I recently heard someone talk about the “social gospel” and how excited he was that other churches were getting involved in it. The “social gospel” is the idea that we go out and meet the needs of people. There has long been a divide between churches who “share the gospel” and those who practice the “social gospel.” Until recently, I would have applauded this man’s statement. When he said that, though, I stopped to think. How can you “share the gospel” without being involved in doing the “social gospel?”
The whole gospel involves bringing people into fellowship with God through Jesus Christ and meeting needs. When Jesus dealt with people who were sick or demon-possessed, He healed them. When they were hungry, He fed them. When they were caught in the depths of their sin, He forgave them and drew them into a relationship with the fullness of God. When Jesus taught, He taught that same principle. In one of His parables, He separated the sheep from the goats. The sheep were welcomed into the Kingdom because they had fed Jesus when He was hungry, clothed Him, visited Him in prison, gave him drink when he was thirsty, and showed hospitality. The sheep were amazed and asked when they had done this. “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40)
What the Church has done in recent centuries is to set up a dividing line. You either support faith or works. In other words, you either get to heaven because you say the right words in a prayer, with or without tears; or you get to heaven because you do a lot of good things. That dividing line is false. Paul urged churches to care for the needs of the saints. James urged followers to show others their faith, their relationship with God by their deeds. Instead of following the Bible we’ve set up our skirmish lines like the Israelites and the Philistines taunting each other and letting the Philistines know that we are the only true Christians. Which side is Israel? The side I’m on, of course. Those opposed to my beliefs are the Philistines. (And there is no doubt that those opposed to my beliefs would think just the opposite.)
The problem is, that there are a lot of “least of these” roaming our world; walking the streets; living next door to us and in all of our fighting and catcalling, they don’t get ministered to. We have surrendered our obligation to help the least of us (and yes, that shift in pronoun was deliberate) and given it to government agencies. When that happened, we not only stopped seeing that those of us in financial need required ministry, we shifted our response and started blaming people in need for being there. We started attacking those in need for draining our resources. It is time for the Church to recognize that there is one gospel. That gospel ministers to spiritual needs and physical needs. We need to find ways to share the love of Christ with others and bring them into fellowship with God and to show the love of Christ by meeting needs. There is no particular order there, but a hint may be that if a man is hungry, he won’t be able to understand the love of God. The two-word gospel message for today is “Meet needs.” Just do it.
Lord, remind me of my responsibilities each day. Help me find a way to meet the needs of others and show them Your love. Remind me that no matter what group of people I label as “the least of these” – You love them and care for them. You died on the cross for them. Then let me show them that truth by caring for them.