I Was Hungry and You Fed Me (Matthew Sermon 136 of 151)
August 29, 2010 | Andrew Davis
This is the last sermon in Matthew. Matthew is a powerful testimony of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, and we come, one last time, for the third time now, to Jesus' incredible words in Matthew 25, commonly known as "the sheep and the goats". We've already had a kind of an expository overview of these words, Matthew 25:31-46, in a previous sermon. Last week, we zeroed in specifically on the doctrine of hell, and what these dreadful, these terrifying words mean, "Depart from me, you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” But this week, I want to talk about “mercy ministry” from as a starting point from the sheep and the goats. By "mercy ministry" I mean caring for the needy around us, for those that are hurting, those that are hungry, thirsty, those that are broken down by life, that we would minister to them.
All my Christian life, I must be honest, I have struggled with the obligation that scripture lays on the people of God to care for the poor and needy of the world. I would say it wasn't until I went overseas on a series of mission trips that I really saw scenarios of poverty that just hit me at a deeper level and made me realize how far I had to grow in this area. I'm not saying there's not poverty in America, but you really do have to go overseas to see the way that some people are living in this world and have it just reach down into your heart and convict you and transform you, and that's, at least in my case, that's what had to happen.
In the summer of 1986, I went on a short-term mission trip to Kenya. There were different phases to the summer 10-week mission trip. We did a variety of ministries, and then we had one final week, where we all gathered, the 40-50 of us who had been scattered all over the country. We reassembled one last time for one week of final teaching and prayer and decompression and all that, in Mombasa, which is a port city on the Indian Ocean in Kenya. A strong Muslim presence is in this sprawling city. Part of that time, I guess a day or so into our time there, some of us took a trip in a rented van to drive through the city, a kind of a tour of this historic city of Mombasa. It was a comfortable van, it was air-conditioned, it was pleasant, and we rode through one of the poorest areas of town, and I felt like I was in some kind of an air-conditioned bubble riding through a sea of poverty. It became somewhat of a metaphor of my American Christian way of living, that I actually could live the rest of my life that way. I just could just move right through life in an air-conditioned bubble and see but not really interact with the desperately poor and needy people around me.
The next summer I went to Pakistan, 1987, and there were beggars everywhere. I had never really seen beggars like we saw in Pakistan. We would go to the bank and cash our traveler's checks to get local currencies, so we could do various things, and as soon as we come out of the bank, there would be at least five people coming and just relationally assaulting us, not physically, but just there with their needs and wanting money. Since we didn't speak a common language, they would point to their mouths and to their stomachs saying that they were hungry. So, I asked a missionary, "What should we do?" He told us that you need to understand that a lot of these beggars are really just working for a beggar syndicate, and they take the money and give it to... Somewhat like a prostitution ring, give it to an overlord who then cares for them out of that. I said, "Okay, but they're still coming to us." He said, "Well, one thing you might want to do is go and buy some fresh bread and just have it with you." So, I did, and that was delicious bread. Beggars would come up, they would point to their stomachs, and I would pull out the bag with the bread. I'd let them smell the bread, and I'd offer them some bread, and one man as I handed him bread, took it and threw it on the ground and walked away. I must tell you that there was a sinful relief inside me when he did it, because it confirmed this little sense, I had that there weren't genuinely needy people, but there was just a show of need. That was until about three minutes later, when a woman came up with a young child, pointing to her stomach, I gave her the bread, she divided it in a half, immediately ate it, and so did her child. Those are the tough ones, aren't they? They're real, and they really live out there, and they're really hungry and we can feed them. There's the problem. What do we do with them?
I've come to the conclusion that the Lord Jesus Christ does not want us to come to a safe, neat, easy evangelical formula answer to the problem of poverty in the world. This sermon is not going to be that. I'm going to give you a series of biblical priorities, but you know what's going to happen. It will be easy for you to look at each of these five priorities as an escape valve so that you don't need to sacrifice for the poor and needy. It's not what I'm doing, because in each case, I'm going to give you the Biblical priority and then say, "But it doesn't mean such and such."
