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This is part two of a three-part series, “How Then Shall We Help?”
Last month I stated that decreased suffering does not necessarily follow increased prosperity. In many cases, increased prosperity simply leads to new kinds of suffering. Helping our neighbors materially is not enough. It would be easy to assume from those reflections that the answer to the question, “How then shall we help?” would be this: Plant churches, hold evangelistic crusades, distribute Bibles, and get people saved. As Jesus said, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt 16:26) Why, then, does HOPE waste its time doing economic development when it could be focusing solely on the real work of preaching the Good News? The core issue here is whether our efforts should focus unilaterally on the spiritual condition of humanity.
The truth is this: We cannot ignore our clear call to generously give to the poor—and not just because it amplifies our words. Throughout Scripture (over 2,000 biblical passages) we are called to help the poor in tangible, material ways. Humans are not simply spiritual beings which happen to exist in a physical state. The needs of the present must be met while we seek to address the needs of the eternal. Why?

  • The Bible says our faith is void without it. If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?– James (James 2). Viewing compassion and justice as a “means to an end” (to get people saved) illustrates a troubling disconnect between body and soul. Our concern for the poor should be a natural and generous outpouring of our hearts, which have been transformed by Christ. As James said, if we ignore suffering, of all types, in our communities here and abroad, even if we share an encouraging word, “What good is that?
  • The historical Christian Church has embodied it.”Nothing has contributed to the progress of the superstition of the Christians as their charity to strangers…they provide not only for their own poor, but for ours as well.” –Julian. As the anti-Christian leader of the Roman Empire, Julian made this comment in 360 A.D. History indicates that the early Church saw people as more than spiritual beings. It was that radical generosity which provided fuel to the message of Christ. Early Christians, it seems, as Tim Keller describes, “were promiscuous with their charity” and it showed in the Church’s rapid growth in that time.
  • Jesus taught and practiced it. Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” – Jesus, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus, as Creator and Almighty God, chose to come and live among us, the poor. His Incarnation alone speaks to His concern for more than just our souls. He came from heaven to live among us on earth. While on earth, he healed the sick, befriended street-dwellers and prostitutes, and cared for the poor. In response to Jesus’ question above, someone in the crowd answered, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus replied to him, and to us, “You go, and do likewise.”

There is a problem if we view our sole purpose as Christians to proclaim the Gospel verbally. It illustrates a severe disconnect if we overlook the physical, emotional and social condition of our neighbors in our attempts to introduce them to Jesus. Further, our acts of service must not be viewed as a “means to an end.” Certainly, radical generosity opens doors to proclaim the Gospel. But, the Good Samaritan was not heralded because his mercy led to a conversion. He was heralded because countercultural compassion is the only appropriate response from a person whose heart has been transformed by the love of Christ. Thankfully, this is not an either/or proposition.
Next month, final reflections in the series, “How Then Shall We Help?”