Isn’t it more important to Share the Gospel?
They had asked about our most recent trip to Uganda so we told them of our intentions to partner with Childrens Hope Chest to sponsor orphans and vulnerable children in Ogoloi. At the end of the conversation they asked a question that I have heard from a lot of others when we talk of loving orphans and widows in their distress.
“If the most important thing is that people know and love Jesus then isn’t it more important to share the gospel with them than to merely meet their physical needs?”
This question almost always comes up with Evangelicals when discussing our passion to love “the least of these”. There are others, like:
- What about people here in the U.S. who need help…and
- Clearly God doesn’t want everyone to sell EVERYTHING they have…or
- Our church already supports global missions and we tithe to our church
I might find myself frustrated with the questions but if I am honest with myself, they are the same objections I raised when I was first confronted with the idea of radically giving my life to love kids I had never met.
So, here is my best attempt at a response: (its long, but I believe its worth saying and worth reading)
So isn’t it the most important thing to share the Gospel?
The answer is YES, the most important thing is to “share the gospel” so that people would have living water and never be thirsty again. The gospel or GOOD NEWS must be proclaimed. It is our agenda as Christians as part of the great commission and our marching orders from our King. But what exactly is the Good News that we are to proclaim?
What is the Gospel?
Is the gospel merely that by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, we can be forgiven of our sins and thereby gain entry to eternal life (our ticket to heaven) when we die? Is the Good News merely something that effects the eternal destiny of our souls (no small issue), and yet has nothing to do with our present reality (except of course for sinning less, and attending church more…improving our marriages, listening to Christian as opposed to Rap music, and applying Total Money Makeover principles to our budget)?
Is the good news good only in so much as it affords us salvation from hell and entry to heaven?
Let me rephrase….
Imagine that you are a 5 year old child in Northern Uganda, your father was killed by the LRA (a sick militant rebel group who forced children to kill their parents, engage in cannibalistic acts and then become child soldiers) and your mother was raped by the same group and is now dying of HIV/AIDS…you have not eaten a real meal in a couple of days, your belly aches and you wake daily to the fear that you will one day wake up alone, with no one to care for you, and little to no chance of survival. Now imagine a western missionary offers you a tract and informs you in your own language the message of the Gospel, that when your mother dies, and when you eventually succumb to starvation, you will be able to enter heaven if you just believe in the name of Jesus, but offers you no food, care, or hope for tomorrow. Would you consider his message good news?
Or what if you were that same mother, dying of a disease because of the rape you still recall vividly, and your only concern is who will care for your starving child when you die. The “loving words” of the missionary are that you will go to heaven when you die if you commit to Jesus…but what of your child? Is there hope for her? Does this good news from this Jesus and his followers help her?
Or what if you were a 13 year old girl, recently taken from your mother and brothers, sold as a sex slave to the LRA soldiers, daily serving their “physical needs”-and the same gospel was presented to you by someone who offered you no help or hope of freedom from your current miserable situation…would you consider their message good news?
I believe that the GOOD NEWS is much better news than what we have reduced it to.
Jesus’ Good News
Jesus began his earthly ministry after his temptation in the desert by walking into a synagogue on the sabbath and opening a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He read the following:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim the GOOD NEWS to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who were oppressed, to proclaim the year of the lords favor.” Luke 4
He then rolled up the scroll, sat down, and proclaimed “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”.
Now don’t miss this….Jesus just gave his opening speech for his entire earthly ministry and stated implicitly but clearly (to anyone familiar with Isaiah) that he was the promised messiah and was coming to break the chains of injustice, liberate his people, and usher in his new kingdom – something the Jews had been waiting to happen for several hundred years. His reference to the “year of the Lords Favor” is a clear reference to the year of Jubilee- a once in every 70 year event in Jewish Mosaic law whereby all debts were forgiven, all slaves were released, and all inequalities of possession were undone).
The original text that Jesus was quoting in full included
“…The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted….to comfort those who mourn.” Is 61:1-3
Note his GOOD NEWS….and note who it would impact. – the captives, the blind, the oppressed, the broken-hearted and the poor.
Jesus’ good news apparently involved something more than merely handing out tickets to his fathers mansion, good only upon death, to those who believe. Jesus’ ministry was not merely to speak the truth of salvation to those he encountered, but rather, to love the people he came in contact with while proclaiming the truth about his Father and the promises of his imminent Kingdom (the ultimate year of Jubilee) to them.
A Tale of two Kingdoms
Jesus spoke of his Fathers “Kingdom” more than almost any other thing. So what is His kingdom? Heaven? That’s what most of us presume, and it’s a fair guess and certainly partially correct, but I think the answer to what Jesus’ Kingdom is sheds much light on how his Good News differs from ours.