Jesus' example compels action. It's a call to a life of mercy ministry. 2 Corinthians 8:9, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich." Jesus means, I think, to bring us to a point of desperation concerning the overwhelming physical needs of people all around us. I don't mean ultimate desperation, but that we would despair in our usual system of self-reliance. The problem is bigger than we can solve, it swallows up any individual, it swallows up any local church, it swallows up even a nation. I don't know how many billion dollars of American aid have gone down to Haiti, but it's somewhat like a sink hole down there, and you could multiply it by 10 and the problems would still be there. I'm not saying that there's not legitimate things that can be done with money, I'm just saying the problems are bigger than any of us, and the Lord means to stand in front of us and confront us with the problem.
I think about the account of the feeding of the 5000 as one of the few things in the everyday life and ministry of Jesus that makes it to all four Gospels. Very few of his events before his arrest and trial and his last week make it in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but the feeding of the 5000 does. After Jesus administered to these people, it says in Matthew chapter 14, "When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, this is a desolate place, and the day is now over. Send the crowds away in the villages so they can go buy themselves some food. But Jesus said to his disciples, ‘They don't need to go away, you give them something to eat.’” In John's account, Jesus initiates the whole question. “Where are we going to buy bread so that all these people may eat?" He initiates the question and John tells us very poignantly, Jesus did this only to test them, Philip in particular, because He already knew what He was going to do. That is incredibly revealing for me, Jesus actually intends to test us in this matter of poor and needy ministry. He stands in front of you, and He brings you to a fork in the road and He tests you. He says, "What are you going to do?" He watches to see what we'll do, and I think He means to strip us of self-reliance because the problem's too big for us. He means for us to do what Jesus did when the little boy gave his five loaves and two fish. He took them and he looked up to heaven and He thanked God for what had been provided, and then He miraculously fed the 5000 plus the women and children. This is the test. Will we face the huge overwhelming needs, and will we look upward to God and then act or will we not? That’s the test.
The issue of ministry to poverty-stricken people stands over us, it probes our hearts to prove how much sin is still in us. Christ does not mean for us to escape by means of a clever sermon or a formula or something that says, "You don't need to really do this for these reasons." He's going to be probing you the rest of your life about this. He does not mean for us American evangelicals to take an air-conditioned van ride through our time here in the world while other people are suffering. He means for us to tell the driver to stop, get out and go minister. There are two compelling passages in the scripture that keep this issue in front of me. There are a number of them that allude to it, but these two are the most powerful. One of them is the passage on the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, and the other is the sheep and the goats teaching that we're focusing on this morning.
Let's look briefly at the Good Samaritan. What happens is a teacher of the law comes up to Jesus and asked, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus then, in a very surprising way, gives him the law, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself." But it says the lawyer wanted to justify himself, so he asked, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus then tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, a man on the road from Jericho who is beaten by some robbers and left stripped and bleeding by the side of the road. A priest and a Levite, both of them see the man. Jesus makes it plain that they see him, but they pass by on the other side and do nothing for the man lying there in the gutter. But a Samaritan man sees him, takes care of him even at the point of great cost and inconvenience. Tim Keller, who's a pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian New York City, wrote a book on mercy ministry, says, "We all live on the Jericho Road. You're on the Jericho Road every day of your lives. We're surrounded by opportunities to minister to people who are suffering, beaten by life and lying bleeding by the side of the road. We all have a tendency to want to justify ourselves and thus excuse ourselves from sacrificial ministry to the poor and needy, and to be like the priest and Levite who see the need and pass by on the other side, go about our business. If we are honest, then we can all see our own sinful omissions in the priest and Levite who pass by on the other side, and we are convicted by the Good Samaritan who allows himself to be interrupted, whatever his business was, gets diverted out of his life course and goes and takes care of this man.”
