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This is part three of a three-part series, “How Then Shall We Help?”
It’s not just about serving and it’s not just about preaching. There’s the eleven word summary of the first two parts of the series. So…what is it about? How then shall we help? As Christians, what is our calling in a world that desperately needs the saving grace of Christ but also needs food, homes, clothing, and access to financial services?
Where better to look than the life of Christ? The story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 families is a familiar one. In John 6, we read about how Christ miraculously multiplied just five barley loaves and two fish to feed an expansive crowd. It is interesting to note Jesus’ motivation for this act. “When Jesus went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them” (Matt 6:34). Christ’s act of love and service to the people flowed out of the compassion of his heart.
The word “compassion” is used many times to describe Jesus’ ministry. We read later in Matthew that “Jesus had compassion on the crowds and healed their sick” (Matt 9:36). Literally, the Greek word used in these passages means “to be moved by compassion.” There is greater richness in this word than can be gleaned at first glance. Charles Spurgeon describes it this way:
The original word is a very remarkable one…It is expressive of the deepest emotion; a striving of the bowels—a yearning of the innermost nature with pity…I suppose that when our Savior looked upon certain sights, those who watched him closely perceived that his internal agitation was very great, his emotions were very deep, and then his face betrayed it, his eyes gushed like founts with tears, and you saw that his big heart was ready to burst with pity for the sorrow upon which his eyes were gazing. He was moved with compassion.
Christ exhibited in this story a “yearning of the innermost nature.” When is the last time you had that sort of deep emotional churning deep in your gut? Jesus felt it often. He looked out over crowds of people—the sick, the hungry, the beaten-down—and was moved with compassion. We read in this specific story that Jesus went on to feed the crowds of hungry people. But, Jesus’ ministry did not end there.
Later in the day, Jesus left with his disciples and sailed to the other side of the sea. The crowds followed him. When they found him, Jesus offered these poignant words (John 6:25-27, 35). “You are seeking me…because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life…I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” First, we met Jesus the social worker. Now, Jesus the evangelist. He fed the crowds…and shared the Gospel. Matthew 24:19 described Jesus as “a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word.”
And there we have it. In this brief snapshot of Jesus’ life in John 6, we have our answer. As Christians, we are called to give bread and to proclaim the Bread of Life. It should never be separated. Jesus fed the five thousand, healed the sick, spoke against racism, and defended the cause of the outcasts in society. Moved by compassion, he provided bread. And, he demonstrated the absolute necessity for heart change. I am the bread of life.
Theologian Christopher Wright says it beautifully: “It is not a matter of engaging in both the gospel and social action, as if Christian social action was something separate from the gospel itself…Biblically, the gospel includes the totality of all that is good news from God for all that is bad news in human life—in every sphere..” It is not an either/or. It is a both/and. Not one without the other. Word and deed. Evangelism and service. Bible-translation and microfinance. Clean water and church plants. Hospitals and seminaries. Adoption and Christian youth camps. The seen and the unseen. Bread and bread of life.