Good and Faithful Servant, Part 1

Evangelizing the Lost and Helping the Disadvantaged

By Christopher Schwinger

The Series

Part 1: Evangelizing the Lost and Helping the Disadvantaged
Part 2: Forgiveness and the Balance between Contentment and Responsibility
Part 3: Knowing God and Generosity
Part 4: Courage and Humility
Part 5: Growing in Grace

There is a fine balance between working hard in God's service and trying to win His approval. Duty is a good motivation when it comes out of a devoted relationship, but becomes legalistic when it's attempting to win God's favor, as if a relationship can be earned. Paradoxically, the desperate attempt to please God becomes a barrier to fellowship. On the contrary, pleasing God becomes natural and spontaneous, instead of forced, when we begin with an understanding of God's character and then grow from there. When the path starts with our attempts, it leads to bondage, but when it starts with God's revelation of His kindness, it leads to a healthy kind of duty.

Jesus made a distinction between the burdens of pleasing Him and the burdens of the Christian life. He said His yoke is easy and His burden light (Matthew 11:28-30), which 1 John 5:3 rephrases as "His commandments are not burdensome," but He also expounded on the hardships and losses which His followers would have to endure. Though He emphasized faith to follow Him into an unknown future, He also said that the one who chooses to be His disciple should consider the cost before committing (Luke 14:25-35). This could be His way of saying He doesn't want people to follow Him begrudgingly, but would rather they be willing and prepared. The way to get to this point of willingness to serve Him is like an 8-fold path, but unlike Buddhism's 8-fold path, is based on the revelation of God's character, not our attempts to perfect ourselves morally.

First, evangelism by example: When Jesus gave the Great Commission, declaring in Matthew 28:20 "teaching them to observe all that I commanded you," the Gospel they were to spread was a practical one, not just a mystical doctrine about life after death. His Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6, is the distillation of His teaching about how to live. He either deepened or established a different foundation for morality; it's hard to say which. Before Jesus, people thought that the only way to sin was if you broke one of the commandments of the Mosaic Law. Jesus explained that the Bible is not just a law book and that righteousness can't be totally codified. If you keep all the 10 Commandments but are still unkind to other people by not being sensitive to their needs, you are not truly pleasing God, because all those commandments are just pointers/markers about how a person can identify good and evil. They are intended to develop your character qualities, not be ends in themselves. Therefore, when He was giving the Great Commission and reminding His followers to teach according to what He taught, this included more than hope of eternal life, but a new way of dealing with people in this life. People were to imitate Him so that unbelievers would be inspired by their love and glorify God also. Isaiah 49:6 prophesies Jesus in this way: "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth." In His Sermon on the Mount, He says "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). This is one way to please God: evangelism by example, by the way we raise the standard through imitating the Sermon on the Mount. When we renounce personal retaliation or confess sins of our heart instead of just the actions others see, we are pleasing to Him. We also should teach others to do the same, as He says in the Great Commission.

Second, helping the disadvantaged: This is an important way we "live out" the Great Commission, sharing the nature and character of God with others. Often people know God best by the kindness of His disciples. There are three main teachings by Jesus about using wealth to help the needy: the rich man who claimed to have followed all the commandments and wanted to know how to get eternal life (in Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18), the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21), and the rich man and Lazarus parable (Luke 16:19-31). Jesus tells the rich man who came to Him (whom Luke's Gospel calls a "ruler," while the other two just call him a man) to sell all his possessions and give to the poor and follow Jesus. This is an incredibly demanding instruction, because Jesus wanted the man to realize that money was too important to him. In both of the parables, the rich men are criticized not for their wealth, but for their neglect of the poor, which came from not acknowledging that their wealth was provided by God. This was clearly the origin of Dickens's A Christmas Carol.

At the same time, if helping the poor becomes the way we try to win God's favor, without addressing other sin issues that block our fellowship with Him, we're still trusting in ourselves and not really pleasing God. This is another paradox. Helping the disadvantaged is more of a sign that a person's heart is compassionate, than a way to make God overlook sins, as 1 John 3:17 says: "But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?" Sacrifices in the Old Testament had the same function which helping the needy has in the New Testament: reminders that God is the giver of everything, and that we're only giving back to Him what He gave to us. One of the many ways the New Testament is superior is that the sacrifices are no longer just about tangible signs that God is okay with you, but have practical value for helping the community, because they're no longer religious sacrifices on altars. The characteristics of sacrifices are still the same in other ways, though. The Latin origin of the word "sacrifice" is "holy deed," and sacrifices then and now cost us something, require faith that God is pleased with it, but also have some positive effect on our soul, at least our sense of self-worth when we do it with a good attitude. Helping the needy, no matter what kind of need, is a sacrifice for God. This adds further meaning to Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 (which is derived from Ezekiel 34), because Jesus said that helping the needy was the same as helping Him. The New Testament's "temple" is the heart of a believer (1 Corinthians 6:19, 1 Peter 2:5), and the new "altar" of sacrifice is broadened to mean any need. We're not trying to satisfy God like the Israelites used to think, but using our time, talents, and treasures for much more practical purposes.

Next: Forgiveness and the Balance between Contentment and Responsibility

Image Credit: Harsha K R; "Friend in Need"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Jesus-Christ  |  Witnessing-Evangelism

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Published on 8-11-15