We remember each of these Christians for their evangelism but forget their commitment to personal and social intervention for the weak, needy, and exploited. Perhaps the effectiveness of their evangelism was due to the fact that, unlike many other Christians of their day—and this day—they lived out the gospel they preached. There’s no conflict between the gospel and social concern and action. In fact, there is a direct connection between them. The Great Commission is not our only mission, but to love God and to love our neighbor is. But properly understood, standing up for the weak and needy and vulnerable and speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves is not a distraction from the Great Commission or “the main thing”— rather, it’s an essential part of the main thing.
Love isn’t just something we display on a wall hanging; it’s something we do: “Little children, let us love not in word and speech, but in action and truth” (1 John 3:18, BSB). Jesus said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching” (John 14:23, NIV). Jesus’ teaching often centered on loving people, as in the story of the Good Samaritan who freely gave of his time and money to care for a stranger who’d been beaten and robbed (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus told us to love the poor, even to put on a feast for them (Luke 14:12-14). He said we should tend to the disadvantaged just as we would if He Himself were the one in need (Matthew 25:31-46).
Jesus also said to love the spiritually poor by bringing them the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20) and by praying that God would send out workers to reach them (Matthew 9:37-38). He modeled evangelistic outreach that took into consideration the unique needs of the individual (for example, John 4:1-42).
In my book Giving Is the Good Life, I write about how in India, people rely on a family member or a paid assistant to care for them in hospitals. When a team of Christ-followers met a man with no one attending him, the first thing they did was wash him. He made it clear they could help him as long as they didn’t try to convert him from his strong Hindu faith.
Days later the hospital discharged the man, as there was nothing more they could do—he was dying.
The team placed the old man in a home for the elderly, where they visited and cared for him regularly. The day the man died, a Christ-following staff member asked him where he thought he would go when he died. The believer held the man’s hand while sharing the good news of God’s love with him.
The Christian asked the old man if he’d like to repent of his sins and live forever with Jesus in Heaven. Unable to speak, but clearly responsive, the man squeezed his hand to indicate agreement. The old man squeezed his hand again when the staff member asked to pray for him. The faint smile on this man’s face was a great encouragement to the team that loved him right up to the moment he moved from this life to the next. By showing love through meeting his physical needs, the team was able to prepare this man to hear the gospel and ultimately meet his spiritual needs.
This article originally appeared here and is used by permission.