical emphases such as the cultural mandate and the ministry of mercy. What was the best diet for the dying churches? We judged it to the exposition of everything God had given in his revelation to man, majoring in the three R’s, Ruin through the fall, Redemption through the blood and righteousness of Christ and Regeneration through the Holy Spirit.
Yet there was a period when we were also glad of the relief funds of certain evangelical organizations to assist victims of natural disasters. We’d support them at Thanksgiving. Now, however, through superior communications we can directly contact people who love the Bible in most parts of the world and support them from our congregation to their congregation. It is a return to New Testament times where para-church was unknown.
We have never neglected collecting contributions for the sick and the poor. Each week there is a basket in the vestibule where foodstuffs are placed and once a year a truck is driven to eastern Europe containing that food taken out by Blythswood. Then it was just a week ago when we took a special offering for a schoolteacher in Karakopot in Kenya, Samuel Lodegai, a young husband and father-to-be who is having treatment for cancer. However, our Christian priority has been what we believe to be the priority in the Bible, the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified. The high spot of our year in Aberystwyth was never the OXFAM or Christian Aid week with its fairs and bread and cheese lunches (though we popped in), but the preaching conference of the Evangelical Movement of Wales to hear God magnified in the Bible. Yet we are glad to co-operate in giving assistance to victims of war and famine and tsunamis and disease and earthquake with all other generous men and women whatever they might believe. And certainly we are anxious not to ignore the people who live in this town who are in need; we do believe that charity begins at home. But as evangelical Christians we are convinced that our chief responsibility way above everything else is to show men the greatness of Jesus Christ, God’s final prophet, priest and king, and explain to them why he lived and died urging our hearers to entrust themselves to him alone.
I received this week a letter from Pastor Stephen Rees of Stockport in which he says the following:
Where does the Bible ever suggest that the Kingdom of God can be brought in by a programme of political and social activism? Where do the New Testament writers ever tell Christians or churches to lobby governments or to campaign against social injustice? Do we have one example in the New Testament of Christians trying to transform society by political activity?
Yes, of course, the Lord Jesus and his apostles command Christians, on a personal level, to practise compassion, love and justice. The Lord Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan and commanded us to love our neighbours with that sort of self-sacrificing, undiscrimating love. But he never suggested Christians should launch a political campaign to stamp out banditry on the Jericho Road. Paul told Christian masters to “provide your slaves with what is right and fair” (Colossians 3:4). But he never hinted that Christians should start lobbying the Emperor to change the laws on slavery. If Christians were taking their agenda from the Bible, they couldn’t make political activism their first priority.
Jesus made it clear what the church’s first priority must be: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you..” (Matthew 28: 19). Not “go and campaign against poverty”. Not “go and protest against unjust trade agreements”. But “go and make disciples for me. Baptise them. Teach them to live lives of obedience to my commands”.
Paul made it clear what drove him: “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 1:10). His passion was that God’s elect should be saved from sin, brought into union with Christ, come to everlasting glory. For Paul, the greatest need of human beings was never rescue from poverty, injustice or oppression. It was salvation from sin and all its consequences.
Christians who soak themselves in the New Testament will find themselves absorbing these great priorities. And more than that, they will find themselves absorbing the utter seriousness of New Testament Christianity. How did the apostles feel as they carried on their work for Christ. Paul tells us: “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men… God has entrusted us with the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were pleading through us: we beg men, on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God….”
Yet at this moment, in the verses of our text, it is precisely the theme of the ministry of mercy to those with physical needs that is brought to us, and my impossible task is to make this theme fascinating and life-changing to you, because I have rarely found sermons on this theme particularly gripping. Worthy, yes, but exciting? No. How can I grab your interest and mine and help us to understand the place and significance of this? Let me begin thus . . .
1. THE MINISTRY OF MERCY WAS VERY IMPORTANT TO THE APOSTLE.
“I’m on my way . . .” he begins (v.25). It’s a great phrase; you find it in ballads. The singer is going somewhere and there is a touch of anticipation and excitement in his voice “I’m on my way.” Here it is in the present tense suggesting that Paul’s departure is imminent. The girl on the train in the seat opposite you dials on her cellphone and tells someone, “We’ve left the station. I’m on my way . . .” What is Paul getting excited about? It is that he is going to Jerusalem which for him would have been the most wonderful and tragic city in the world. But he is not going sight-seeing but in order to help the Christians there. They are in desperate straits and he has been given a considerable amount of money to help them. His ballad is, “I’m on my way to serve the saints.”
