What distinguishes our acts of mercy?
Too often the Christian faith is dismissed as a psychological truth or a security blanket for weak-minded people. Those that make that kind of assumption have not read much of the Bible. The Christian faith makes some very challenging long-term demands of its followers. We are called to:
Love our enemies,
Forgive those who wrong us,
Welcome the stranger,
Take care of the orphans and widows,
Feed the hungry,
Stand up for the oppressed,
Give to all those who are in need.
These challenges can be every bit as challenging as preparing for an Olympic competition.
I came across this post from Krish Kandiah last week. What a powerful summary he gives of our calling as Christ-followers and our responsibility to seek justice and show mercy in our everyday lives.
But lots of people do the things Krish lists above. How are we different from everyone else who helps others?
Isn't the Church just a bunch of ‘good people’?
How am I, as a disciple of Jesus, different from my Muslim friend who gives big cash bonuses to his employees every year because he is instructed to in the Qu’ran? He’s giving to those in need.
How am I different from my friend who is an atheist but who goes out of her way to help single mums in our community who have nothing to care for a newborn baby? She’s taking care of the widow and the orphan.
I’ve been privileged to see a friend who works for the government set up a home for women escaping domestic violence. She’s standing up for the oppressed.
I know I am not alone in being a Christian who has many unchurched friends who are (perhaps unwittingly!) following his commands as they show mercy to the poor.
Let’s return back to my Muslim friend. Many religions command giving to the poor so that believers can earn blessing and God’s favour with their good deeds. Our motives are quite distinctive from this.
We, as Christ followers have been shown the grace of God and divine rescue from our sin. We have been loved. We couldn’t rescue ourselves or earn our salvation through any kind of works. We couldn’t ever hope to earn enough points to earn forgiveness.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand (Romans 5).
What about my atheist friends? They don’t believe in a God, so they have no one to earn blessing from by their good deeds. They believe in the goodness of humanity to be enough to confront evil in this world. Their hope is in themselves and other human beings.
We as Christ-followers, firstly know our humanity can never be enough to spur us on to love and good deeds. We are commanded to live a life of justice and compassion because we have a hope that outweighs even the greatest needs that must be met on this earth. When we stand up for the oppressed or give to those in need we do so sharing the love of Jesus that promises that one day every tear will be wiped from every eye. One day a new heaven and new earth will be ushered in that abounds in justice.
This eternal hope is something that atheists just cannot offer.
Beyond spare change
They say ‘actions speak louder than words' but for us as Christ-followers it doesn’t stop with the action. It’s about going that one step further - offering dignity and love..
The other day, an older man was begging amongst the car traffic near our home, going from car window to window asking for money. I could see him approaching our car.
The easy option would have been to ignore him. Close my car window, don’t meet his eye as we drive away.
Another option would be to quickly stuff a bit of change out the window, glance away, and hit the gas.
I choose to give him money, but arguably more importantly, I then keep my window down and look him in his smiling eyes. I ask him how he is today. When he says ‘God bless you', I reply 'May God bless you too'. I add ‘He loves you very much’.
Because that man is made in the image of God. When I looked into his eyes I saw a precious son, a created being who God designed and chose. When I spoke out God’s blessing over his life, the loose change paled in comparison.
To be Jesus's hands and feet will cost you something
The other week a couple from our church came to stay with us. They were struggling. They were new in their faith and just had their second child who had difficulty breastfeeding.
The husband was out of work and they had come to our city to see a specialist consultant for their baby (they live in a city 2 hours away). Some friends from our church reached out and helped with the costs of this treatment, caring for the needs of those in our spiritual body, the church, as the Acts of the Apostles teaches us.
The afternoon of the doctor’s appointment, rain poured incessantly and this young mum with tear-streaked exhausted eyes and breastmilk-smeared clothes clutched her 3-week old baby in a sling and tried for 2 hours, wandering the streets, to find a taxi.
My friend who had given the money and made the appointment for the mum was busy. She had a long list of responsibilities for her own family that day. When the mum called her asking her what she should do, she felt her heart harden.
Surely she had done so much for this family already. They would have to manage this problem themselves!
No sooner had she reacted like this, than Jesus’ whisper of love for this precious family breathed truth in her ear. It melted her own feelings of anxiety and was replaced by the Holy Spirit’s compassion.
She knew what He was asking of her.
She ran out into the rain with extra raincoats, snacks, and umbrellas and took the mum to the appointment. She smiled and was gracious when the receptionist was unsympathetic to the 2-hour late distraught patient, who had tried so hard to get her precious baby to the clinic on time. My friend advocated for this mum to have some private space to feed her baby while they waited for the doctor to finish with her patient.
Despite her weariness, I saw someone who went the extra mile to love that day. My friend stayed with this vulnerable young mum right to the end, where, through tears of joy, they together thanked the doctor for her hopeful diagnosis and even profusely thanked the still-stony-faced receptionist for all her help.
Why do I tell this story?
Because it is one example of many members of the body I see who gave to those in need and stood up for the oppressed and loved their enemies.
Once again, like the begging man at the car, this friend went beyond just giving the money.
She gave of herself.
When the phone call came, she didn’t just throw the lifeline and stand on the bank watching this mum drowning, hanging back in the comfort of her own home.
That stormy afternoon as she paced the halls of the doctors' clinic rocking that newborn, in her wet clothes, a headache coming on from missing lunch, struggling not to give in to anger at the receptionist, who was oppressing this woman and baby in need with her lack of compassion, she was like Jesus.
When we needed help, Jesus didn’t just throw us a lifeline and expect us to pull ourselves out. He also dived into our troubles, our sinful world to be with us, taking on human flesh and became a man. He gave of himself.
When we allow ourselves through his strengthening by his Holy Spirit to live out our calling so well summarised by Krish, and we give of ourselves, we get to taste a tiny bit of his suffering - and what a joy it is. We get to be like Jesus, even though it costs us something.
Krish reminds this about the life we are called to live: "These challenges can be every bit as challenging as preparing for an Olympic competition."
Today we will be offered opportunities to respond to the situations around us, and in so doing build a muscular and disciplined merciful life that lasts the course.
We follow the pace set by Christ (our forerunner) as we offer our very selves, an eternal hope, and a life empowered by the Spirit.
To live the life of a justice-loving disciple is not an easy one, but we know it will lead to great joy. It is by the Holy Spirit’s power that we live the life to which we are called, not by our own strength.
Let Him fill you with his presence and power, let him help you be his hands and his feet to love your enemies, forgive those who wrong you, welcome the stranger, take care of the orphans and widows, feed the hungry, stand up for the oppressed and give to all those who are in need.
Isabella Hope is a Brit living in the Middle East working out what justice and mercy in the church look like both at home and abroad. You can read more of her writing at Unreached Network.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by guest contributors are those of the author. Although broadly in keeping with the objectives of Jubilee+, the views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Jubilee+ team and directors and/or other contributors to this site.