Articles

Spiritually Gifted Service

Under the Old Covenant, a person wanting to enter the Kingdom of God was required to obey completely the Law that was given to Moses. The Lord Jesus tells us that all of God’s Law can be summarized in two commandments. Luke 10:27 summarizes the Law as:

  1. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind;
  2. Love thy neighbor as thyself.
After giving this teaching an “expert in Jewish Law” asked Jesus to define “neighbor” as it was given in this commandment. After all, if a man was required to obey this commandment perfectly to enter the Kingdom of God then we had better know who exactly is our “neighbor” that we must love. Jesus answered this question with a story: He told about a Jewish man who was traveling from one city to another, and fell into the hands of robbers. They beat him up, took all his possessions and left him there half dead lying on the side of the road.

A number of upstanding religious Jews came by and saw him lying on the side of the road. Instead of offering assistance- thinking he might possibly be dead- they moved over to the other side of the road and passed by. Finally a Samaritan, (a person despised by the Jews), came and had compassion on this man. He got down in the dirt with him and tended his wounds. He put the man on his own donkey and took him to the nearest inn where he cared for him. Before the Samaritan left, he instructed the innkeeper that he would pay for any and all expenses that were incurred as a result of staying at the inn, until the man was healthy enough to leave on his own. It was this Samaritan who was loving his neighbor, the Jew. So all thought the Jews may have been literally this mans neighbor their failure to show compassion to him demonstrated their disobedience to this commandment. While the Samaritan, who was not only of a different culture but also an enemy of the Jews, was said to fulfill this commandment because he showed compassion.

In a day when great religious, social, cultural and racial discrimination existed between the peoples living in and around Jerusalem, this definition of “neighbor” must have seemed unthinkable. For a Samaritan to show such compassion to a Jew or vice-versa was inconceivable. Yet Jesus knew intimately the heart of God. God commands His people to love other people. Not just our brothers and sisters- but our neighbors- even when our neighbors consider us their enemies. Indeed, Jesus says in Matthew 5:44-45:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you. That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven”

Loving our neighbor is not restricted simply to loving our good friend living next door, but our neighbors who are, in every imaginable way, different than we are- breaking through the religious, social, cultural, and racial barriers that divide peoples.

Of course Jesus did not just preach this, but practiced it as well- as He traveled He ministered to the poor, the sick and injured- even the dead- the demon possessed, and the worst of sinners. He showed compassion toward Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles.

I noted previously that those wishing to enter the Kingdom of God under the old covenant were required to obey God’s Law in its entirety. As a result of this obedience they would become entitled to enter God’s Kingdom.

Though God’s heart has never changed concerning His desire for us to love Him and our neighbors, we are no longer under the old covenant but rather under the promised new covenant. (Jeremiah 31:31) Since Jesus is the only Man who has obeyed God’s Law in its entirety, He is the only Man entitled, based upon His works, to enter the Kingdom of God. Therefore the assurance God gives to us that we will share in heaven is not based upon our own works or efforts but on those works of Jesus.

This is the core of what it means to be a Christian (and thus be under the new covenant)- that God reconciles to Himself wicked sinners, like me, who could never get to God themselves by doing good deeds, having a good philosophy, or good religion. God’s gift to us is a personal relationship with Him and a new identity in Christ which becomes the incentive, and power that drives us on toward love and good deeds. Like Ephesians 2:8-10 says:

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of Works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

So having been saved by God’s grace through faith is separate and distinct from doing any good works of my own. But how we live our lives now is not so much a function of what we will get, as it is a matter of who we are. We live our lives now as Children of God (His workmanship) led by the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that those who live by the Spirit of God are children of God, (Romans 8:14) -so a person who is a child of God will live as a child of God. The converse is also true- the one who is not a child of God will not live as a child of God.

In addition, we are servants of the Lord Jesus- and He wants us to follow His lead. He reached out in compassion to the most unwanted of people- those rejected and forgotten, those hurting and those in bondage to all kinds of sin. Jesus commands us to love each other as He loved us. In John 13:34-35 Jesus says:

“A new commandment I give unto you. That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

Just as Christ loved unconditionally, giving His entire life even to the point of death on a cross, so are we to show this same sort of unconditional love to others. Not because the objects of our love have done anything to deserve it or even ask for it, nor are we trying to earn God's approval, but because we are now new creations, created spiritually in the image of Christ (Galatians 6:15). In this, we display the same love for people that Christ has for people.

To feed and clothe the poor, to reach out to people struggling in every conceivable way through life whether in sickness or poverty, or sin, -to share the gospel of grace to all people by verbal explanation- this is how Christ demonstrated His love for us. We are to lay our lives down for all those that we genuinely care about just as Christ laid down His life for us.

Consider an example for application: We probably all have seen and pitied the beggar at street intersections holding up signs that say “will work for food”. While few people actually have work for these people to do, it seems appropriate if not easier, to pull out a one or a five dollar bill, and give it to them. I don’t want to discourage this kind of giving at all, but I know that some, if not many, want to make sure this money is going toward genuine needs like food and rent, and not drugs, booze, or cigarettes. I think we all would like to be able to discern the needy from the greedy, but when you have 15 seconds to give at a stop light, sometimes giving money is the only alternative to not giving at all.

A friend of mine recently showed me how powerful a little bit of preparation can be in instances like these. He took me shopping and spent ten dollars on basic supplies like soups, toilet paper, canned fruit, bread, and some inexpensive cookies. He then placed portions of these in a dozen or so plastic grocery bags and kept them on the floor of his car. As he drove around town throughout the week he would give them to people begging at the street corners. Such giving stretches a little bit of money a long way and meets needs that you know they have, without allowing the temptation to use cash on destructive habits or addictions. It also is a good opportunity to leave them with gospel tracts or a card to a homeless shelter where they can get clothes, showers, food and Bibles.

I have always received positive feedback from the poor who receive these little survival kits, because it tells them that you have been thinking about them longer than the ten seconds it takes at a stop light to bring your guilty conscience to reach into your wallet. It tells them you really care.

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