Now remember some key issues of the parable. The question at hand is, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Is that a topic of interest to you? Let me ask another question, is Jesus' opinion on that topic of interest to you? How is it then that Jesus talking about the Good Samaritan and taking care of poor and needy is an answer to that question? Clearly, Jesus felt the parable of the Good Samaritan was relevant to this line of inquiry. Jesus teaches in some mysterious way that full obedience to the law of Moses is required to inherit eternal life. Once we are more fully instructed by the rest of the New Testament, indeed the whole Bible, we recognize that none of us can be or ever has been fully obedient to the law of Moses, except one man, Jesus Christ, who fully obeyed those two commandments, and who saves us by His righteousness, who saves us by His obedience to the law and by His death on the cross for our disobedience.
Turn the whole thing around, and guess what, you know where you are in the parable of the Good Samaritan? You're the guy who got beaten and is laying by the side of the road, and Jesus is the Good Samaritan who comes and saves you. But that's not enough, is it? Clearly, Jesus is saying, "What does it mean to love your neighbor?" At some point, you're no longer the man beaten by the side of the road, you are one of those individuals walking by who sees the need. Then you must become like Jesus, you must imitate Him, because the love of Christ constrains you, compels you, it's in you now, and you're thinking like Jesus. That's what I get out of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Notice that the expert in the law also is seeking to justify himself asking, "Now who is my neighbor?" That just shows the tendency we have to get out of the situation, to evict and not do anything in that situation. Jesus said at the end, "Go and do likewise." Are we to take that at His word?
The second instance is the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. These are some of the most powerful words I've ever heard in my life. My sister at her wedding asked me to read scripture at her wedding, and she chose this passage of scripture. I was amazed. At the rehearsal I was surrounded by a lot of her non-Christian friends, and they were reading also. Then I got up and read this passage. You could have heard a pin drop. It was like the wedding rehearsal just came to a stop. I wanted to say, "I want you to know I didn't choose this passage for a wedding." My sister did, but my sister has a heart for the poor and needy, she wanted it read in her wedding, and I did read it at her wedding. "When the son of man comes in His glory and all His angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He'll put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then He will say to those on His right, ‘Come you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes, and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison, and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you, a stranger invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick in prison and go to visit you? The king will reply, I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed into the eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty, you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger, and you did not invite me in. I needed clothes and you did not clothe me. I was sick and in prison, and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger needing clothes or sick or in prison and not help you? ‘And he will reply, I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
This passage places mercy ministry in the context of the end of the world. I said before, this is not a parable. This is what will happen. You see what I'm saying? It is what will happen. He's going to separate the people like a shepherd separating sheep from the goats, but it's not a parable, this is going to happen. And the issues couldn't be more intense, heaven and hell, eternity in heaven, eternity in hell, is the outcome, and the basis for the separation here seems to be what you did and didn't do in life. We've already covered that there's a difference between being saved by works and being assessed by works. But Jesus here assesses by works, and the key issue here was what we call "ministry to felt needs or mercy ministry", simple things, somebody's hungry and you feed them. Central to that is Jesus' clear identification with poor and needy people. "I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me." Some have said this proves what the social gospel folks say is the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man, that we are all in the family together. We're all in one family and Jesus sees it that way. I actually don't think so, and I'm going to talk more about that later.
Jesus earlier in Matthew's Gospel has already identified his family. He was told that his mother and his brothers were waiting outside for him. He said, "Who is my mother? And who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, He said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." I don't think Jesus had forgotten that by the time He got to chapter 25, but we need to understand at this point it's all over. The sheep are the sheep, and the goats are the goats, and we know who the family of God is. Jesus identifies Himself with His church. He identifies himself with the sheep, He identifies Himself with his people. Remember Saul of Tarsus breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. Jesus intervenes with these words, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It's my body. I am the head. You're hurting me." Conversely, then anyone who helps brothers and sisters in Christ, they're helping Jesus. This does not mean that we should only minister to Christians, I'm going to talk more about that, but Jesus is identifying in this way. So, this is the "sheep and the goats" teaching. These are the two great passages that are in front of me that keep “mercy ministry” constantly on my mind. There are others but these are the two big ones.
