We have arrived at our final installment in our little series on Christian Stewardship. If you have not seen the previous ones, look here for part 1, and here for part 2. For context again, here is the entire list of principles I offer as we think about this subject:
THE WORST MAY YET COME
CHURCH BENEVOLENCE IS DISCIPLESHIP 101
THE CHURCH AND THE DISCIPLE HAVE DIFFERENT JOBS
YOU CAN DO MORE WITH THE PEOPLE NEARBY
WISDOM COMES IN GROUPS
THE SECULAR WORLD MAKES US SHORT-SIGHTED
IT IS A GODLY THING TO CARE FOR FAMILY
THE LOCAL CHURCH IS GOD’S FAVORITE NON-PROFIT
As I indicated yesterday, I think these last three points are the most important. If I was forced to write only three points on this subject, I would only give you the following principles.
Here we go.
6. THE SECULAR WORLD MAKES US SHORT-SIGHTED
We must never forget that Christians are always shaped to some degree by the surrounding culture. For good and for bad. There is much in American society today that is very good. One such feature is the widespread desire to do good. We should praise God that Americans in general still value the work of the non-profit. A lot of suffering has been alleviated by the work of charitable organizations. This is a good thing.
But we must recognize that the modern cause for charity can easily endanger Gospel ministry. Without recognizing it, Christians can begin to forget the urgency and priority of evangelism, conversions, and the new birth. Consider this: our society is very quick to measure this current pandemic only in terms of physical and economic terms. Even as mental health gains more attention in our current moment, there is no focus on the eternal weight of a human soul.
And we Christians can quickly think in these terms, too. As Charles Taylor puts it in his massive book, A Secular Age: “we are all secular now.” We are all hounded by a nagging doubt (perhaps a lingering shame) when we think of the Bible and its claims. God’s people now live in a world where its increasingly normal to question and even mock the grand truths of the bible. And we all feel this burden. In fact, this burden makes us unwitting champions of the temporal and physical; slowly neglecting the eternal and spiritual needs of our world.
Our views, even as Christians, are being formed (even deformed) by our secular surroundings. Unlike our Christian brother and sisters from previous centuries, we have to work extra hard to keep our eyes on the brevity of earthly life, and on the souls of your neighbors, because at best our society only cares about their bodies.
Our COVID-19 moment presents a good time to test our instincts and uncover our presuppositions about real life.
Let me suggest you do some introspection yourself. As you reflect on this pandemic, ask yourself:
Do I still think primarily about my neighbors’ spiritual needs or do we only think of their need for health and safety?
Where exactly is my focus when I pray for my vulnerable friends and families?
Do I only pray for their physical protection or do I primarily pray that God would save them from hell?
It is of course a heart of compassion that leads us to mourn the physical suffering around us. But here is the point: in the final analysis, when all is said and done, earthly suffering and physical death are not the primary dangers. It is God’s judgment (cf. Matt 10:28; Heb 9:27).
And our modern world, in very subtle ways, makes us bad missionaries.
7. IT IS A GODLY THING TO CARE FOR FAMILY
When the Lord Jesus directs our focus to the eternal needs of people, God does not call us to ignore their physical needs. Indeed, it is a godly thing to care for the physical needs of others – especially your own family. The apostle Paul pulls no punches when he speaks to our responsibility for our families: But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). When there is real need in our families, we should be quick to see how we can help.
It might sound charming to our ears to hear that the cobbler’s son has no shoes. But God is not charmed. His heart is grieved when his people neglect their own.
Therefore, don’t forget your own family in your zeal to help suffering neighbors. Make sure you don’t fail to inquire about your own relatives. Check-in with your parents, your in-laws, your siblings, and take special care for the welfare of your own household.
8. THE LOCAL CHURCH IS GOD’S FAVORITE NON-PROFIT
God is the greatest advocate of doing good for the needy. He has shaped all of history to do great, lasting good for miserable sinners, like you and me. This is why Jesus Christ came into the world. This is why Jesus, God’s only Son, was sent to die like a condemned criminal. This is why Christ is risen from the dead, and rules over all the world. Because our God is resolved to do eternal good for a broken and rebellious world.
Moreover, God’s chief human agent in carrying out this project of eternal good is his church.
It is to local churches that God entrusts the ministry of his life-giving word. It is the local church that is tasked with training and sending out gospel-workers. It is the local church that God empowers to feed the flock; to keep Christians from starving, when no one else will. And it is through the corporate life of the local church––as we love each other––that God reveals most clearly the hope of resurrection-life to an always-dying world.
As we seek to do good during these difficult times, we must cling to these truths: 1) God is the one who is most committed to doing good in this world; and 2) and God aims to do his gospel-work primarily through his church.
We, therefore, will be wise to prioritize God’s work in the church as we seek to do good with our money.
After reading all three installments in this series, you might have questions and comments. I would welcome any reflections. Feel free to email me.