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The Gospel is More Than a Cup of Soup or a Warm Coat

Soup-Kitchen-Jump-CCertainly the title is one that will probably elicit a variety of responses.  Certainly these things are not wrong in and of themselves, but maybe simply for the sake of provocation, I offer the thought in order to introduce the present topic.

St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the gospel everywhere you go.  If necessary, use words.”  It is a well known quote that many Christians have not only heard but have greatly appreciated.  There are probably many who have the quote on their favorite quotes section on Facebook!  Francis’ words are clearly a call to Christian service and love of neighbor.  These things are obviously important and essential for anyone committed to Christ.  However, Francis’ words must be examined with much caution, for the content of the gospel is far more than an act of Christian service and love.  In reality, if I don’t use words, the gospel cannot be understood.  What is to distinguish our kind deed from that of any other religion that teaches concern for others?

St. Francis’ words are particularly unhelpful when one considers the religious climate of the day here in America.  Propositional truth claims are worthless and acts of compassion and service are discerned to be a more appropriate base for religious content.  Political correctness and the inclination in this culture to be offended by anything that might sound even remotely disagreeable lead less courageous Christians to simply resort to a kind act.  No one will be offended by that.  It becomes an excusable way of not talking about the truth claims present in the Christian gospel.  Thus, it becomes easy and popular to relegate Christian proclamation to community service.  For crying out loud, practically every actor or actress in Hollywood has built a well in Africa or handed out food on Thanksgiving.  Surely the gospel is more than this.

The Bible teaches that the work of Christ is a work of the heart first and foremost.  It is a work that begins within the human soul, and then, and only then, produces a life of commitment and love on the outside.  Meeting human needs is completely insufficient in and of itself to transform the human soul and bring spiritual life where there is only death.  The message of the gospel, the truth of the gospel, is the only thing that can do that.  Our concern must be not only for physical needs, but more importantly, for spiritual needs.  If the opportunity to meet the former provides opportunities to meet the latter, then praise God.  But it is not enough to stop there.  Jesus came not simply to feed people and meet physical needs (though He certainly did this), but to address the deeper spiritual need of spirit regeneration.

Now certainly the gospel cannot be disconnected from a commitment to Christian love and service.  The truth of the gospel must be seen both as we declare the gospel with our mouths as well as our lives.  Our lives help make the gospel believable.  Claiming high intimacy with God while fostering no intimacy with people is certainly a danger.  Let us not cease from serving others and caring for those in need.  It is biblical and Christian to do so.  And yet, that will not be the challenge we face today in this country.  The challenge will be not to disconnect the gospel from the vocal proclamation of man’s inherent sinfulness and need for spiritual rebirth, which comes about only through embracing and trusting in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  The challenge will be whether we will be courageous enough to speak up about the true content of the gospel, even when it offends those around us.  We must speak up, not simply live out.  Paul tells us in Romans 10:14:  “And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”  Paul speaks not necessarily of what they have not seen, but of what they have not heard.  SINNERS MUST HEAR THE GOSPEL.

Let us remember that humanitarianism is not the gospel.  We have not been faithful to the full biblical mandate to proclaim the gospel if we have simply been nice to those around us.  Therefore, I conclude with this charge:  Preach the gospel everywhere you go.  And use words.  It will be necessary.

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Discussion

5 thoughts on “The Gospel is More Than a Cup of Soup or a Warm Coat

  1. Nice Josh but how would what you said here fit with James 1:27 which says that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world”? I definitely agree with what you said. In Haiti Brent always told us “We’re not here to make Haiti a more comfortable place to go to hell from.” I definitely agree that the gospel must be preached if God is to be glorified; however, don’t you think there is a difference between the love we show as Christians and the love the world shows?

    Posted by Jacob | July 16, 2009, 6:31 pm
  2. Yeah Jacob you ask the question I expected someone to ask. And it’s a good question. Obviously I believe that we must exhibit transformation in the way we live our lives, and that transformation is important to our Christian witness. I basically said that much in the second to last paragraph. Our preaching carries little weight if it is not reinforced by a life of love and integrity. Having just recently finished preaching through James myself, the passage you quote is very familiar to me. James is here offering a means by which his audience can examine whether their faith is genuine. So the context has less to do with evangelism and more to do with Christian self-evaluation. James really doesn’t deal with evangelism in a real pure sense in his epistle. Still, I think James does understand the importance of Christian love as something that undergirds our witness to the community around us. Obviously the problems he is trying to get his audience to address are hurting their witness. I believe that our life makes our message believable, but is not the content of the message itself.

    Your second question is an even better question, and one I have thought about a great deal. Does our love and service distinguish itself from the love that the world exhibits? And my answer is that I think it can, but it’s not enough in and of itself to really set Christianity apart. Church history is full of stories of the church sacrificially giving of themselves, even giving their lives in service to other people. In the 1st few centuries ii was not uncommon for rampant illness to break out in the empires cities due to poor sewage and condensed living situations. While most others would leave to keep from getting sick, the Christians would stay and care for those who were sick. Often times many of the Christians died along with the others. On a broad scale, no other groups of people displayed this kind of sacrifice and love for others. I think Christian love can be different because it is motivated by grace, which is unique and seems to foster greater sacrifice. But, there are other false religious traditions (usually traditions with some tie to Christianity at some point) that also promote love and sacrifice.

    Ghandi had great respect for Jesus and His message of non-violence and love of neighbor, but he never would surrender his life to Christ as his Lord. Jesus has a certain level of respect and credibility with many unbelieving philosophers and thinkers through the centuries because of this dimension of His teaching. Still, they reject the more important truth of their need for His righteousness to justify them and not their own.

    So I think Christian love can set itself apart. But it can never be disconnected from the content of the gospel that is responsible for this kind of life. It’s just not enough by itself.

    Hope that makes sense.

    Posted by albinomexican | July 17, 2009, 4:43 am
  3. Yeah I think you’re right. It’s funny, I was looking for that story I read about somewhere about the Christians who went and cared for the diseased in the 1st century when I was writing my first post. Anyways…I think our love has to be different than the world’s. I mean, obviously it is. It is the love of God that flows through us. We love because he first loved us but maybe our love is just different in a way the world doesn’t necessarily represent. You said that this Christian love can never be disconnected from the content of the gospel. Maybe that’s because it is through the gospel that we truly show Christian love. Our love cannot be satisfied by merely treating the sick and hungry but is only fulfilled when we treat the dying soul with the cross of Christ. The world may not recognize this as love and may write it off as some mere ideological superiority complex; however, we as the ambassadors of Christ show love by bringing others to Christ, knowing that by doing so we bring them the greatest joy they will ever experience.

    Maybe this was exactly what you were talking about but I guess I just had to think it through a little…

    Posted by Jacob | July 18, 2009, 9:01 am
  4. I do think that you offer a good supplementary thought to mine though that fits with it. Well said my friend.

    Posted by albinomexican | July 18, 2009, 9:54 pm
  5. “We must speak up, not simply live out.” — better title! We must do better at both. I love it – great words Josh!

    Posted by Z | July 19, 2009, 2:24 pm

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