What is our context here? We've looked at the context in Matthew, what is our context in history? Let me say, before I talk about historical context, throughout 20 century of church history, the church has on and off again, struggled to keep two things together. Ministry of word and ministry of deed, or the true Gospel and truly Christian outreach to the poor and needy. The church has struggled to keep the two together. Sometimes it's been all one and not the other, sometimes all the other and not the one. Frequently, neither one. But the church has struggled to keep the true Gospel producing true genuine ministry to the poor and needy. The early church didn't seem to struggle with it. I'm talking about Acts chapter 2. Peter preaches the Pentecost sermon, 3000 are baptized, added to the number that day. Right away, they devote themselves to the apostles' teaching, so they come in through the preaching of the gospel, and they right away are busy with doctrine, they're getting the apostles' teaching. They devote themselves to that and to the fellowship, that's the sharing together, the breaking of bread and the prayer. Everyone's filled with awe and many wonders and miraculous signs are done by the apostles, almost always mercy ministry, just done supernaturally, caring for sick people, dying people, that kind of thing, the apostles doing miracles. All the believers were together and had everything in common, selling their possessions and goods they gave to anyone as he had need. There you have apostolic teaching and a solid mercy ministry going on both inside and outside the walls of the church.
So also, the early Christians during the time of the persecution of the Roman Empire. It's told that the Roman Christians would go along the Tiber River in Rome and pick up babies that had been abandoned there, infanticide. They were seeking to kill unwanted babies, and the Christians would go and scoop them up and raise them. Julian, the apostate, the evil pagan emperor who wanted to go back to paganism after Christianity had taken root in the Roman Empire, commented ruefully on what he called "the Galileans", that's what he called the Christians. "Not only do they care for their own poor and needy, but ours as well. We are having trouble competing with these people." That was the nature of the early church.
But over the centuries, through the medieval Roman Catholic church era the gospel was lost. People lost the gospel. They didn't understand how a sinner is made right with God. Frequently, when they would sin, they would go and confess their sins to a priest and the priest would give them good works to do to reduce time in purgatory. Friends, there is no purgatory, there's heaven and hell, but the priest would say, "You know, you can reduce your time in purgatory if you just do some good deeds." The good works were either religious works like the saying of prayers, or the caring for the poor and needy, and this way, you could reduce your time in purgatory. The Reformation, through Martin Luther and Calvin and others, reclaimed the gospel, and the 16th century and on saw a growth again of a beautiful relationship between the true Gospel and a healthy mercy ministry of the poor and needy. Right on through the time of George Whitfield and John Wesley, who cared for orphans in Georgia, and others who just cared for the poor and needy in England, all kinds of combination of good preaching and good mercy ministry. The Moravians sold themselves into slavery in the West Indies so that they could share the gospel with slaves. There was William Wilberforce who understood the gospel well, and for 26 years fought to get rid of slavery and the slave trade in the British Empire.
The Rise of Social Gospel
But then in the 19th and 20th century we had the social gospel. People came in and they did not understand, through Darwinism and liberal theology and all that, they lost the gospel in a different way. They became universalistic. They basically said, "Anybody and everybody is going to heaven, that's not the issue. The issue is the world's a really bad place because we don't understand how much God loves us, we don't understand how good God is and how we should be loving each other [social gospel]. We need to stamp out societal ills and evils and try to make the world a better place." Charles Sheldon wrote his book, In His Steps, in which he asked the famous question, "What would Jesus do?" But he was an advocate of what we call Christian socialism, and definitely a part of that social gospel movement. The central problem with the social Gospel is they didn't understand how a sinner is made right with God. They didn't understand the need sinners have to be saved. As a result of that, fundamentalists over-reacted, they said that the liberals have lost the gospel, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the miracle workings of Jesus and all that. We've got to protect these fundamentals of the gospel and not do anything that these social gospelers are doing. So, they pulled in and worked on the doctrine, but they were in a different kind of bubble, not interacting with the outside world, trying to protect the gospel, so they didn't do those kinds of mercy ministries.
