About mercy ministry
We are called to love and serve our neighbors and care for the poor, hurting or alone. Contemporary culture places a great deal of value on community service, so what makes the church any different in this area? The reasons and the ways the church participates in mercy ministry must be unique from those of the culture.
Why do mercy ministry?
Mercy to others overflows from and responds to the mercy we have received from God through Christ
(1 John 4:7-12). The primary motivation for mercy must be the greatness of God’s mercy to us. If God showed mercy to us, who are not only needy, but wicked and rebellious, how can we not show mercy to those in need around us?
“We will never truly love someone who is drastically different from us, but only when we see they are exactly like us.” Paige Brown
NOT to earn favor before God or others.
We must guard against mercy ministry becoming a work. God calls us to mercy and love for others in response to the mercy and love we’ve already received from Him. In all of the passages where God calls His people to mercy, He motivates them by reminding them of His mercy to them and their status as His people. All of the favor due Christ already rests upon those who believe in Him, so mercy ministry cannot possibly earn anything for us. Rather, it will flow naturally out of a changed heart and will evidence of a healthy relationship with Christ, not cause it.Subordinate to and depending on this experience of God’s grace:
We must preach the Gospel in word and deed.
Without deeds, our words will be meaningless (James 2:14-20). The natural outflowing of a heart changed by God will be love and mercy for our neighbors. Likewise, deeds of love and grace act as a barometer for how we have understood the Gospel. (1 John 3:16-18)
Mercy is a central aspect of the Kingdom of God.
Christ inaugurated the coming of God’s Kingdom to earth. When the Kingdom spreads on earth, the Fall is rolled back, the earth is redeemed and all things are made new.
Spreading mercy and justice is a key part of spreading the Kingdom. In fact, Jesus defined His role as Messiah in terms of mercy to the poor and oppressed. (Matthew 11:4-6)
We are commanded to love and serve those in need.
– Throughout redemptive history, God has called His people to care for one another and for the stranger in their midst (Leviticus 19, 25). Jesus found acts of mercy to be such an integral part of life and worship that He equated service to those in need with service to Him. In fact, in the final days of His ministry, He says that He will withhold mercy from those who withhold mercy from “the least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46). Of course, a simple “because God says so” will not change hearts, so this truth is more a check on our lives than a motivation.
How do Christians do mercy ministry?
The Church has a call distinct from that of the culture. We are called to be Christ’s witnesses on earth (Acts 1:8). Mercy ministry is part of this call, but must never be divorced from the Gospel of Christ, whether this Gospel is preached in word or deed. Jesus’ ministry on earth was one in which word and deed were constantly paired. Our mercy must be a mirror of God’s mercy through Christ to the world, which is:
- Showing mercy to others will require a sacrifice of our time, resources and emotional energy. But Christ, who loved to the point of death, not only inspires our sacrifice, but enables it through our union with Him.
– In the most incredibly relational act ever, the God of the universe chose to come down to earth personally through Christ to pour out His mercy on His people.
Treat people with the respect befitting an image-bearer of God.
Once on earth, Christ was extremely relational with those to whom He ministered. He touched the leper (Matthew 8:1-4), sat down with the woman at the well without concern for the cultural rules He was breaking (John 4), and endured scorn by spending time with prostitutes, tax collectors and social outcasts (Luke 7:36-50, Luke 19:1-9, Matthew 11:19). Even now, Christ desires a relationship with us, not simply a series of impersonal religious acts. Our mercy to others, therefore, should be relational if we are to mirror God’s mercy.
- God’s mercy to us through Christ gives us a completely new status. It clothes the unworthy in Christ’s righteousness and makes orphans children of God. Our mercy to others must also restore dignity to those made in the image of God. We must treat people with the respect befitting an image-bearer of God.
Not based on merit
– People often make a false distinction between the “deserving poor” and those who are not. There has never existed a Christian deserving of God’s mercy, yet He chose to lavish it on us anyway to His glory. Christ met people where they were, whether they were prostitutes, tax collectors or Pharisees.
– Christ met people where they were, but He also did not leave them there. As God’s love and mercy are transformational, so should ours be. Our mercy should not breed dependence or be a crutch, but rather should help heal the person toward wholeness. The unexpected aspect of mercy ministry, however, is that it transforms not only the person being serve but also the one serving. Loving others as Christ loved, through the power of the Holy Spirit, finding that those seemingly very different are really the same, and seeing people through God’s eyes cannot help but change us.
- (Matthew 25) “Mercy is a lifestyle, not a project.” -Duke Kwon