Paul gives us the facts about this mission. It transpires that two Gentile churches, way across the Mediterranean in Greece have been collecting money for some time. One is in the north of Greece, Macedonia, and the other is in the south in Achaia. Greeks felt that they were the top nation in the world with their matchless history of culture, architecture, drama, sculpture, sagas, poetry, Olympics, heroism, democracy, religion and philosophy. If ever there was a nation that felt it had a right to be self-sufficient and a pity for the other nations which weren’t Greek it would have been this nation. Yet here are congregations of Greeks in two of its major regions and they are collecting money to help people they have never seen and never will.
They simply knew the Old Testament narrative of God choosing one people and dealing with them for two thousand years, giving them the covenants and promises, sending them his word via the prophets and preparing them for the coming of his Son the Messiah. These were the Old Testament people of God, and anyone reading the Scriptures feels a sympathy and frustration with that nation. They persecuted the prophets and stoned those Jehovah sent to them, and when God sent his Son they said, “We’ll kill him too.” And they did. What wretched people, so favoured and yet such disdain of their own loving God! Imagine if Greece had had one God alone like the God of the Jews. What a combination of religion and culture! It was not to be; poor, limping, staggering, falling Israel is the people whom the Lord had called. How odd of God to choose the Jews.
Yet amongst that race living in Jerusalem and Galilee in the first century God had a people, a remnant according to the election of grace and one of them was Paul. He had become their own beloved preacher, the one through whom they heard of Jesus of Nazareth, life everlasting and the forgiveness of sins. There were other Christian Jews in their fellowship which had been thrown out of the local synagogue and cut off from the families, in fact their families had held funeral services when they had become followers of the crucified Jesus. They loved and cared for their Jewish brethren there in Greece, but it was relatively easy for these converted Jews to find a network of brothers and sisters in a Gentile land. What must it have been like to have become a Christian, a renegade Jew, living in Jerusalem under the shadow of Annas and Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, especially when famine struck?
In Judea there were women who had become Christians and their husbands had divorced them. There were aged parents who had confessed Christ and their children had thrown them out of the family home leaving them to take care of themselves. There were teenagers who had come to trust in the Saviour and they had almost been killed by their fathers and mothers. When a famine came it grew worse. They were sleeping in caves and ruins; Jews set their dogs on them; children pelted them with stones. They were reduced to sifting through the rubbish to find a morsel to eat; many had died. When the Greek Christians heard of this they were deeply touched. “They are our brothers and sisters, and we can do a little for them. We must help.” So they took a collection or two, sold some animals and land, children sent a pet lamb to market, women made garments and sold them at the market, men made tents, farmers gave a tithe of the price they got from olive and grape harvests and so in such ways the money grew and grew. They brought it all to Paul – their “contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem” (v.26).
The Greek word ‘contribution’ will be a familiar word to some of you, it is the word koinonia. It means fellowship; you have it in the famous grace at the end of 2 Corinthians, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” By the gospel we sinners have a share in the work of God himself, and a consequence of this is that we share with one another in these same blessings. John puts it like this, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” (I Jn.1:3). Fellowship is not being warm’n’fuzzy; it is sharing practically our days and time and homes and cars and tables with others who like us are joined to God through the Lord Jesus Christ. I could announce, “Please put the weekly fellowship in the offering boxes.”
2. THE THEME OF THIS PARTICULR MINISTRY OF MERCY TO THE JEWS WAS REFERRED TO BY PAUL ON A NUMBER OF OCCASIONS.
This is another reason for its importance. Here in this magisterial letter to the Romans he thinks it important enough to give it this breif mention. Then he also writes about it more fully in First Corinthians chapter sixteen and the opening five verses; “Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me. After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you – for I will be going through Macedonia.” Paul plans the collection very carefully telling them exactly what they must do, saving up weekly offerings not leaving it all to a rush when he arrives. This was being done elsewhere and they should do it too. We do it here in Aberystwyth; I make a reference to the collection box in the vestibule every Sunday morning. Paul says some men were heading for Jerusalem with the money and he might join them. They were guarding and carrying the money to Jerusalem. So that is another reference to this gift in the letters of Paul.
