Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised…” Luke 4:18
The church’s primary work is spreading the gospel of Christ and making disciples. I never stop being surprised at the widespread misunderstanding of this. Some ministries get pretty creative in their pursuit to do this work, and naturally there are critics. One of those creative ministries states at the top of their website that they are “…an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively”. It is a para-church ministry, (not a church) but it has come under scrutiny in recent years for how it raises and spends money. I watched the comments fly around online about it last summer, demanding that instead of using their collective $7 million budget for their own building projects, they should donate the money to help the state with the heroin addicts. This is assuming the people who gave the money don’t also give to their own church and elsewhere. $7 million is about 1/2 % of the $1.5 billion that was raised last year by candidates for the presidential election…and a failed presidential election for all the candidates but one. Did the people who gave their time, talent and treasure to the presidential election forget about the needy?
$7 million spent by Christians in creative pursuits to proclaim the gospel of Christ may seem very frivolous, even to other Christians, but if our primary work is the proclaiming of the gospel of Christ, our first love and devotion is to Christ himself. I love this passage:
“Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, 7There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. 8But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? 9For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. 10When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. 11For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. 12For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. 13Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.” Matthew 26:6-13
My own giving will go to a church or a ministry whose primary work is preaching the gospel rather than a government recovery program or an election campaign, but if anyone else feels compassion for heroin addicts, look no further than your own hard earned dollars. Don’t give your money to a politician or a ministry you don’t feel you can support! That is our right and our freedom to give where we wish to give. Even better would be if you are a Christian, give to a Christian ministry that preaches the gospel and treats addictions or join together with like-minded people and start one yourself.
There is a fundamental reason though, that people get mixed up and think it is the church’s primary work to meet every social need society creates. It is the throwing over of the gospel of Christ in favor of the social gospel. A few years ago, a well-known, world religious leader said on more than one occasion that the core and center of the gospel is poverty. It was such a popular statement that it was even reported in the mainstream news, but why would the mainstream news care what a religious leader said about the core and center of the gospel? They care because it was a statement about the social gospel, which makes an effective impact on people’s views and response to government policy. Regarding the gospel of Christ though, it misleads us into a deadly lie. Christ’s gospel is not about poverty, but about debt. It is about man’s sin debt to God. We cannot repay that debt, except with our own life. “For the wages of sin is death”. Are you willing to die for all of eternity, separated from God in payment for your sin? I don’t want that for you, I don’t want that for me, I don’t want that for Pope Francis or the Dalai Lama. I want to see everyone saved…but none of us can pay that debt to God with our donations, service and government policy. We each own our own debt, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”.
Making poverty the value at the center of the gospel obscures Christ’s gospel behind the social gospel, which is no gospel. It prevents people from hearing the gospel of Christ and responding right now for salvation. “Today is the day of salvation” The true gospel, the good news, is that Jesus paid your debt, and my debt and every religious and world leader’s debt on the cross by willingly laying down his perfectly obedient life. You can be materially poor and have no debts. Likewise, you can have material abundance and be deep in debt. Not everyone may be able to identify with what it means to be rich or poor. But everyone knows what it means to be in debt.
How is the debt paid? Every person’s most urgent need is to have their sin debt to God forgiven:
And the Lord said, “… I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” – Acts 26
You will notice there are no words here about poverty and the poor, but rather forgiveness which is a concept that means a great deal to someone who is in debt. A debtor who cannot repay is condemned:
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. ” – Jesus, In John 3