You may have heard a lot lately about blending gospel proclamation (evangelism) with gospel demonstration (compassion). Is this a biblical concept or just an attempt at cultural relevance? Read this and decide for yourself.
Declaring and Demonstrating Gospel Truth: Key Passages
There’s a host of Old Testament passages that teach us to proclaim the excellencies of our great God and Savior, and to show compassion for—or seek justice on behalf of—the widow, orphan, alien, and poor. For instance, Old Testament writers, especially the Psalmists, repeatedly exhort us to “tell of the wondrous works of God” (e.g. Ps. 145) so that his ways “may be known on earth, [his] saving power among all nations” (Ps. 67:2). At the same time, Moses, the Prophets, and the Poets also repeatedly exhort us to show compassion for the poor and oppressed—to “loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free…to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house…” (Isaiah 58:6)—because God Himself “executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Dt. 10:18).
Some key OT passages re: proclaiming God’s greatness: Deut. 32; Psalm 67; Isaiah 40:9
Some key OT passages re: showing God’s compassion for the widow, orphan, alien, and poor: Ex. 22:21-27; 23:1-9; Lev. 19:9-18; 25:35; Psalm 41:1; 68:5,6; Prov. 3:28; 14:31; 19:17; Isaiah 58:1-12; 61:1-6; 65:17-25; Jer. 22:16; 29:4-7; Ez. 16:49-50; Micah 6:8)
When we come to the New Testament and observe the life of Jesus, it’s obvious that He was continually proclaiming the Kingdom, teaching people the liberating truth and wisdom of God, and bringing help and healing to the hungry, paralyzed, leprous, lame, deaf, mute, blind, demon-possessed, and brokenhearted; and new life to those in the grip of death (Eg. Mt. 4:23 and 9:35). And, of course, the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ take up a major section of all four gospels—for it is the perfectly righteous life of Jesus, his death, resurrection, and ascension that form the foundation for the redemption of the human race and for the restoration of all creation. (Key passages re: the work of Christ to redeem humanity and restore all of creation: Acts 3:1-26; Romans 8:18-25; Eph. 1:3-10; Col. 1:15-20; Rev. 21:1-27.)
Following their Master, believers in the book of Acts prayed for boldness to speak the word of God, even in the face of opposition, and for power to heal—and God answered their prayers in a big way! Jesus had inaugurated a new Kingdom, and the signs (or “previews”) of that Kingdom began to show up in the midst of—and all around—the newly founded Church of Jesus Christ. Joyful worship, hunger for God’s Word, faith-filled prayer, meaningful fellowship, sacrificial sharing of material goods, explosive growth (Acts 2:42-47; 3:23-37); bold proclamation (Acts 2:14-41; 4:29-31); the lame “walking and leaping” (e.g. Acts 3:1-26; cf. Isa. 35:6); care for the vulnerable (Acts 6:1-7); the “nations” gathered in through gospel proclamation (Acts 8:26-40; 10 & 11); and sacrificial giving in the face of famine (Acts 11:27-30) all revealed new life in Christ, a new community of faith, and a new Kingdom where the King uses His people to begin His long-intended redemption of the human race and the restoration of a broken world.
The Apostle Paul is known for his zeal to preach the gospel (Acts 20:25; Rom. 15:20-21), and by his own testimony, was “eager” to care for the poor (Gal. 2:10). Paul also continually reminds his young protégés Timothy and Titus to teach sound doctrine (the gospel) and to cultivate zeal for good works in the people of God. For example, Paul wrote to Titus:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people , training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14 (cf. 3:4-8)
Likewise, the Apostle Peter taught believers scattered all over the known world that the Christian gospel is:
Personal – The gospel saves individuals, causing them to be “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” and guaranteeing them an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1:3-5). But it is also…
Communal, Cultural, and Transformational – The gospel creates a new community with a new culture that is different from the prevailing culture and has a transforming effect on it through good deeds (2:1-12). This culture is characterized by personal purity; by sincere, earnest, and pure love toward believers; and by good deeds for the lost, even those who persecute us (1:13-25; 2:12; 2:15; 3:9, 13-17; 4:19). (N.b. Drawn from Tim Keller’s “Gospel Centered Ministry,” listed in following section of resources.)
In summary, the Scriptures teach us to proclaim the greatness of God, the excellencies of His character, His saving power for all peoples, and to rejoice in our firm hope that He will redeem the human race and restore everything in all creation that was lost in the Fall. The Scriptures also teach us that God is filled with compassion, is Himself “the father of the fatherless,” and holds His people to a unique accountability to care for the widow, orphan, alien, and poor. When Jesus breaks into human history, with incomprehensible grace and mercy, he redeems a people and so captivates their hearts that they have to speak of His great love, and they’re so overwhelmed with His mercy that they want to extend mercy to those most in need.
* Photo courtesy of Noora Kero (Flickr Creative Commons)
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