It was 1976 when one of the most iconic ad campaigns of all time took off running. Lite Beer from Miller, now known as Miller Lite created a cultural behemoth with the simple phrase “Tastes Great! Less Filling!” In the ad campaign, people supposedly argued about what was great about Miller Lite. The message of the ad, of course, was that both aspects of the beer were important. Please don’t take this as a promotion of any kind of alcohol, since I don’t drink it, but the genius of the ad campaign can’t be denied.
When you think deeply, the Christian Church has been in a similar fight for many years. “Preach the Gospel!” “Meet Needs!” and the resulting discussion has led to some angry encounters among Christians. People who proclaim one of those phrases label themselves to be conservative, and they are proud of their conservatism. People who proclaim the other phrase label themselves liberals and they are proud of their liberalism. Jesus dealt with this division among the faithful when He sent disciples out to the lost sheep of Israel. “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.’” (Matthew 10:7-8)
Which is more important? The answer is both. Perhaps the best explanation I ever heard on this discussion came from a pastor in Rwanda. We were there with Africa New Life Ministries on a Mission Trip and we had the privilege of worshiping with the church that is homebase for the organization. The pastor, Charles Mugisha, talked about his experiences picking coffee as a young man and his father watching him. His father broke in and told him that he shouldn’t pick with just one hand, he needed to pick with two hands to work more efficiently. The message from the pastor was that we as followers of Christ we need to reach out to others with a two-handed approach to ministry: with one hand we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, with the other we meet the needs of the people. I believe that this exemplifies the message of Jesus in this passage. I believe that is what James meant when he reminded us that faith without works is dead.
When you think about that ad, the problem with many of us as Christians is that we want a faith that “tastes great” and is “less filling.” The call of God is just the opposite. Sure, our faith “tastes” great in that it makes us feel good about our lives. Many use faith as a form of eternal fire insurance though, thinking that they don’t need to worry about anything else. True Christian faith, though is more filling, more demanding. We must meet the needs of people around us. We have delegated that responsibility to others, some by neglecting our call, others by design. Whatever has happened in the past, though, we, as the Church, the body of Christ, need to make sure that we are finding ways to meet the needs of the people around us. We must not foist that responsibility on others. We must proclaim the gospel with one hand and meet the needs of the others with the other hand. There is no option. There is no choice.
Lord, it’s far too easy to let others handle the responsibility of caring for the needs of others. Give me wisdom so that I can help meet the needs of others. Give my church wisdom in finding ways to meet the needs of those around us. Keep us working with both hands to proclaim and show Your grace to others.