My oldest son, Daniel and his wife, Victoria, coordinate the benevolent ministry at the Belmore Road Church of Christ. He recently wrote the following piece as a way of showing biblical rationale for their efforts among the needy. It appears here by permission.
We are called to the needs of others, which can be referred to as service, edification, instruction, charity, sacrifice, compassion, or benevolence depending on the context and the type of need. Jesus emphasizes several different types of needs. In Matthew 25, attending to the physical needs of the disenfranchised reaps eternal rewards:
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 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, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in pris-on and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
In contrast a few chapters later in the Great Commission in Matthew 28 focuses on spiritual needs of the people of different nations:
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Congregations – and individual Christians as well – can sometimes focus on one set of needs to the neglect of the other. In the US, it is popular, even trendy, for some congregations to focus on “social justice” causes – supporting basic human rights, justice, or equality for discriminated groups or the people of impoverished nations – but they may not want to address those same individuals’ spiritual salvation. In contrast, many older congregations support only activities that involve disseminating spiritual truths through preaching, teaching, religious tracts, and baptism-counting, while people around them are going hungry, dealing with tragedy, or struggling through illness. There is no problem with having different foci for ministry or even for congregations, but I believe it is critical that as Christ’s body we are to view the needs of others holistically, as we al-so read Jesus’ teaching holistically (e.g., both Matthew 25 and 28). Jesus not only taught that we are called to both physical and spiritual needs, but also provided for both needs in everyone He encountered.