One glorious mix
We should never separate evangelism, and signs and wonders, from social action – they all belong together, says J John ...
We should never separate evangelism, and signs and wonders, from social action – they all belong together, says J John
Social concern and evangelism must be integral parts of one another. Together they combine the ‘works’ and the ‘words’ of our faith.
Evangelism in its biblical sense is concerned both with a person’s relationship to God and with their relationships and responsibilities to other people.
Social justice can also be a link. It can go before the gospel-telling part of evangelism because it can open closed doors, break down prejudice, and be a bridge across which the gospel may pass.
Once people’s ‘felt needs’ are clearly the area of your concern, their ‘spiritual needs’ may reveal themselves.
But even if our social actions created no bridge, God’s people would still have a reason to concern themselves with social concern. Jesus: “Gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing what is right” (Titus 2:14).
As disciples of Jesus we should do everything he commanded, validating our faith with actions. We must feed the hungry, visit those in prison and clothe the naked; we must struggle against everything that condemns people to a sub-human existence.
The Church must exhibit an obvious concern for all segments of society since all people are called to share in the kingdom.
The Old Testament uses several different Hebrew words when referring to the poor: ani is the most common word, used 77 times. The ani literally means ‘a person bowed down’, someone who has to look up to others on whom they are dependent.
A second word, anaw, is used 18 times and refers to people who feel they have little value or worth before God. A third term, ebyon, is used 60 times and refers to the situation of ‘beggars’.
All these words are full of emotion that call for urgent change.
The most common New Testament Greek word used for poor is ptochos which literally means ‘to duck away in fear’. Someone who is without means and therefore reduced to begging.
There are other words – meaning lowly, needy, insignificant, weak, simple-minded, oppressed. We also find many references which bring to light the extremes of rich and poor, and of those with and without power.
The Bible gives us many more meanings to the words ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ than do our modern-day institutions.
In the famous parable of the Good Samaritan the barriers were broken, and it was love that made the bridge from one tribe to another.
Sometimes the most important things we say are the things that we do for people, being concerned about the concerns of others, loving and caring for those who are unlike ourselves.
The basis for the New Testament is the incarnation. God’s solidarity is not just with words but with deeds (Philippians 2:7).
To be a Christian is to become open to the rest of the world, not as a master but as a servant.
What about the poor and the rich? Are the poor blessed and the rich evil? Of course not.
What God is concerned with are the relationships between people, and the point is that the rich and powerful have the opportunities to break relationships and to set up oppressive systems. God is on the side of the poor because no one else is.
This does not make the poor godly. But it may be easier for the poor, who have nothing to begin with, to put their trust in the free gift of grace.
We should never separate evangelism, and signs and wonders, from social action. All the different elements in evangelism belong together in one glorious mix, when we are working for God.
While no one person can change the world, we can still change the world for one person.
Whatever we have can be used for the kingdom. As was said by the 18th century philosopher, Edmund Burke: “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little”.
Lord, look through my eyes.
Listen through my ears.
Speak through my lips.
Act with my hands.
Walk with my feet.
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