Wednesday, February 20, 2008
The reasons for ministry
Going along with my previous blog entry, I have been thinking lately about the reason for ministry to people, be they disabled or not, having any set of particular characteristics or not. Is the only goal of ministry only to tell people about Jesus in hopes that they will accept Him as savior? If so, then I feed people not because I would like to see starving people fed, I do it so they will become a Christian. I encourage people who are discouraged, not because I would like to see people not living in depression, I do it so they will become a Christian. I am loving to people not because I should be loving to people as a general rule, but because if I love them they will become a Christian. In other words, love and service and encouragement are not goods in themselves for me as a Christian, they are only good if they are linked to the "other shoe dropping" that is their becoming a Christian. That way of thinking about people bugs me. I think it probably also really bugs those who are not Christian working to love and help people who are in the world as well.
I just cannot agree with this perspective. If my kindness to another human being causes them to be open to my words about Jesus, that is great! However, I will show kindness nonetheless, and I will not remove my kindness if a person spends a lifetime of rejecting Jesus. So if I were to spend my life in a manner like Mother Theresa did, where I am working with the poorest of the poor, and perhaps saw only a handful of converts or perhaps none at all, was my life wasted? I would argue it wasn't because of the good I did in simply alleviating human suffering.
I am always responsible for what I do in any situation. I am hardly ever responsible for what someone else does. If, for example, you need medication for a terrible disease and I have it and I give it to you, that was a good in and of itself. I think in a Matthew 25 kind of way, God would celebrate that action I did. Should you also be open to Jesus through that action on my part, even better. I may use your willingness to listen to me as a result of giving you something that assists you in your life to share the truth with you. However, if you say that you don't believe in Jesus, I won't stop the medication as they are both goods (giving medication, accepting Jesus). They are not necessarily equally good goods, particularly for you (salvation is more important than healing) but they are both good. I think the problem comes when we don't see both as "good goods" and see the one, the helping as only a reason for the other. If that is the case, we become disingenuous in some ways. We are obviously interested in telling people about Jesus because we want the absolute best that life has to offer for them. But it can also make our helping appear encumbered to those who have not as yet accepted Jesus as savior. We can appear to have a hidden motive other than just wanting to see people's lives be bettered.
At the same time, I am clear as to why I love others. I will be quick to tell them that I love others because I want to be to them the way Jesus was and is to me. I love them not necessarily for what it does for them, I love them because of what it does for me. I want to love and care for other people because it helps me to grow as a loving person. It helps me as I am trying to model my life after Jesus' example. That is why I love. Should my life example be endearing to them, perhaps that example will cause them to want to know who this Jesus is so that they may follow my example to the degree that it reflects Jesus. But they will understand that I love them because I love them, just as Jesus loves me because he loves me. I will love them whether or not they reject Jesus. Jesus' love for me is not linked to anything endearing about me, anything special about me that people would point to saying, "You love him because he is ___." The Bible is clear that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. His example is to love us, in the hopes that we will want him. But while we are alive he will still love us independent of whether we love him.