Then there is the moving opening to Second Corinthians chapters eight and nine – two whole chapters about Christian stewardship and that is the fullest passage in the New Testament. Let us just hear the way Paul introduces this theme, “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will” (2 Cors. 8:1-5). What a blend, overflowing joy and extreme poverty, making this gift a delightful sacrifice, acceptable to God. Don’t you keep somewhere in your home a gift that you have great attachment to because the person who gave it to you really sacrificed so much to get it. They were poor but they were determined to give this to you. I have a glass bell that Esther Jones, a person of diminutive growth, gave me and I never look at it without thinking of her life. These Greek Christians were poor men and women, and Paul didn’t have the heart to lay it on them to be giving out of their slender resources, but they pleaded urgently for the privilege of sending money to Jerusalem. “Please accept these gifts for our brothers and sisters in Israel.” They gave beyond their ability to give. They said to one another, “We don’t know how the Lord is going to supply our needs but we must give to those in greater need.” They had given themselves to the Lord; that was their priority. “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee.” Then they had given what money they had to Paul. “Take my silver and my gold not a mite would I withhold.” That is always the order. Unless you have given yourself totally away to God you will always find an excuse to be ungenerous to the Lord Jesus.
There is a familiar story that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to tell of a Welsh farmer who burst into the farmhouse kitchen one day to tell his wife some good news. “Blodwen the cow has just given birth to twin calves, one brown and one white,” he said. “Now we will dedicate one of these calves to the Lord. We’ll raise them both, and when the time comes we’ll sell one and keep the money, but the money from the other we’ll give to the Lord’s work.” His wife said, “Which one are you going to dedicate to the Lord?” “Oh there’s no need to bother about that now,” he said, “we’ll treat them both in the same way and when the time comes, we’ll know which one is the Lord’s.” A few days later, he entered the kitchen looking unhappy. “What’s the matter?” his wife asked. “Bad news,” he replied, “one of the calves is dead.” He quickly added, “It’s the Lord’s calf.” I am saying that it is always the Lord’s work that suffers before our own work if we haven’t given ourselves first of all to the Lord.
I have here before you all today an inexpressible treasure, God the Son, the Saviour of all who will believe in him, and once again at this moment he is being freely offered to us in the gospel, and everything in him is also being offered to us, joy, peace, security, everlasting life. Favoured ones amongst you prick up your ears. You say, “I can have this? How wonderful! How much does it cost?” “It will cost everything you have, no more, no less. It is the same price for everybody.” “I must have it.” “It will cost you all you have.” “But I must have life in Christ.”
“So what do you have?” “I have 10,000 pounds in the bank.” “Good, 10,000 pounds. “What else?” “I have nothing more. That’s all I have.” “Nothing more?” “Well, I have a few pounds in my pocket.” “How much?” “I’ll see: thirty . . . forty-two pounds and some pennies.” “That’s fine. That must be given. What else do you have?” “I have nothing else. That’s all.”
“Where do you live?” “I live in my house.” “The house, too.” “Then you mean I must live in the garage?” “Have you a garage, too? That, too. What else?” “Do you mean that I must live in my car, then?” “Have you a car?” “Yes I have a car.” “That too; it becomes God’s. What else?”
“You have my house, the garage, the cars, the money, everything.” “What else?” “Are you alone in the world?” “No, I have a wife, two children . . .” “Your wife and children, too.” “Them as well?” “Yes, everything you have. What else?” “I have nothing else, I am left alone now.” “Oh, you too! Your strength, your energy, your mind, your body. Everything becomes mine,” says the Lord, “wife, children, house, money, cars, everything. And you too.” That is Christian discipleship. The Corinthians gave themselves first to the Lord, every bit of themselves. They didn’t draw any lines and say, “But all on this side is ours.” They kept back nothing from the Lord. Amongst the last words of Eric Liddell as he approached his death in China were, “Annie, it’s complete surrender.” It is. We present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God because of the mercies we have received from him.