Recently in the evangelical world, we've seen a change, people have gotten back. First it was moral issues like prayer in the schools, 10 Commandments, abortion and other things. Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship got into the prisons and started ministering to people at that level, and you started to see more and more evangelicals getting involved in mercy ministry, and I think in a healthy way. There are role models, especially in urban churches, like I've already mentioned, Redeemer Presbyterian, Tim Keller's church there in Manhattan, and 10th Presbyterian of Philadelphia, and John Piper's efforts at racial reconciliation in Minneapolis. So where does that leave us now? We live in a technologically advanced world, in which images of an earthquake in Haiti or floods in Pakistan can be right on your iPhone immediately as soon as they happen. We see more than ever before, the crushing burdens of this sin cursed world and the trouble we're in. Also, in the US and in other places in the Western world there's economic uncertainty, more and more unemployed people, a different kind of homeless people, some with college degrees, but are underemployed or unemployed. More and more troubles in churches just like ours, where people are really financially needy. The present administration, the Obama administration, I think sees increasingly a role of government in solving those problems, and that's really a fork in the road, the question, "Are we going to see bigger and bigger and bigger government answering these problems, or is there a different solution?" I think there's a different solution, I think the church is at the centerpiece of what God wants to do to solve these problems in the world.
Among Christians, especially younger Christians, we're seeing more and more of a zeal to do a kind of physical ministry of the poor and needy, disconnected from the gospel and the exclusivity of Christ. Lots of college students who have no commitment to Christ at all want to do things to give something back, or they just feel good building homes for the homeless. CNN has a little spot every week called CNN's Heroes of the Week. I went on their website and found out who it was this week, it was a guy who builds bridges in Kenya. So, I'm back to Kenya again. There he is building bridges. He's built 46 bridges to help with local flooding and other things, but no mention of Christ. He may be a Christian. I don't know, I tried to find out whether he was. There's no mention, it doesn't seem relevant. That's where we live right now. People who are energetic and excited to do good works, but like back in the Kennedy days with the Peace Corps and all that, wanting to do exciting things with the United Nations or whatever, but no connection directly to the gospel. Christians can get involved, but the gospel's not at the center. We may be kind of oozing slowly back into a social gospel again.
Priority of Gospel in Mercy Ministry
That's just laying the land. What priorities do I want to give you quickly to try to sort these things through? As I look through scripture, I'm going to give you five, and instead of giving the applications at the end of the sermon, I'm going to do it as I make these points. The first priority concerning ministry to the poor and needy is justification before ministry. You must be born again before you can do anything God sees as good. That's the priority. You don't have any good works until you come to faith in Christ. There are really only two religions in the world: The religion of salvation by grace through faith in Christ and the religion of good works, and at the center of that religion of good works is usually some kind of ministry of the poor and needy. Ministry to the poor and needy will not save you on judgement day. Now you can read the sheep and the goats and say, "I don't see faith in Jesus anywhere here." That's where scripture has to interpret scripture, the gospel is clear that we must believe in Jesus, to trust in Him for the salvation of our souls. “By grace we have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it's the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast.”
Jesus comes to His apostles the night before His crucifixion, and He's there washing their feet. He comes to Peter and Peter has no interest in having Jesus wash his feet. He asked one of those obvious questions, "Are you about to wash my feet?" I think he was probably the seventh or eighth apostle, I don't know. "Yes Peter, I'm going to wash your feet." Actually, he said, "What I'm doing now you do not understand but later you will." The deeper answer. "Later you will understand the significance of the foot washing." "Never Lord, you shall never wash my feet." Jesus said, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." So first, Jesus has to wash you, then you can wash each other's feet. The Son of Man came not to be served. He doesn't need you; you need Him. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” The first priority then is you must be born again, you must be justified through faith in Christ, therefore come to Christ. Look to Christ, look to His blood shed on the cross. Don't try to earn your salvation by getting involved in the community or Habitat for Humanity, or any of these other good things, don't do that first. First come to the cross. But this doesn't mean that faith which is apart from works stays apart from works. The faith that justified is never apart from works. It always produces good works.
