Life Lesson #9: Christians are in the job of changing hearts and saving souls.
Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. Philemon 1:15-16
When I was in college, I was approached by two missionaries on campus. I believed in God, to an extent, but didn’t know anything about Him or Jesus. I asked the typical questions – “Why does God allow bad things to happen to people” and “Why did He give us free will instead of just making us all good people?” I’m sorry to say they couldn’t give me even a best guess. I wonder if you were tasked with talking to a friend about Jesus would you be ready with passable answers to these questions?
I heard a talk by Joyce Meyer the other day where she took up the question of why evil things continuously happen in the world. She’s seen some pretty bad situations in all of her world-wide missionary work. She prayed this question one day. The answer she got back was, “I’m waiting on my people to obey me and take care of each other.”
The righteous know the rights of the poor; the wicked have no such understanding. Proverb 29:7
I’m currently doing a study that takes me through the entire Bible. It’s fascinating to see in Leviticus how sin offerings are adjusted for the poor. Even thousands of years ago God was making sure the downtrodden were taken care of. But notice you won’t find in the Bible that the Israelites or Christians are told to take up arms to eliminate poverty. Verse after verse we are tasked to do one thing with the poor – to help them.
In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. Acts 9:36
As social justice issues go, the poor are always on the lips of “social justice warriors.” Their desire appears to be to eliminate poverty and all social injustice via legislation, protests or even through violence. But as Christians we are shown a different approach. Take the issue of slavery, as discussed in the letter from Paul to Philemon. The subject is the slave Onesimus. Notice in the introductory verse that Paul does not chastise or demand of Philemon the release of his slave. Paul, instead, appeals to faith principles. He reminds Philemon that as a faithful follower of Jesus our hearts and therefore, our minds are changed.
“To me, a follower of Jesus means a friend of man. A Christian is a philanthropist by profession, and generous by force of grace; wide as the reign of sorrow is the stretch of his love, and where he cannot help he pities still.”Charles Spurgeon
By teaching slave owners about the power and love and salvation found in following Jesus, the disciples were slowly changing the hearts and then minds of people who, not only owned slaves, but behaved in any number of sinful ways. The new Christian is tasked with living in a new loving and giving nature.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17
Had the disciples come into new cities preaching about abolishing slavery (let’s remember too that slavery in that time was mostly more like indentured servitude) they certainly would’ve been met with resistance. Slaves were costly commodities – just as they were in the early years of the United States. To preach that people had to give up much of their wealth in order to follow Jesus would not have been as successful as first telling of the Good News.
Last year, I watched as protests and violence broke out in cities across the United States by self-professed social justice warriors. To be honest, at times I wasn’t even sure what some of it was about. In Portland, Oregon, the young people rioting just seemed to hate everyone. It was a perfect time for the church to rise up and do what we should do best – show love and help change hearts. I hoped and prayed that in communities hit by violence that God’s people would come together and form prayer chains around the cities – enveloping it in God’s love. Instead, I watched as pastors led more protests and took to microphones and megaphones yelling about injustice, pointing fingers at different races.
“It is easier to make laws than to make Christians, but the business of the church is to produce Christians and everything else is a by-product of that new creation.”Vance Havner
The people of Jesus’ time expected a Messiah to come and bring justice. They wanted punishment of those who had wronged them. They wanted to see governments and whole groups of people destroyed. But Jesus was not that kind of social justice warrior. From town-to-town He cared about one thing – changing people’s hearts. He did out-of-the-box things like sit with sinners, touch the leper, heal on the Sabbath, talk with the outcasts. He brought the bread of life and the refreshing water of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14
How amazing would it have been if, when our churches closed down in March 2020, they instead remained open. Not just open but open 24 hours a day with a sign out on the street that said, “Need someone to talk to? We’re always open and ready to listen.” I know this idea is radical. And you’re probably thinking of all the reasons why your church can’t do this. But the work of Jesus and His apostles was radical. So is the work of every Christian you probably admire.
“Behave at them.”Ken Blanchard
As Christians we are not tasked to be worldly “social justice warriors.” We are commissioned to be God’s soldiers. When we are tempted to join a protest march and carry a sign we should first think how we can directly help those for whom we are marching. God’s plan for the world will only be accomplished through our active showing of love, grace, charity, and forgiveness of others — while espousing His truth. The spreading of the message of Jesus brings the changes we so long for – maybe just not as fast as we like. He designed us this way.
I do get outraged by many things going on in the world. And then I remember to pray to God for peace in my heart so that I can listen for my marching orders. When I feel overwhelmed by the problems we face, I remember that God works out-of-the-box in radical ways. It’s up to me and it’s up to you to be in the heart changing business when God puts opportunities right in front of us. We will always find ourselves on the right side of “He who is most important” when we obey God.
The Apostle Paul worked on one rich, slave owner at a time. And over time, our Christian faith has led to a world-wide abolishment of sanctioned slavery. What small step can you do today to help change one heart?