These Gentiles were learning to give themselves ever, only, all to God, and then they discovered something wonderful, that the Lord let them use and enjoy everything they had given to him and he added so much more, just as long as they didn’t forget that they were all his, just as they themselves were his. God gave them restraint, and a thankful heart, and contentment. God says to us, “When I need any of the things you have, then don’t be bitter or self-pitying because everything is mine.” John Wesley came to believe that an annual covenant service should be a feature of their congregations. When he came to write the words of renewal and dedication he could find nothing better than some sentences of the Puritan Joseph Alleine (who wrote An Alarm to the Unconverted and was renowned for his holiness). These were his words which summarized for Wesley the spirit of consecration he wanted to see in his members and renewed each year. The early Wesleyans said together
“I am no longer my own, but Thine. Put me to what Thou wilt, rank me with whom Thou wilt; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for Thee or laid aside for Thee, exalted for Thee or brought low for Thee; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to Thy pleasure and disposal.”
The Christians of Greece had learned that. They were first generation Christians; there was no earlier grace in the land, and yet because the full biblical gospel and the Lordship of Christ had been preached to them (no easy believism existed in the first century church) they knew they could keep nothing back. Their conscience would not allow it. When Paul’s conscience said to him, “You can’t ask poor Greeks like this to give to people thousands of miles away,” they swiftly replied to him. “Don’t patronize us. We want to give to our brothers and sisters in Israel.” They pleaded to give what was the Lord’s to the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. I am saying to you that this gift from Gentile Greece to Jewish Jerusalem is important because of the amount of space Paul gives to it in three of his letters.
3. THIS MINISTRY OF MERCY MUST HAVE BEEN IMPORTANT BECAUSE OF THE SHEER INCONVENIENCE AND DANGER OF THE JOURNEY.
Pasul’s long term plan was to sail westwards to Spain, but he went there via the eastern end of the Mediterranean. In other words he went two thousand miles out of his way at a time when every journey was hazardous. He went there when others could take the money there. There were at least two other Christian men actually carrying the money and guarding it. At one time he was musing publicly, “If . . . if . . . it seems advisable to me to go also they’ll accompany me.” Then he decided that it was not only advisable but essential. It was a task of tremendous significance for Paul, something at the beginning of the New Testament church, an act of sacrificial giving which would be repeated millions of times in the history of the church to the blessing of the whole world. An example to every Christian henceforth, and Paul, in spite of the enormous inconvenience, had to be a part of the dawn of this glory entering the world through the church which was to be the light of the world. How much has every one of us benefited from words and deeds and acts of kindness and generosity and love from other Christians throughout our lives? Think of the millions of Christians who have also been such beneficiaries, and today we are gazing into the fountain head of it all.
“I have to be a part of it, no matter the cost,” said Paul. He was going into enemy territory. He was a hated turncoat. They had hoped he would be leading the troops into battle defeating the burgeoning Christian movement, instead of that he left them and joined the Christians and promoted the heresy that Jesus was the Messiah. They vowed they would destroy him and Paul knew the danger because he asks for their prayers; “Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea” (v.31). Still Paul walked into the jaws of the lion bearing this gift.
4. THIS MINISTRY OF MERCY WAS IMPORTANT BECAUSE IT WAS PAYING BACK A DEBT
Paul was helping these Gentiles discharge an obligation they had to the Jews. A gift is something spontaneous; it is in your power to give or to withhold. When I was paying out the miners in South Wales collieries each Friday on pay day I, as a wages clerk, wasn’t giving them a gift, and so they didn’t tearfully shake my hand and thank me profusely. They had earned it. When I had a mortgage payment each month I was paying off a debt. I wasn’t giving the mortgage company gifts. So how does Paul view this money traveling from Greece to Israel? This is what he says about the Gentile Christians, “They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings” (v.27). He is saying two things; it was a gift and it was a debt discharged. They gave it and they also owed it.
