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The Ministry of Mercy
In Luke 10, Jesus responds to an expert in God’s law who was trying to trap him into saying something derogatory about Scripture. The man asks Jesus, “What shall we do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers by asking him a question: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
The man responds, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replies, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” Jesus responds to the religious leader’s trap by putting him in a trap to show that he and the Jewish leaders are the ones who don’t keep God’s law to love God and their neighbors well.
“Trying to justify himself,” the man attempts to trap Jesus again with another question, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds this time with his famous story of the Good Samaritan:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passUped by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:30-37
Jesus is teaching that someone who truly loves God and others is like this Good Samaritan who is willing to give up his plans and risk his safety to provide costly, personal care to a total stranger of another social class and race. When Jesus tells us to “go and do likewise” he’s calling us to show our love for God and others by how we love those without housing, money, health care, etc.
We’re facing a serious problem today. Never has there been a time in history when there have been more churches and more professing Christians. And yet despite the remarkable spread of Christianity, spiritual darkness, cultural, and societal decay are reaching unprecedented levels.
Even where the church is growing most rapidly (in Asia, Africa and Latin America) the results are often inch-deep, mile-wide forms of Christianity with little or no true, lasting transformation of individuals, families and cultures. As a result, violence, poverty, disease, and gross injustice are on the rise around the world and in our communities.
Most of Christianity in our day has lost sight of its historic roots by often proclaiming a pragmatic, privatized, prosperity gospel that rarely results in: 1) authentic Christian conversions, 2) holistic discipleship, and 2) societal transformation. As a result, the Church of Jesus Christ is slowly losing its transforming influence on the world at large.
According to Scripture, the only ultimate hope for the world is found in a very foolish-sounding story called the Good News of Jesus Christ. It’s the Good News that 2000 years ago God’s kingdom entered our world in a new way through the person and work of Jesus to restore God’s fallen humanity and creation—as far as the curse is found.
This is the Good News that the Father’s creation, ruined by humanity’s sin, is now being redeemed by Christ and renewed by His Holy Spirit into the Kingdom of God. This is the Good News that through the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, God has given him authority to form a New Humanity on earth made up of his people from every tribe, tongue, and nation who will repent, believe in, and follow Jesus Christ.
The Bible calls this New Humanity the Church through which the ascended King Jesus continues his ministry of word and deed on the earth today until he returns to make all things new. After Jesus revealed himself as the promised King, he promised, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
The church is the primary means God uses to carry out his purposes on earth today and the only institution on earth Jesus promises to build and bless for the sake of the world. This is why the Apostle Paul’s ministry was not merely to proclaim the gospel in evangelism, strengthen Christians in discipleship, and care for the poor. His ultimate goal was always planting churches that would continue these essential ministries for generations after he was gone.
Paul writes, “God’s intent is that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realm.” (Eph 3:10). This is why church planting is the most effective evangelistic, discipleship, and mercy methodology under heaven.
History has proven that when churches flourish, people and societies flourish. When followers of Jesus gather every week for worship, preaching, prayer, and fellowship, they are renewed as they experience a foretaste of the kingdom to come.
When they leave, they scatter like salt and light into all their individual spheres of public life, where they evangelize the lost, serve the poor, and stand against all forms of injustice, bearing witness to the glory of their future home.
Our special focus in this course is on developing the church’s ministry of mercy to the poor, not only outside the church, but especially inside the church. Paul writes, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal 6:10).”
A strong mercy ministry is necessary in every church no matter what socio- economic group makes up the church or the community. Biblical mercy is much broader than mere physical acts of charity or development for the materially poor. It seeks to alleviate not only suffering from physical brokenness, but all forms of spiritual, mental, emotional, and relational brokenness.
Since the church is the most effective mercy ministry method under heaven, the best thing we can do for the poor is to help establish a healthy, gospel-centered church in their midst to evangelize and disciple them out of poverty. In our next video, we’ll learn some key marks of mercy that can help individuals and churches be more biblical and effective in ministries of mercy.