Church discussions sometimes seem to get stuck on the apparent need to choose between a focus on social work or gospel work, either charity or witnessing, either justice or evangelism. But when we better understand each of these concepts and observe the ministry of Jesus, the difference breaks down, and we realize that preaching the gospel and working to help others are closely linked.
In one of Ellen White’s best-known statements, she explained it like this: “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me’. …
The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the sorrowing and the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced counseled. We are to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice”. – Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 143.
As we have seen, these two kingdom actions—justice and evangelism—were closely entwined, not only in Jesus’ ministry but in Jesus’ first commission to His disciples: “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near’. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give” (Matt. 10:7-8, NIV). In short, one of the best ways to reach others with our message is to minister to their needs.
Read 1 Peter 2:12 and Philippians 2:15. What do Peter and Paul say about the witnessing power of good works done by God’s people?
With a broader understanding of God’s good news, evangelism does not make sense in the absence of a passion for people. Verses like 1 John 3:16-18 and James 2:16 emphasize the contradiction in preaching the gospel without living it out. At its best, evangelism—bringing the good news of hope, rescue, repentance, transformation, and God’s all-embracing love—is an expression of justice.
Both evangelism and the desire for justice spring from recognizing God’s love for lost, broken, and hurt people—a love that also grows in our hearts under the influence of God in our lives. We don’t choose one action or another; instead, we work with God in working with people, meeting their real needs, and using whatever resources God has entrusted us with.
|How can we make sure, though, that as we do good works for others, we don’t neglect preaching the good news of salvation, as well?|