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Ministries of Compassion


Often we make the mistake that the ministry of the gospel is
simply an intellectual process of teaching and learning. We
think that if a lost soul has heard the gospel preached that we
have thereby fulfilled our obligations to him and he
ought to respond automatically to the call of the gospel.
However, the gospel is not taught in a vaccum. Those who listen
to the preached word find themselves in circumstances which
preclude any effective reach of the preached word in their hearts
by our often intellectualized ministries.

Visit a third-world country or an low-income urban area and you
might find this scenario. There is an eight year old child
sitting on the porch of her straw hut, dobe house or project
building. She is visibly undernourished. Her stomach protrudes
as evidence of a protein definciency. Her capacity to resist
disease is low and consequently he has a low-grade fever and a
snotty nose. Yet, she has little hope of any medicine much less
of seeing a doctor. Does a missionary or any minister of the
gospel sit beside this girl to teach her the gospel without
ministering to her needs? Is is possible to teach about the love
of Christ unless we first demonstrate that the love of Christ is
in our hearts by giving her some medicine and a little food? We
cannot preach about love until we show compassion for her
condition. She will not be receptive to our message until we
show some concern about her as an individual who needs help and

This is why we need a wholistic ministry where we see to the
medical, nutritional and spiritiual needs of those with whom we
are living and working. A ministry that focuses solely on the
spiritual needs of people will be an ineffective and cold. Our
ministry must be based upon compassion that reaches beyond the
spiritual needs. It should reach as far as Jesus' compassion
which is pictured in Matthew as three-fold.

First, our Lord felt compassion for those who were lost in sin.
Matthew 9:36 says, "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on
them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without
a shepherd." The sheep were lost. They had no shepherd. The
Lord was preaching the good news in order to direct them to their
spiritual shepherd (Matt. 9:35), and he encouraged workers to
enter the fields to harvest the crop (Matt. 9:37,38). The Lord
weeps over the lost and his ministry to them is based upon a
true compassion for their lost condition (cf. Matt. 23:37).
Perhaps we would be more evangelistic if we had a deeper sense of

Second, our Lord felt compassion for those who were sick and
diseased. Matthew 14:14 says, "When Jesus landed and saw a large
crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick." What
motivated the Lord to heal in this instance? It was his
compassion for their physical condition (cf. Mark 1:41; 9:22;
Matt. 20:34; Luke 7:13). The Lord ministered to their sickness
in a supernatural way, but it is an example for us to be
compassionate and minister to the sickness of others through
prayer and medicine (James 5:14,15).

Third, our Lord felt compassion for those who were hungry.
Matthew 15:32 says, "Jesus called his disciples to him and said,
'I have compassion for these people; they have already been with
me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send
them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way'." The Lord
felt the need to feed the hungry as part of his gospel ministry
(cf. Mark 8:2). If the Lord could not send his followers away
hungry, how is it possible for us to minister to malnourished and
hungry people without helping them?

This biblical picture of compassion is what grounds the efforts
of many brethren in medical missions and sending food to
Ethiopia, Poland and Central America. It is the rational behind
benevolent ministries. These efforts ought to be encouraged and
supported. They are not peripheral to the gospel. Rather, the
ministry of the gospel means evangelizing the lost, feeding the
hungry and caring for the sick.

We are ministers of the gospel. We preach good news. However,
the ministry of the gospel is not a mere ministry of words, but
of deeds (cf. I John 3:18). It is a ministry to the whole person
and his needs. It is a benevolent ministry. The gospel will not
be totally effective where it is not preached and practiced in its
fullness. When we preach to sick and hungry people without
helping them overcome their sickness and hunger, we are no longer
ministers of the gospel, but ministers of a mere ideology.

First appeared in Image 1.9 (October 1, 1985), 18-9.


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