by Peter Kamen
There has been of lately a considerable amount of discussion as to where the Church of God is headed in the years to come. Much of the discussion focuses on how the Church of God can be better equipped to appeal to the modern arena, and how the church can generate new growth among it’s aging and dwindling membership. Some ministries have dedicated their efforts to encourage and train members to engage in "personal evangelism". There would seem to be several schools of thought as to what this actually entails. Some within the Church of God community apparently have actually begun "street corner" preaching, and at least one faction has reportedly begun attempting to appeal to the attention of our national leaders with a message of warning concerning our national sins, and the impending wrath of God.
It is not my purpose to criticize the sincere efforts of any Christians desire to serve our Lord in a way in which one feels convicted to do so, nor do I dare be so presumptuous as to speak for God. As it is recorded in the words of the wise Gamaiel" If it is of God you cannot overthrow it-lest you even be found to fight against God". [Acts 5:39]
But as I read, listen to, and follow the many exchanges among the Churches, I feel that there seems to be a key ingredient missing which was actually the main thrust of the ministry of Jesus, and the early New Testament Church. And due to a lack of this ingredient, the early New Testament Church began to dwindle by the end of the first century as the writers of the New Testament began to observe.
In a word, this ingredient is caring.
JESUS’ EMPHASIS ON CARING
We are all aware of the fact that Jesus embellished His earthly ministry with the use of parables. Some were metaphorical, some were parabolic, many were enshrouded in spiritual terminology which required "ears to hear", meaning the ability to understand spiritual principles.
A PERSISTENT MOTIF
When it comes to parables concerning the coming Kingdom of God, and future events of judgmental flavor, there is an unescapable motif which harmonizes these parables and what it is exactly that Jesus is looking for among His followers, His Church, of all eras and ages.
We’ll review some of these parables, and I believe that one clear picture will emerge that will contain the ingredient most necessary for any church in this age to possess before it will grow or hold together.
In the book of Matthew, the 25th chapter, there is a well known parable of Jesus concerning the separation of the "sheep and goats." As it is recorded in this chapter, it is quite lengthy and somewhat repetitive, but we’ll focus on the key verses and theme of the text.
In Matthew 25:31 we read, "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory." This correlates with Daniel 7:9-10, and Revelation 20:4. It is a prophetic statement.
Then during this period there will be an on going process of separation and judgement.
Verse 32 states that the nations will be gathered before Him, and he will separate them as a shepherd separates sheep from goats, a common practice of that day. But it is the issue behind this separation that is of major importance here.
INASMUCH AS YOU DID IT /DID IT NOT
In verse 24 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, "Come, you blessed of my Father, Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
In verse 41 this same king will say to those on the left hand, "Depart from me you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels".
Here we have a stark contrast concerning the fate of each gathering. As the King invites or rejects these individuals, he explains the reason behind his pronouncement.
To those on his right hand he tells them that when he [the King] was hungry, they fed him, when he was thirsty, they gave him drink, when he was a stranger, they took him in, clothed him when he was naked, visited him while sick, and in prison. To those on his left, he states just the opposite, they never cared about him while he was in those various straits.
Both sides appear to be totally unaware of when any of this would have transpired, because they ask the King "Lord, when did we [or not] see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink, When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you, Or when did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?"
Verse 40 And the King will answer and say unto them ‘Assuredly I say to you inasmuch as you did it [or did it not] to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it [or did it not] to ME."
One immediate conclusion which we can draw here is that Jesus identifies personally with all of His people [and all humanity since He died for them] and is judging us as to how we desire to love and serve one another. There is yet another parable which re-enforces this point.
ENTER THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS
This parable is found in Luke 16. It is well known, and it is not my purpose here to address the argument concerning the immortal soul or ever burning hell. But bear in mind that this a parable, and Jesus was addressing Jews who by this time in history would have been influenced by Hellenism and the religions of the nations who had invaded and captured them [such as Babylon and Assyria] over the centuries. He most likely was speaking in terminology that would readily get through to them.
While this parable begins in verse 19, it is very important to understand the context in which Jesus gave it. This can be found in verse 14 "Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him." Jesus returns a stinging rebuke "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. [Please, never forget this] For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God."
Then in verse 19, Jesus delivers a parable concerning a certain rich man who wore the finest of clothes and feasted on the very finest of food every day. And then there is a beggar named Lazarus who is in pathetic straits, full of sores, [apparently from malnutrition] who literally laid at the rich man’s gate, hoping to even be so fortunate as to gather the left over or unnoticed crumbs left by the rich man who was so much in love with his riches and himself, that he was oblivious to this pitiful soul laying at his gate.
The following verses paint the picture of Lazarus dying and being carried by the angles to Abraham. This by the way is the first resurrection. The rich man also dies and is buried, to await a future resurrection. Jesus carries the time line to the rich man’s resurrection to condemnation [Daniel 12:2] and the rich man’s attempt to reverse his fate. He is told that during his physical life he had the best of everything while Lazarus suffered, and now justice is served, Lazarus is comforted [although the rich man had every opportunity to offer comfort in the past] and now he is the one in torment. And Jesus concludes the parable by telling the rich man that those among the living have the Word of God to instruct them and that they need to heed it.
THE BOTTOM LINE
You know, in all of my forty some years of seriously studying God’s word I have yet to see where Jesus ever placed heavy emphasis on doctrinal issues. Yes, He did say "If you will enter into life, keep the commandments" but remember, He also stated that to love God with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself, would amount to the summation of the law and prophets.
DO WE "GET IT" ?
I seem to recall a prominent church leader from time to time displaying his frustration over "God’s people not getting it!" I’m still not quite sure as to what his frustrations were exactly over, perhaps he was speaking in generalities. But I too have noticed over the years that many Christians by no means limited to any specific affiliation, don’t get it either. The point, lesson, behind these parables is that God, Christ, the Law and testimony, and even prophecy, is about CARING.
Step one is to repent of our own sins and be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Step two is to receive God’s Holy Spirit and as the Apostle Peter worded it, become "partakers of the Divine Nature". This should guide us into becoming caring, loving examples of God’s love, the greatest testimony that can be given. Step three will ultimately come to pass as fulfilled prophecy when we are born into a family that will ever love and care to the point that there will be ‘no more tears."
Jesus once told His disciples that "if you were of the world, the world would love it’s own." Sometimes I think that some churches have somewhat of a reverse mentality on this to the effect "if you are not of our church, we only love our own". Do you really wonder why some churches just don’t grow, or stagnate? Did you know that a lack of caring was one of the symptoms of the fading early New Testament Church? Paul wrote to the Philippians that he had hoped to send Timothy since he had no one else who would be genuinely concerned for their welfare "for they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus." [Philippians 2:19-21]
When we see suffering around us, do we care? Do we ever call someone, visit the sick, help a needy neighbor, shovel the snow from some widow or otherwise incapacitated person’s sidewalk? I remember that in the days immediately following my wife Rita’s death, people in our neighborhood who were not even aware of my belief system came with food, cards, and well wishes. I still recall how this at the very least gave me some hope in those dark hours. Somebody actually cared!
So all things considered, I for one am convinced that what this church needs, really needs is to understand that the Kingdom of God is all about caring, even about the most down and out, pathetic human specimens. And I believe that I have the backing of God’s Word to warn anyone who’s intentions are only to gain membership for control, money, or to exclude themselves from humanity, to go and take a good hard look again at Matthew 25 and Luke 16.
Want to effectively evangelize? Care.