Because when you are born again, you are spiritually united with Jesus and through the Spirit, his intentions and personality and his love start to pulsate through your soul, and you can't help but love the poor and needy if you're really a Christian. There's just going to be good works flowing through a faith that genuinely justifies, but first, you must be born again.
The second gospel priority is ministry to the soul above ministry to the body. It is a higher priority for Christians to minister to the soul which will endure forever, than to the body which is destined for the grave. If you're already going to the "But that doesn't mean" part, hang on, okay, let me make my point and then I'll say, "But that doesn't mean... " There are three passages that teach me this priority. First, Matthew 16:26, "What would it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?" Or what could a man give in exchange for his soul?” Here, Jesus plainly puts the value of the soul as higher than any physical thing. If you took a homeless man from the streets of Chicago, gave him a new set of clothes, fed him for a year, gave him a job's training program, enabled him to get a good solid job, and he kept that job and became middle class, healthy, strong, and didn't love Jesus and died and went to hell, what would it profit him? What good is it? The second passage that teaches me this is after the feeding of the 5000. The next day the people were looking for another meal. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you're looking for me, not because you saw a miraculous sign, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not labor for the food that spoils but for the food that endures to eternal life which the Son of Man will give you." Stop thinking about your stomach. Stop thinking about your body. It is temporary. That's what Jesus is saying. Ecclesiastes 6:7 says, "All man's efforts are for his mouth yet his appetite is never satisfied." I don't think Ecclesiastes 6:7 is saying all man's efforts should be for his mouth, it's just saying that's what they tend to be. Or in Philippians 3, Paul says, "For as I have often told you before and now say again, even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things." Jesus is urging everyone, both the lost, the needy, and Christian workers and evangelists, seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well. That's not one of the three key passages, I just slipped that one in there, but put your mind first on the spiritual things and let the other things come.
What is that third and final passage? Some men brought to Jesus in Matthew 9:2, a paralyzed man, a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralyzed man, "Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven." What was Jesus' priority there? Ministry to the felt need. What was the felt need? Freedom from paralysis. Jesus goes to the heart of the matter. "Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven." Let me ask you a question, if that's all Jesus had done, I don't mean just any person, now this is Jesus, the Judge of all the Earth, declaring that man's sin is forgiven, would that have been enough for the paralyzed man that day? Is that a valid ministry, if he had sent him home paralyzed, but forgiven of all of his sins? I tell you it is a valid ministry, because within the promise that his sins will be forgiven is the promise of resurrection to a glorified life, in which not just paralysis, but every disease and pain and suffering will be healed. Jesus in effect said, "I'll get to your paralysis by and by." He actually did it right away because they're saying, "This fellow is blaspheming. Who has the right to forgive sins?" Jesus said, "So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on Earth to forgive sins,” he said to the man, "Rise and walk." Therefore, we must put a priority on gospel ministry, a ministry of the Gospel above ministry to the body. The gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes. Our good example will not save anyone's souls.
I think a lot of you have a wonderful example, you have a sweet countenance, your face looks delightful, you are pleasant, you are patient, you are tender-hearted, you have a sweet tone of voice. I can just tell you there are non-Christians that can do better at all that stuff than you. The difference between you and them is you have the gospel, and they don't. So, in the midst of all of our ministry to the body must be a commitment to share the gospel as often as we can. There's a supposed quote and I've quoted it before, from St. Francis of Assisi, I actually don't think he said it, but some people say he did, "Preach the gospel, use words if necessary." Have you heard that before? Oh, my goodness. Where do they come up with this stuff? "Preach the gospel, use words if necessary." And I lampooned it probably a year or two ago, saying it's like saying, "Feed the hungry, use food if necessary." I think food is necessary to feed the hungry, don't you? I think the words of the gospel are necessary to preaching the gospel, and that's the only thing that's going to save souls. However, this does not mean that we don't minister to the body. Frankly, if we're not ministering to the body, how can we say the love of God is in us? Jesus ministered to the body. He just put a priority over the soul, that's all. 1 John 3, "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?" James says, "Suppose one of you has food and clothing and all kinds of the world's goods, and you see a brother without food or clothing, and you say, ‘Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well-fed’, but does nothing for his physical needs, what good is that?" Both James and John are saying the same thing. Faith without deeds is dead. There must be deeds. I'm just saying in the middle of the deed doing let's preach the gospel.
