We look around us and are daunted by the poverty and suffering and darkness we see. We know it will take a lot of work to change, and we know God asks us to, but we often choose to sit back and wait.
It’s easy to be lazy and complacent and wait for other people to do the work. But these are some of the most dangerous ideals. They threaten the kingdom of God. The whole body of Christ needs to be working together if we are going to get things done. Even if the hands are equipped with a hammer and nails, they can’t get anything done if the feet don’t take them to the construction site. We simply have to rely on each other. Paul uses the body metaphor in 1 Corinthians to remind the church of the importance of unity. He says:
“But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:24b-26 ESV)
We have our own jobs, families, and lives, and these things help us justify spiritual laziness in the church. Sometimes, we don’t even notice we are failing to act because we feel like it’s a positive thing to be investing in ourselves. Laziness can, and often does, mask itself as selfish hard work. We might be working for recognition and self-righteousness instead of in love and for Christ. But we have to acknowledge that work done for the wrong reasons has no place in the kingdom of God.
The body of Christ needs to be operating together—and it needs to be moving with the intent God desires. When believers do things for the wrong reasons, the action itself is rooted in selfishness and sin. The action may be fruitful for a time, but it will crumble because it has the wrong foundation. The church cannot stand on actions carried out without love. Paul understood that it is difficult for believers to be united for the right reasons:
“And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:1 ESV)
I know we’re all a little tired; it seems like less work to focus on our lives than it is to participate in a body of believers. It’s especially hard when we don’t call all the shots. Listening to God’s direction, and any leader’s direction, makes us incredibly vulnerable. When we start putting others first, we stop guarding ourselves as much as we like to.
But it is vital that we do this. We radiate God’s love when we love others. And the body of believers will not lose anything by rejecting selfishness, and choosing love instead. Paul reminds us:
“If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3 ESV)
It’s not enough to have action without love, and it’s not enough to love without action. The things we do on a daily basis should be in response to the callings God puts on our lives. We need to be giving it all we have. Paul returns to this issue in his letter to the Colossians:
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17 ESV)
Let us, as the church, check our motivations at the door and leave our selfishness at the foot of the cross. Think of what we could accomplish together, if we truly acted as one, with a heart of love and thankfulness:
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23 ESV)
Satan wants a lazy church. We fail when we work for people and not for the Lord. But if we, as different members of the same body, rely on love—if we root ourselves in the foundation of God’s love—we can bring real change and light to the world.
From the beginning of the early church, there is a concern for the impoverished and for effective alleviation of poverty. Right off the bat, early Christians are pooling their resources for the sake of the marginalized and impoverished. Early Christians sold their stuff so that they could share resources with the hurting (Acts 2:44–45). Self-sacrifice is a core part of the gospel.
We have to be willing to sacrifice our own comforts for the sake of the impoverished. I can’t look at the situation in Bihar, India—where millions of people are living in extreme poverty—and deny them clean water or economic opportunities. As a Christian, I should experience a conversion in those moments of witnessing poverty. I should be inspired to give of my time and resources to empower the poor. I should be willing to go so far as to sell my house and my belongings. That’s at least what Jesus told one man (Matthew 19:16–22).
That’s precisely what my wife and I did—we put all of our resources into empowering the impoverished and bringing the gospel to the unreached. We sold our house and our stuff, for the sake of the mission. I’m not saying this to boast, because I can tell you that there is no glory in it. I’m saying this to note that I’m not asking you to do something I haven’t done myself. I’m also not saying everyone’s journey will be so radically life altering, but I do ask, “Are you giving enough that it hurts?” That’s the model of the early church.
Jesus has a different economy in mind than the one on offer in our world. He believes in empowering the impoverished. Jesus’ economy is based on self-sacrifice. Jesus’ currency is love.
When the earliest Christians gave, it wasn’t about guilt (2 Corinthians 9:6–7). And likewise, their love wasn’t an empty love—one where I give of my resources without thought of relationship. I believe in intelligent love and I believe in love that calls people to a higher standard. I believe in this because the early church did. I also believe in love that respects the value of hard work (compare 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7–8). There is a time for charity, such as meeting a basic need like clean water, but people also need economic opportunities. They need jobs.
The early church built intelligence in their giving. We see this in the appointment of deacons—following an issue over distribution of charity to widows, one of the most impoverished groups of the day (Acts 6:1–7). Jesus would have us give in ways that multiply and to think about how we’re giving and to whom we’re giving.
This is why I believe in job creation efforts being a core part of the work of the church. We can meet a person’s need today or we can give them the ability to meet their own need tomorrow. But no matter what we do, showing Jesus’ love in word and deed should be our mission. We should live on mission and empower missions, so that all can know Jesus.
The early church sent missionaries out, but their goal was to train and empower local leadership. Much of 1 Timothy and Titus is about this—the appointment of local elders and deacons. We also see Paul in 1–2 Thessalonians and 1–2 Corinthians working to instruct local leaders on how to lead their own church. Paul’s model was always about raising up indigenous leaders.
Today, we can do the same. We need to empower local leadership around the world. What we need is to sponsor indigenous church planting movements and to empower them with quality, Bible-focused training. And we need to empower them with strong project management, resources for community development, and let them sit at the center of an effort to renew a community.
Churches around the world should partner together, for the sake of both bringing the gospel to unreached people groups and to meet basic needs. And where there are needs to be met, we should meet them. Near the end of Paul’s letter to the Roman church, he requests that they join him and other churches in bringing together an aid package for the impoverished in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26–29).
As Christians, we need to have a holistic approach to life transformation. We need to be about creating jobs, planting churches, and meeting basic needs—one community at a time.
Imagine what could be if the church functioned this way—if we looked at the biblical model of self-sacrifice and lived with the principles of the early church in mind. Imagine how different our world be. Imagine what would happen if we had a truly Jesus economy in mind at all times.