Think of what had happened, how the Jews under the leadership of their chief priests had crucified their Messiah. Then as the apostles preached the gospel and thousands of Jews believed on the Lord Jesus a wave of persecution broke out against the church. So the church went out from Jerusalem into Judea and into Samaria and then out and out into the nations of the earth. Conversions to Jesus of Nazareth happened all over the world, throughout Asia Minor, throughout Greece and in Rome this strong church was built. So Paul sees this as the consequence to the Jews, “their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles” (Roms.11:12). All the knowledge of the Old Testament telling us where this world came from, that Jehovah made it all, that man is made in God’s image, that man fell when he defied God and so sin and death entered the perfect world God made – all those riches of knowledge had been given to Europeans. The ten commandments telling us how then we should live, such simple directives for holy living – the law of God had been given to the Greeks. The 150 psalms which sum up all the changing scenes of our lives, the world’s hymnbook and prayer book, that had been given to the Corinthians and the men and women of Athens. Imagine after having only Plato, Socrates, the Stoics and the Epicureans that here come the writings of Isaiah and the prophets in their own language and now they could understand of whom the prophets were speaking! What riches for the world! Remember that the first generation of evangelists and church planters were generally Jews like Paul and Peter and Apollos bringing to the Gentiles the message of sins forgiven and the hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ – then what a debt the Greek Christians had to the Jewish people of God in dire straits.
Paul is saying that this cannot be a one-way traffic. The Jews have given so much to you when you were in such need and now they are in need and you must give to them. You have shared in their spiritual blessings, and now you owe to them a share of the material blessings which God has given to you. What were you? A wild olive shoot. An olive had fallen off a tree and decayed, but its stone had germinated and put down roots and a shoot had grown. Nothing much would come of it; there were tens of thousands just like it, cut down with sickle as shoots cumbering the ground. But you were spared, taken and grafted into God’s ancient olive tree and his powerful sanctifying evangelical sap – Moses, the prophets and the writings – came coursing through you. Discharge your debt to the Old Testament people of God. That was Paul’s message. In other words he encouraged them to give; he channeled their giving. When there was some sentiment about rather helping the people of North Africa or Illyricum Paul reminded them of their priority in supporting believers in their suffering in Jerusalem.
See how Paul refers to it, as ‘fruit’ going to Israel (v.28). There is a famine in Jerusalem; there is little water in the wells; the fruit on the trees is wizened and hard, and Paul is imagining he is bringing to the malnourished Christian families of Israel great luscious bunches of grapes almost bursting with their liquid, juicy oranges, red pomegranates, olives as large as plums. He says that he personally wants to make sure that they receive this ‘fruit.’ He is not talking about literal fruit but the fruit of gospel fellowship and love.
5. A MINISTRY OF MERCY IS IMPORTANT BECAUSE IT IS WIDELY TAUGHT IN THE BIBLE.
Let me step outside our text to underline the fifth reason why this ministry of mercy is so important. Haven’t you been impressed with the teaching of Jesus on this subject? A man once asked him who was his neighbour and Jesus replied with the parable of the Good Samaritan. That man, by the providence of God, comes across someone lying in the road badly hurt. Immediately that wounded person through that divine providence is your neighbour and you are under obligation to love that neighbour as yourself. Again, when the Lord Jesus speaks of the day of judgment it is in terms of the good works we do that have been the evidences of our new life in him.
A few weeks ago I came across something quite simple and helpful that I should have been told at the beginning of my Christian life not at this advanced stage. I knew what Maurice Roberts was saying, but had not known the correct terminology or connection as neatly as he stated it. He had been asked the question whether the Bible’s teaching on the complete free pardon of our sins and justification would make Christians careless, and this is what he said; “There are three aspects to justification. A man is justified
(1) meritoriously, by Christ’s blood;
(2) instrumentally, by faith alone;
(3) declaratively, by good works. Though good works don’t enter into our justification they are necessary evidence of being in a justified state.
How do you make the best and most satisfying statement that you are a Christian? By your lip and by your life. You confess with your mouth that your God is Jesus Christ, and you show that he really is your Lord by a life that is abounding in good works. You are showing an active righteousness – nevertheless a real righteousness – that is a faint and yet a growing reflection of the imputed righteousness of Christ. That is essential. By their fruits you shall know them. The priest and the levite walked right past the man who was lying half dead in the road. Only the hated Samaritan stopped and helped him
Imagine a wealthy elderly Christian woman with no heirs except a nephew who claims to be a Christian and he always appears to be kind to her, but she is somewhat unsure. How can she know if his kindness is just a façade? How can she find out what his heart is really like? What she proceeds to do is to dress up as a homeless street person and sit on the steps of her nephew’s house in the middle of town. When he comes out and sees her on his steps he begins to curse and threaten her; “Get away from my house wretched old woman!” Now she knows his true character! So too, God is angry when we profess we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ but fail to live righteously towards our neighbours. Jehovah says, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you. . . . Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Isa. 1:15, 17).
