(This is part two in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)
Why “Helping People”?
When we want as few words as possible in our tagline, why should “Helping People” make the cut? In reading the Bible we learn that God has always had a focus on helping people. One example is the giving of the the law. Consider the words of Jesus:
The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” Mark 2:27 (NLT).
When God gave the law He was not arbitrary in choosing its commandments. The law helped people. A day off for rest is helpful. It still is! We choose many other examples. If you were keeping God’s law, you were forbidden from sacrificing your child in fire as some religions from Biblical times required. That too, is helpful! God’s law also helped people to realize their need for grace which brings us to Jesus. He was always helping people through his teaching and miracles. However, Jesus also helped us with our greatest need, reconciliation to God. In Jesus God offers the grace we need. That too, is helpful! Since God has always had a focus on helping people we can expect that His Church will be called to help people also.
What are we helping people with?
Consider the story of Jesus helping a man and his son:
He replied, “Since he was a little boy. 22 The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
23 “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”
24 The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:21-24 (NLT)
Jesus is asked for help in a very practical way, the curing of the child through the casting out of the demon. However, the father also asks for a help with his spirituality: “I believe, help my unbelief”. Churches may help people with very practical things, helping with food, clothing, shelter, and the like. But there is a spiritual help that will only come through the Church. Jesus spent three years helping people by working miracles, but it was only three years, and it was only in a small corner of the world. However, Jesus has helped people across the world and throughout the generations by offering the cure for what alienates us from God. We do good works as Christian people, but they are not the core of what we are about. We are to do something that only we as Christians will do; that is, point people to God in Jesus Christ. If all heaven rejoices over the repentance of one sinner, then the people called the Church will be reaching out to that sinner. If the Father runs to welcome home the prodigal son, then we want to call the son home. While helping people with the practical stuff of life is important, our main focus is on helping people to connect with the Giver of Life Himself, to help people walk with Jesus.
Whom are we helping?
Jesus teaches us to love our neighbour, and through the parable of the Good Samaritan we learn that our neighbour is anyone and everyone. But are we to focus on helping the people who are the Church, or people beyond the Church? Our neighbour includes both. Churches which do not help Christian people walk further with Jesus have a wide open back door. Churches which do not help non-Christian people begin, or at least consider, walking with Jesus do not have a front door.
Who is helping?
We could phrase this question another way. Is the task of Christians to support the church financially, then the staff of the church will help people? Ephesians 4 will bring some clarity:
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NRSV emphasis added)
The entire church body is involved in ministry, the entire church is to be involved in helping others. The people of our church family have passions and gifts which I, the pastor, do not, so they can be of greater help to a greater number of people. They also have connections with neighbours and friends and acquaintances which I do not. Any church which limits its helping of others to its staff is severely limiting its capacity to help people. The mission of the Church is always to be carried out by all the people of the church.
Are there any icebergs ahead? Is there anything that might sink a church in helping people?
There is a subtle slide that can happen.
But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 (NRSV emphasis added)
Here we read about “the body’s growth”. We might, therefore, try every trick in the book to “grow” our church. However, we can lose sight of the fact this passage is about people. Just as we saw last week that the church is the people, not the building, so too we must realize that each church is the people, not the organization. Just as the Sabbath exists for people and not people for the Sabbath, the organization exists for people, rather than people existing for the organization. There is a subtle difference.
It has always been about the people. When God introduced religion, it was about the people; a better way to live, a way to live that pointed to the need for a better way to relate to God. Now that God has come to us in Jesus and we relate to him, not through religion, but through relationship by His grace and through faith – it brings glory to God, but it helps people.
To the glory of God, may the people called “Church” always be helping people.