The Imperative to Serve
In my experience, I’ve seen pushback in some Christian circles to what we commonly call “social justice issues”—caring for the poor, those in prison, the marginalized, and those with basic human needs like food, shelter, or water. It’s not that my brothers and sisters are against these things, but the argument, as it goes, is that there’s too much of a focus on doing good works and not enough on preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What an absurd thought.
Don’t agree? Take it from Jesus. In Matthew 25, He speaks to the coming of the Son of Man who will separate the sheep from the goats. “’For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me’” (v. 35-36). Clearly confused, the listeners—the sheep—in His tale ask, “When did we do this?” The King replies, “To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (v. 40).
To be fair, in this passage Jesus is specifically talking about how we treat those who bear the gospel, our fellow believers, “these brothers of Mine,” as Jesus put it (v. 40). But the principle extends far beyond those who are persecuted for preaching God’s kingdom. The difference between the sheep and the goats is how the gospel did (or did not) change their hearts. What’s the most frightening aspect of this story? Those who didn’t care for “the least of these” will “go away into eternal punishment” (v. 46).
Folks, let that sink in. Our Lord and Savior spoke those words, and He surely did not mince them. How we treat the downcast, the broken, the needy—that has a direct correlation to our salvation. This isn’t about surety of salvation; it’s about how Christians should act in this world. It’s about how a Christian’s heart should be changed after embracing the good news of Jesus Christ. Serving the poor doesn’t save us—it is a mark of our true, redeemed nature.
I do not deny the crucial reality that we all must verbally proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Actions alone don’t cut it. But if you find yourself bristling against doing good for others simply because you’re worried about what’s spoken or not spoken, take a sober look at the state of your heart.
At judgment, how much better it will be to hear, “‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (v. 34).
Written by Joseph E. Miller