Being made in God’s image, mankind has inherited traits from our creator. One of these traits is his caring compassion. All mankind is made in God’s image, not just his followers, which is why this trait can be found in nearly every person no matter their belief or cultural background.
This inherent compassion is a good thing. It drives us to be like Christ; selfless, generous, and merciful. Mankind’s compassion contrasts with its often harsh, sinful nature. Compassionate actions are seen all over the world. Charities, volunteers, outreach of every kind can be found all over the globe both inside and outside the church. Showing compassion and helping the physically needy.
The calling to physically aid those around us can be seen in numerous places throughout the Bible. “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” (Proverbs 14:21, NIV) “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” (James 1:27, NIV) How Christ values those who care for the needy can also be seen in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).
It is clear that offering physical aid to those around us is a good and Christ-like thing to do. What is sometimes less clear is when this focus on the endless physical needs of people overshadows and takes away from our great commission (Matthew 28:18-20. To understand the limits of our calling to help those around us, we must consider the overarching goals and motivations behind these acts of service from a Biblical perspective.
The relationship between meeting one’s physical needs and evangelism is based on the principle of demonstrating Christ’s love through actions. Meeting physical needs can show love, build trust, and open doors for sharing the gospel. Jesus often demonstrated compassion and met people’s physical needs before addressing their spiritual condition. By doing so, He displayed the love of God and provided a platform for proclaiming the gospel.
If we are to replicate Christ’s example, we must consider healing one’s spiritual disconnect from God as our primary goal. This makes sense when considered fully. Consider this example: A medic is treating a wounded soldier. This soldier has a cut on their leg that is bleeding and risks infection. Additionally, he has internal bleeding that, although not as immediately dangerous, is just as potentially fatal. The medic, being aware of both injuries, first treats the cut leg. Would the medic then send the soldier on their way, ignoring the, if untreated, fatal, internal bleeding? Of course not!
Likewise, while treating the physical needs of those in need, we must acknowledge that the condition of the soul is the most important thing. Our ultimate goal is to bring those around us to God. We must save them eternally, otherwise saving their mortal bodies is only delaying the inevitable loss.
This can seem intimidating at first, but we must remember that it is not us that saves eternal life, but God. Take back the example of the medic helping the wounded soldier. While he would certainly not ignore the soldier’s internal injury, the medic might not be qualified to perform surgery himself. In such a case the medic’s job is to get the wounded soldier to a doctor who is qualified to take such action. We are not qualified to save souls. Just as we were not saved by ourselves or any mere human, only God is qualified to save us from the clutches of sin.
Where then is this line of physical aid being our mission verses a distraction drawn? The line is not a clear and solid one. It is situational and fluid. The most important thing we can do is keep our goal in mind. Sometimes this may mean prioritizing those who are ripe for “spiritual picking.” Those who are receptive to the word.
More often still it will mean continuing our aid and help with someone even after their physical need is fulfilled. It can be tempting to quickly move on to the next physical need once the last has been completed, but our mission is primarily to lead others to Christ.
We should demonstrate love and compassion by showing genuine care for those in need, addressing their physical and spiritual needs in a compassionate manner. We should establish meaningful relationships with people by meeting them where they are and understanding their circumstances. This most importantly establishes trust and opens the door for sharing the gospel. Finally, we must share the gospel with grace when it is appropriate explaining the hope and salvation found in Jesus. Ultimately, this process should reflect Christ’s love and grace in both word and deed.