READY TO GIVE AN ANSWER (SOCIAL GOSPEL)
Passages that will help you respond when people say…
As the word is typically used, a job is work performed for pay. In that sense, the church has no job. All that God provides us, whether for body or soul, He provides “purely out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy,” and by grace. God never owes us anything; still He provides us with all that we need and more, because He is love. So He “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45 ESV)
When we come to know the love of God through faith in Christ Jesus, we are transformed in our minds so that we no longer think in terms of “owe” or “job,” but are given the mind of Christ, Who deals with us in love. God’s love toward us teaches us how to respond in love toward others. Where there is a need, love responds by filling that need, whatever it may be.
It is important that Christians don’t take on the same attitude as the unbelievers around them when it comes to this issue. That the world tends to think in terms of “job” and “owe” comes as no surprise; it’s the Law at work in their hearts. When the church thinks in those terms, it does so contrary to the Gospel that frees us from trying to use the Law as the means to godliness. God’s Ten Commandments certainly guide us in how to respond to our neighbor’s needs, but it is the Gospel of forgiveness through Christ that sets us free from the life of slavery to a “job” that must be performed. Instead, “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 ESV)
To pit love against itself is a temptation, especially in this matter. On the one hand is the temptation to focus solely on the spiritual needs of people; on the other to focus solely on their physical needs (the so-called “Social Gospel”). Love cannot be isolated in such a way. Love sees the whole person that God has created and that sin has corrupted. That corruption of sin has specific consequences on body and soul so that the individual’s needs are many. It cannot be denied that the greatest need is always the need to be reconciled to God through the Gospel, yet there are still other needs brought on by sin. Love responds to all those needs. It takes to heart these words from Hebrews 13:16: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (ESV)
Yes, we have jobs to do in this world—carpentry, engineering, farming, teaching, and so on—and through them God provides for us in our earthly needs. Those jobs serve the purpose of His love toward us. They further serve God’s love as, through them, God allows us to carry His love into this sin-corrupted and sin-damaged world. Those jobs allow us to support preachers and teachers of His Word in our own communities, missionaries to places farther away, and even to drive ourselves across town to speak God’s Word to an acquaintance. The love of God is poured out as sinners are called to repentance and find forgiveness through Jesus’ cross. Those jobs, however, also allow us to meet people’s earthly needs. The love of God is at work when a hungry person is fed, a sick person receives relief, or a lonely person receives company for Jesus’ sake. Such things are not the only function of the church, or even the main objective of the church. But they are ways in which we Christians, who make up the church, can show ourselves more than just job performers—we are children of God, children born of His love.
Frank Gantt is pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Loganville, Georgia.