So in his great humanitarian parable of judgment Jesus will say to many sheep on his right side in the tremendous day that when they visited others and served them and gave money and time to the least of his brethren they were actually doing it to him. Jesus can say in effect, “I am the homeless person on your steps—how you treat me tells me what you are really like.” Robert Murray M’Cheyne was once preaching on that great parable to his congregation and he said to them, “I fear there are some professing Christians among you to whom Christ can say no such thing as “Come thou blessed . . . inherit the kingdom.” Your haughty dwelling rises in the midst of thousands who have scarcely a fire at which to warm themselves. They have little warm clothing to keep out the biting frost; and yet you never darkened their door. You heave a sigh, perhaps, at a distance; but you don’t visit them. Ah! my dear friend! I am concerned for the poor, but I am more concerned for you. I don’t know what Christ will say to you in the great day . . . I fear there are many hearing me who may know well that they are not Christians, because they do not love to give. To give largely and liberally, not grudging at all, requires a new heart; an old heart would rather part with its life-blood than its money. Oh my friends, enjoy your money; make the most of it; give none away; enjoy it quickly for I can tell you, you will be beggars throughout eternity.”
Stephen Rees has just returned from taking a pastors’ conference in Manila in the Philippines, a conference which I took a few years ago. He saw the work the Cubao Reformed Baptist Church does there, which I too was awed to see. He says,
“That church does care about needy people, vulnerable people, hungry people. And what do they do? Does that church organise festivals to dance on injustice? Do they sew together bits of fabric to express their concern about the inequalities of world trade? No. They go into the disease infested slum dwellings of Manila, built of cardboard and corrugated iron. And there they bring comfort and help to desperate people. They provide the children from those homes with clothes to go to school and books and a schoolbag, and then they drive them to the school. They build orphanages and take in abused children off the streets and commit themselves to caring for those children for as long as they need care, whether that’s two years or twenty years. Some of those children come physically, emotionally, psychologically damaged. But the housemothers – girls in their twenties – wash them and feed them and school them and give them the love they’ve never known. That church opens its building up to homeless people off the street. It gives those people food and friendship and somewhere to wash their clothes. The church provides training courses so that unemployable men can learn basic skills and get a job. It provides a clinic so that the poorest people have access to a doctor, a dentist, an optician.
“The church doesn’t do these things because it believes that by doing these things it will bring in the Kingdom of God, renew the Earth and transform society. It does these things simply because the members of that church care. When they see needy people on their doorstep, they don’t hold festivals to talk about a vision for justice; they simply go to them and do what they can. In other words, they really do act like the good Samaritan.
“The mark of the man or woman who is filled with Christ’s Spirit is not that (s)he talks about global need or organises petitions, or networks in curry shops, but that he crosses the road to the broken human being who’s lying there, and cares for him there and then. And if it’s truly Christ’s compassion that motivates him, it won’t stop with picking up that man, pouring in oil and wine, taking him to a place of safety. If we share Christ’s concern for men and women, we won’t rest content until we’ve told them of the greater danger they’re in, and urged them to flee to Him. It’s one thing to talk. It’s another to do. What are we – what are you – going to do this week to show the compassion of Christ?”
This is really an impossible sermon to preach. I am asking you to spend the rest of your lives serving other people, to really love your neighbours as yourselves, to consider other Christians better than you are, not to grow weary in doing good to people with their considerable problems, not to lose heart concerning the young people on Friday nights, not to become bitter because you seem to be the only people noticing the basin of water, the towel and the unwashed feet. This is the life to which we have been called. Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. “I am among you as one who serves.” Think of the great exhortation of John the apostle of love; “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (I Jn. 3:17&18). Love in word only is not love at all. Songs about love sung in words only are not love at all. Love means giving and doing and never stopping. I am inviting you from now on to be living this kind of life, even to you dying day, that on your death bed you will be thinking of others and trying to serve them. In other words, become a real Christian! Become a servant of others for the rest of your life.
March 5 2007 GEOFF THOMAS