Have you ever felt like something was missing?
I've sometimes felt that way about the church.
True Christianity consists of both Word and Deed. There are groups that completely ignore the Word and just focus on deed. That's not true Christianity. But on the other hand there are groups that just focus on the Word and completely ignore deed. That's not true Christianity either.
God doesn't just want our religious activity on Sundays. He wants our lives. It's very important that we emphasize the importance of preaching the Word. We should never compromise that.
But the church as a whole is to be about more than just listening to the Word. The preaching of the Word is to change you. We are to put that Word into action. We don't just put that Word into action by staying pure and holy in the world. I think many times we think that way. We think of obedience to God's Word in negative terms. Don't do this, don't do that. We completely focus on staying pure in an impure world.
But equally important – we put the Word into action by demonstrating Christ's love to a dying and hurting world. Love does something. Ephesians 2 says that we have been created in Christ Jesus for good works which He prepared beforehand for us to do. Titus says that Christ died that we might be eager to do good works. 2 Timothy says that God gave us the Bible to equip us to do those good works.
There should be something remarkable about the local church. Outsiders should look at us and not just say boy they are good at listening to sermons on Sunday morning, or man are those people good at singing old hymns. They should look at our life as a church and say wow, those people are tireless in their efforts for good, they are abounding in good works, I've never seen a group of people so zealous for the good of others, and not just when it is easy, but especially when it is most difficult.
The local church should be a launching pad for all sorts of ministries of mercy. Believers throughout church history have understood that. George Grant writes, "For centuries Christians have been the primary agents of charity and compassion in Western culture. From the first century forward to the founding of the American colonies, Christians took the lead in caring for the hungry, the dispossessed, and the afflicted. This was in fact the hallmark of authentic Christianity. Even the enemies of the church begrudgingly admitted there was something about the Gospel of Jesus Christ that compelled men to perform extraordinary feats of selfless compassion. For instance, during his three year reign as emperor in the fourth century, Julian the Apostate, tried to restore the paganism ofRome's early days and tried to undermine Christianity. But he could just not get around the Christian's works of love. Indeed in urging his government officials to charitable works, he said, 'We ought to be ashamed. Not a beggar is to be found among the Jews, and those godless Galileans [Christians] feed not only their own people but ours as well, whereas our people receive no assistance whatever from us."
We see this concern for the poor demonstrated by some of the greatest preachers in church history. Most of us remember George Whitefield for his preaching. God used him in a tremendous way in both England and America through his faithful preaching of the gospel. Most of us aren't aware however of how tirelessly he labored to start an orphanage in Georgia. Arnold Dallimore writes, "The trustees of Georgia had granted Whitefield five hundred acres of land, and he shortly began the construction of the Orphan house…He called the Orphan house Bethseda a Biblical term meaning a House of Mercy. The need was so evident that Whitefield could not wait for construction to be completed. So he rented the largest house in Savannah and filled it with orphan children. Not only did he provide them with a home, but they were likewise given schooling and training in obedience and Christian principles…" And one of the things Whitefield did as he traveled across America and England preaching was raise money for the building of that orphanage. Benjamin Franklin tells an interesting story regarding how persuasively Whitefield could plead on behalf of the orphans. "Mr. Whitefield…made large collections, for his eloquence had a wonderful power over the hearts and purses of his hearers, of which I myself was an instance…I happened…to attend one of his sermons in the course of which I perceived he intended to finish with a collection [for the orphans] and I silently resolved he should get nothing from me. I had in my pocket a handful of copper, three or four silver dollars, and five pistoles of gold. As he proceeded I began to soften and concluded to give the coppers. Another stroke of his oratory made me ashamed of that, and I determined to give the silver, and he finished so admirably, that I emptied my pocket wholly into the collector's dish, gold and all."
Charles Spurgeon is well-known as the Prince of Preachers. But not so well-known are his efforts on behalf of the poor. I think it’s George Grant who notes, "In 1861 he erected a house for the elderly. In 1864 he established a school for the needy children of London. In 1866 he founded Stockwell orphanages. And in 1867 to those many enterprises was added still another, a hospital. Explaining his…activity on behalf of the poor, Spurgeon said, 'God's intent in endowing any person with more substance than he needs is that he may have the pleasurable office, or rather the delightful privilege, of relieving want and woe. Alas, how many are there who consider that store which God has given into their hands for the purpose of the poor and needy to be only so much provision for their excessive luxury, a luxury which pampers them but yields them neither benefit nor pleasure. Others dream that wealth is given to them that they may keep it under lock and key, cankering and corroding…Who dares roll a stone over the well's mouth when thirst is raging all around? Who dares keep the bread from the women and children who are ready to gnaw their own arms for hunger? Above all, who dares allow the sufferer to writhe in agony uncared for, and the sick to pine into their graves unnursed? This is no small sin: it is a crime to be answered for, to the Judge, when He shall come to judge the quick and the dead."
Dr. John Rippon was the Pastor of the New Park Street Chapel before Spurgeon, and while he was there he began a ministry to the homeless poor. He wrote, "Christian compassion is driven by a holy and zealous compulsion when sight be caught of deprived distress. Talk not of mild and gentle acts, of soft provisions and hesitant walk. Christian compassion knows only boldness and sacrifice. Lest we strike the Judas bargain and go the way of the goats let us invite the strangers in. Let us shelter the aliens beneath a covering of charity and Christlikeness."