The third gospel priority is ministry to believers above ministry to unbelievers. Galatians 6:10 is the key verse, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the household of faith." We see in the sheep and the goats, Jesus identifies with His people, "These are my brothers, these are my sisters, you cared for me by caring for them." What's interesting is Christians see Jesus in everything anyway, all the time, that's what we do. The law of Moses isn't just the law of Moses, or some letters engraved in a stone, Jesus is the law, and therefore we see Him in all of these encounters. He's at the center of it all. But the commands and examples of benevolence in the New Testament always focus primarily on church members helping other church members. It's true. Look it up. Over and over, its church caring for church. The gospel was moving so rapidly and advancing so much that someone went from non-Christian to Christian quickly, they went from non-Christian with tremendous needs to Christian with tremendous needs quickly. That's the best way to do it, friends. Let's lead them to Christ and then take care of their tremendous needs. Oh, how sweet would that be.
This does not mean we should not minister to outsiders; it says in Galatians 6:10, "Let us do good to all people, just especially those who belong to the household of faith." If a Good Samaritan was going by, let's say he were a Christian, and this guy's lying by the side of the road, is he going to kneel down and say, "I need to see some spiritual credentials, please? Are you a Christian? Have you come to faith in Christ? Let me share the gospel with you, okay?" When Jesus was engaging frequently with the people, first it was preaching, then feeding the 5,000. What I'm saying is put a mental doctrinal priority on the preaching of the gospel, while you minister to the needs of the body.
The fourth gospel priority, a little arcane, I'm not going to spend much time on it, but there are a lot of people talking about doing good to the city, a lot of urban ministry. They tend to be what I call "post-millennial", in other words, as you get better and better and better, as we preach the gospel, more and more, the city is going to get brighter and shinier and better and better, if we can just plant more trees and have more gardens and just cover over more graffiti and all that will solve the problems. Well, you know what's going to happen, have you seen those pretty little parks five years later? A Christian knows what's going to happen five years later. Actually, a Christian knows what's going to happen at the end of the world. It's all going to burn. Every little gospel island that we set up is just an oasis of hope pointing to a future city that will not be destroyed. Hebrews 11 says, "We are aliens and strangers here, and we're looking forward to a better city with foundations that are never going to go away." The people who say that we should do good to the city are saying, "Well, Jeremiah said the exiles, they should pray for the shalom or the peace of the city, the well-being of the city and settle in there. You're going to be there for seven years, do good to the city." Yes, but what they forget to notice is that the same prophet, Jeremiah said, "I want you to know what's going to happen to Babylon, it's going to be destroyed. So, while you do good to the city, keep in mind that someday it's going to be a burning heap of rubble where even the jackals will not live." We should realize that if we set up an urban ministry center, it might get vandalized. The computers might get stolen. The stuff we do feels temporary because the physical stuff really is temporary. That's why we're going to put our hope on the eschatological city that we're building, the new Jerusalem by the ministry of the gospel. Be hope-filled people, don't get discouraged easily.
Finally, ministry to the poor above ministry to the rich. This is convicting for us. Luke 14:12-14, "Then Jesus said, 'When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors. If you do, they may invite you back, and so you'll be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the cripple, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’” Reach out to those who can't pay you back, that's what Jesus is saying. That doesn't mean you can't have friends over for lunch. I'm just saying, where is the sacrificial ministry to people who are difficult to love and who seem to be a bottomless pit? You've got to do it with a hope that Jesus at the resurrection of the righteous will repay you. Let's focus on those.
Find a ministry that causes you to get out of an air-conditioned bubble If you've been doing that, get out of that and go out in the streets and minister to people who are hurting. Counseling ministry will be another one. It's not just financial, sometimes people's lives are just falling apart, they may be wealthy materially, but they're hurting, hurting, hurting in their marriages. Let's get out of the air-conditioned bubble, let's minister as Jesus did.