The Mission of the Church: Compassion for Others

Eucharist-Mission1Repeat after me:

I will not use people in an effort to save them.

Again:

I will not use people in an effort to save them.

Got it? Jesus never used people. He never objectivized or instrumentalized them. He loved them even when he knew they wouldn’t be converted or even say “Thank you.” But neither was he an enabler. The people he helped really needed help.

On the other hand, we are not omniscient — or even very wise. We’re going to make mistakes and help charlatans and, sometimes, our cynicism will get the best of us, causing us to turn down someone in genuine need. It’ll happen. But none of that excuses being an enabler.

But … isn’t it better to help 100 people even if only one of them is in need rather than risk failing to help the one?

No, it is not. Because for every 99 people you waste God’s money on, there are 9,999 who have a genuine need. By giving money to those with no real need, you take money away from someone who really needs it — and you reinforce bad behavior and encourage thieves to steal. Encouraging sin is not holy.

But didn’t Jesus say that we should be like God who makes it rain on the just and the unjust? Doesn’t that mean we allow ourselves to be defrauded for the sake of the gospel?

No, it does not. God gives rain to the just and the unjust — but both need rain. Neither is enabled to sin by the rain. No one is taking rain from someone who really needs it.

I didn’t say we should only help good people and never help bad people. After all, even bad people have legitimate needs. We help both God’s own children and those who’ve not yet accepted Jesus — and even those who’ve rejected Jesus — for the same reason Jesus said to walk the second mile. But we meet actual needs.

It’s okay to verify the facts, to ask for a tax return or pay stub, to see the household budget, to see the credit card statement. There are no privacy rights. No right not to be mentored on how to do better. No right not to be chewed out for spending a paycheck on beer and lottery tickets when the baby needs diapers. It’s quite okay to hold those we help to the same standards we impose on ourselves. In fact, discipline is a godly, loving thing.

To me, this part of the question is easy and obvious. Here’s the one I struggle with. Back when Tuscaloosa was hit by an F-5 tornado, the tornado demolished many of the poorest neighborhoods in town, and several churches, my own included, helped people buy new household goods. Many did not have renters insurance (surprisingly cheap), and those that did didn’t have enough for a total loss. The government help was not sufficient, especially for the working poor. And since many businesses were destroyed, many a restaurant and retail worker lost her job — at least for several months until their old store could rebuild. (I’ll be forever grateful for those chains that found jobs for their people in nearby towns, rather than laying their employees off.)

So my church bought furniture and household goods for a few dozen families. People from all over the country donated very generously. And we were fortunate to serve neighborhoods where the donations were gratefully received.

But another church in town was assigned a neighborhood filled with families who’d been living on government welfare for generations — and very often the people they served were not only ungrateful but entitled. That is, the church members would struggle carrying a new TV or couch into someone’s home while 6′ 5″ heavily muscled grown men sat on the porch and told them where to put the furniture — utterly without gratitude — even complaining that the TV wasn’t big enough. Some even asked that the TV not be taken out of the box, so they could more easily sell it.

Well, we didn’t leave TVs with people who were planning to sell them, but the churches decided to serve even the most entitled, ungrateful families, based on —

(Lk. 17:11-19 ESV)  11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.  12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance  13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.  15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice;  16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.  17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?  18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Presumably, Jesus knew that the 9 Jewish lepers would not express thanks. Does that mean that should enable selfish, unappreciative behavior?

I think Luke and Jesus taught this lesson for a different reason —

But on reflection it is not now so hard to see why Luke, knowing of the healing of the ten lepers, thought it an appropriate episode to insert here. For it sums up the whole of what Jesus is saying both to his disciples and to the Pharisees in the section from 16:1 to 18:14. Both groups have been given the immense privilege of hearing the word of salvation from the lips of the Saviour himself. The Pharisees, who, though privileged in this way, do not respond with acceptance and gratitude, represent the majority. But always there are some who, like the penitent sinners and tax collectors, do respond wholeheartedly. So, whether by Luke’s design or by the Lord’s own design, a particular miracle which took place in the course of the journey towards Jerusalem fits in here as a living illustration of what Luke has been describing. Of the ten men who are touched by the healing power of Jesus, only one realizes that what has happened deserves a personal, heartfelt response to the Saviour from whom that power has flowed; and the one thankful man is the Samaritan, the outsider. Of the nine—Jews, we infer—Jesus sees nothing more.

Michael Wilcock, The Savior of the World: The Message of Luke’s Gospel, The Bible Speaks Today, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 166.

His experience foreshadows the future inclusion of the Samaritans into the believing community, as well as the rejection of the gospel by mainstream Judaism. 

Robert H. Stein, Luke, The New American Commentary, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 24:435.

The story is placed in the midst of several stories dealing with the Pharisees’ reaction to Jesus and some of Jesus’ Kingdom parables. The Jewish lepers were healed but they were not forgiven. Only the grateful Samaritan received the greater blessing — and this even though he was barred from the Temple and couldn’t obey Jesus’ instructions to show himself to the priests!

The story is a harbinger of the fate of the Jews after Pentecost. The vast majority of the Jews would ultimately be ungrateful for the blessings God would give through Jesus — and their sense of entitlement would cost them their salvation — even though they had the Temple, the priesthood, and the promises found in the Torah. And as a result, they’d have no place in the Kingdom.

In the Torah, landowners were required to leave their fields only partly harvested so the poor — the gleaners — could harvest crops from someone else’s land as a form of private welfare. But they still had to do the backbreaking labor of harvesting the crop by hand, threshing, milling, and cooking. No one gave away bread — just the opportunity to harvest wheat.

And so maybe I’m evil or miss the point, but to me, a sense of entitlement and laziness are sins that should not be rewarded. I’m glad — thrilled — to donate a TV to a family devastated by a tornado, but they should help carry the TV from the car to the house — and say “Thank you.”

Some would say that my benevolence is about me and my choice to do good even for bad people. I would say that benevolence is about God and his generosity, which he sometimes chooses to display through his followers, such as me. And God chooses to bless the poor in spirit, not the lazy and entitled.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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