Dallas Willard argues in his book “The Divine Conspiracy”, that Christ’s kingdom is not merely a place called Heaven somewhere in the sky where Jesus rules and we will one day go, but rather, a present reality. Remember when Jesus prayed “Thy kingdom come…on earth as it is in Heaven”? Christ was praying that Gods Kingdom would be realized on Earth.
Jesus went on to proclaim that his Kingdom was “at hand” (Mark 3:2) or imminent, and having marched into Jerusalem on a donkey with palms at his feet (which was typical for a triumphant king entering his kingdom) he was beaten and killed on a cross (which was not). But by his death and resurrection, he finalized his work on earth (John 19:28-30), and ushered in his Kingdom and sat down at his thrown beside his father.
And having ushered in his Kingdom by overcoming death, he made available an option for man, an option not previously available because of the dividing wall of sin and hostility that kept us from citizenship in His Kingdom. Now, with our debts paid in full, we could retain our citizenship to this world and
“follow the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” – Eph 2:2
…or we could serve as citizens in Gods Kingdom. The option was now afforded us to choose our citizenship. Citizenship in this world means you can follow its guiding principles and retain your life, but citizenship in Gods Kingdom would mean allegiance to his rule and transfer of citizenship. It was attained by His death on a cross, and was available to us by a similar death –
“whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” – Luke 9:23
But what is his Kingdom? Whats it all about….if not merely a future place called Heaven?
Its a kingdom (a people with a King) with its own set of laws and principles handed down by that King. These laws and guiding principles are different from those of this world, and the servants of this kingdom are called out to be separate from the kingdom of this world, called to live as “strangers and aliens” (1 Peter: 2:11) in this current world.
The principles of operation of this world are clear:
- The wealthy and the powerful are blessed (and the world eagerly races to join them)
- They have riches in this world, comfort in this life, and today is their empire. Preservation of life is a fundamental right along with the pursuit of liberty and happiness.
- The most talented, best looking, best connected will be first in line, and the first in line receive the best life has to offer.
- The poor “wash the feet” of the wealthy (or at least cook their fries at McDonald’s and manufacture their Nike’s in Malaysia)
- We are taught to be proud of who we are (self esteem) and work our way up the ladder to gain a seat at the head of the proverbial table
- The poor of this world serve the kings, the mighty rule the weak, and the poor are voiceless, marginalized, and forgotten.
Jesus’ Kingdom had a different set of principles.
- The poor in spirit, the broken, the humble and the oppressed are blessed. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven…” -Matt 5:2-11
- Jesus’ kingdom offers no treasures or comfort for this life, but calls us to forsake our comforts in this life for the sake of others. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth….” Matt 6:19, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it….” Luke 9:24. We are “bond servants” (slaves) to the gospel and are promised persecution and suffering.
- In His kingdom “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last” – Matt 20:16
- In His kingdom he (the King) washes the feet of his servants, and serves them in love
- In his kingdom we are to take a seat of humility (Luke 14:10)
- The king of his Kingdom (Jesus) served his subjects, humbling himself to serve the least of his subjects, even to the point of a naked death on a cross on their behalf (Phil 2:6)
His is an upside down kingdom! His is a Kingdom where the rules of this world don’t apply, and we are called to love others ahead of ourselves, particularly the “least of these” among us, just as He demonstrated by his life.
So will we go to a place called heaven one day when we die? Sure, as citizens of His Kingdom he will surely claim us as his own when he returns. But, to be accurate, one day Heaven will come to us:
“And I saw a Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride for her Husband” – Revelation 21:2 * for a more thorough explanation of this I would encourage you to read Randy Alcorns “Heaven” and Dallas Willards “The Divine Conspiracy”
So in effect, Jesus will complete his work on earth, reestablishing his Eden where man walks with God in unity. He doesn’t do away with Earth, but rather establishes his intended city, under His Kingdom rule, as was intended before the fall here on earth, where we have been toiling in anticipation of his coming. And at that time, in his Kingdom, there will be no poverty, no disease, no wars, no oppressed or fatherless, no hungry or marginalized. For He will Provide. But until that day he calls us to live out this love on his behalf, as ambassadors of his Kingdom, “as though he were making his appeal through us” 2 Cor 5:20 …as servants of others, as humble not proud, as servants not kings…..as he did!
So the Good News then, is that Christs Kingdom has been established, and is being lived out by his followers on Earth as it is in Heaven. And one day he will return to perfect his kingdom, abolishing the old one with its pain and suffering and indifference, and embracing his beloved who have with long sufferance awaited his return.
The word Gospel (or Good News) is derived from the Greek word “Eaungelion” which was the glad tidings proclaimed by heralds when an army had won a battle. A herald would hastily return to this kingdom and Proclaim the “Eaungelion” or GOOD NEWS that the King had conquered the enemy and that his Kingdom had prevailed.
With our mouths and with our hands, and with our lives.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deed? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed”, but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.” – James 2:15-17
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need, and has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” – 1 John 3:17