I’m teaching a class for teen girls (a total of about 125) on the topic of personal evangelism every day this week. Exhausting though it may be, I absolutely love being able to do this at Horizons every year. I see some of the most beautiful hearts in the world in the eyes and sweet questions and comments of these girls who sincerely just want to do right and go to heaven. I just hope I am able to bless them as much as they bless me by their sweet spirits and courage to boldly live for God when their peers and Godless high school culture are trying to destroy their faith.
In collecting my thoughts for my class theme this week, I began to ponder what has become a HUGE trend among young people in our culture. Currently and over the past 10 or 15 years, a movement has swept over the youth of our nation. To my generation, at least, it was introduced by books like “Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne and various books by Rob Bell and other writers. It began entering every aspect of the lives of young people—even fashion. Everyone knows the cool thing is to wear Toms shoes, whether or not they know what the purpose of the organization actually is.
It’s cool these days to use your time and energy to serve others in ways such as providing food and/or clean water for the hungry and thirsty, reliable shelter for those who have a shabby, broken house—or no house at all—giving money to charitable organizations, doing random acts of kindness in the community, sending clothes or shoes to some third world country, and other wonderful works of kindness and love.
So why would that bother me? Before I answer that, let me just say as a disclaimer that I have MANY friends who I love and respect who love to involve themselves in organizations like these. It gives them a feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment, and for the record, I get that. But I’m still bothered by it.
Here’s why. I’m hearing at so many youth devotionals, camps, and seminars that if we want to be more like Jesus, we will do things like feed and clothe the homeless, send shoes and clean water to Uganda, and other good works. But here’s what most of those speakers and counselors are failing to get across to these kids—maybe because they themselves don’t see the big picture: When we help to take care of the physical needs of people without making a serious effort to make sure their spiritual needs are met, do we really love them? If, in all our worthy efforts to provide food, clothing , and shelter without helping them make their souls right with God so that they can spend an eternity with Him, do we really love them?
If you think about it, one might argue that what we’re doing is enabling them to continue living in a lost state—just more comfortably due to the new roof we’ve built them or the new fleece blanket we’ve sent to them. When we volunteer to serve at soup kitchens for the homeless and when they return to wherever they sleep, we make sure they go with warm coats and blankets, yes, we are providing comfort and a solution to meet an immediate, albeit temporary physical need. And that feels good. It’s rewarding to know you’re making someone feel better. But when we meet those temporary physical needs, and neglect to try to meet their eternal spiritual needs, we are sending them away to live more comfortably in their lost state, not thinking about eternity at all. And, in the cases of many homeless people, we’re enabling them to continue in their lazy, entitled lifestyles when we provide them with the physical needs they themselves could obtain were they to get a job and work hard to provide for themselves and their families.
“But Hannah, Jesus was so benevolent! How can you possibly take issue with caring for others?!” That’s probably what you’re thinking right now. First of all, please understand that I am NOT suggesting we stop helping people. On the contrary, I think it is our duty as Christians to help people. I just think it should be accompanied by an effort to save their souls rather than just their earthly bodies. Second, Jesus was benevolent, but his benevolence was all for a spiritual, eternal purpose. If the purpose of his benevolence was merely the desire to meet people’s physical needs, would he not have healed ALL the sick and provided food and shelter for ALL the poor? Obviously, he didn’t do that. He could have, but he didn’t. Indeed, Jesus Himself was criticized for allowing a woman to worship him by pouring a precious ointment on his head rather than selling it and giving the money to the poor. He scolded them for their shortsightedness: “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” (Mark 14:6-9 NKJV) I think Jesus was implying that physical benevolence is good, but it’s not what truly matters forever and ever. What truly matters is making sure the souls around you know how to go to heaven because of your teaching and influence. Indeed, Jesus did state his purpose, and it wasn’t “The Son of Man has come to provide warmth, nourishment, and shelter to all those in need,” but rather, “The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10 ESV)
“Well, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” you may be thinking. I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I wish church leaders and youth ministers and anyone else in the church who stresses physical benevolence to others would drive the point home into the beautiful hearts of these well-meaning young people—the point that benevolence is needed and important, but we should always pair it with teaching that will help these people to not just live comfortably on earth, but to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Have you ever thought about the fact that the roof, the coat, the shoes, and the soup will one day all be ashes, but the soul will still exist either in eternal tormenting fire or around the throne of God? So many times we can offer both temporal and eternal disaster relief simultaneously, but if we’re content to just offer temporal comfort, it is just that—so temporary. True love is being involved in the ultimate disaster relief. Hell is the ultimate disaster.
I know this post might be controversial. That’s why I want to encourage you right now to comment and if necessary, help me in my own understanding. Am I wrong about this? I covet your thoughts.
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