Mercy Ministry in the Church
Practicing Compassion toward the "least of these"
I have had the privilege of traveling to 16 countries over the years, primarily in Southeast Asia and Latin America. Very quickly your eyes are opened to the realities that people face daily outside of America. I taught on many subjects, one of those being “mercy” ministries. I recall many times very genuinely talking to people about how to take care of their “special needs” loved ones, or those with special needs in the church. While I strove to be biblical and practical, I knew very little about what I was talking about.
Enter my little Chloe, now 6 years old, into the world of our family. A few years ago, after many tests, and many doctor’s appointments, Chloe was diagnosed with a genetic condition that essentially delays her development. Physically, she is the size of a 10 year old, but developmentally she’s 3 or 4 years old. With all the challenges and, at times, moments of discouragement, we would never exchange Chloe for a “normal” little girl. In the eyes of God Chloe is “normal,” and a blessing to our family. Without Chloe we would not be learning many valuable lessons that have made us more sensitive and empathetic toward individuals and families who are or have loved ones in similar or even more severe conditions. God has taught us what it means to display “mercy” toward someone who is different, who is not like us, at least from a human perspective. For that we are grateful for His grace.
I believe with all my heart that this is the kind of heart God wants to see from each of His people in the church toward, might I say, “the least of these” among us. Those who from a human perspective are “not” normal, but perfect from the Divine perspective! James 1:27, Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. What does genuine Christianity, in practice, come down to? Charity and Chastity. Love and Holiness or Christlikeness.
Furthermore, in writing to his Jewish brethren about what wholehearted devotion to God looks like, he tells them that one area of genuine devotion to God is, essentially, to be mindful of those who are, from the world’s standards, the most ignored, the most marginalized, the most taken for granted. For them, it was orphans and widows in the church, who were those often overlooked. For us, those people in the church and in society might extend to the elderly, the special needs, the faithful single mothers among us, etc. It’s easy to preach and give lip service to mercy among Christians, and yet, either unknowingly or knowingly, look down our noses upon those who fall in these categories.
But we must be careful not to fall into this sin. Often overlooked in the judgment of OT Israel is their failure to practice genuine compassion and mercy toward fellow mankind, beginning with their fellow Israelites. But what did Israel’s gracious God want from His people who were to represent Him before the pagan nations? Micah 6:6-7, With what shall I come to the LORD, And bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
The prophet understands that while animal sacrifices and personal sacrifice was required, the LORD wanted heartfelt worship! And how might this heartfelt worship before the LORD express itself? The following verse tells us, He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you, But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8). What the LORD ultimately wanted from His people were not sacrifices, even if that sacrifice was taking one’s life. Those things were useless if they were not walking in heartfelt humility before Him, and practicing mercy and kindness toward one another.
I’m reminded of 1 Cor 13:3, And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Who should this love be directed toward? Surely to all Christians in general, and certainly to those in the world, as we have opportunity (Gal 6:9-10), but especially to those who are the marginalized, those often ignored or treated with indifference, first in the church, and then extending to the world with the goal of sharing Christ with them.
I’m thankful for a church that understands that while “mercy ministry” is not the Gospel message, the transforming power of that same Gospel has necessary and natural application and implications for ALL of life, including the need to practice mercy, from a heart that has been transformed and gripped with the saving person and work of Christ. So practice mercy this week! Pick up the phone, reach out to someone who was adopted (or their family), a faithful widow, a special needs person or their family, an elderly saint, perhaps a faithful single mom. Have a conversation, make yourself available for any needs they might have, even if just prayer. Spirit-empowered Christians are merciful Christians, especially toward, from a human perspective, “the least of these” among us.