I am increasingly troubled by the question of what constitutes “doing God’s will.” So many of the people who I hear voice this desire seem less concerned with the sorts of issues Jesus spoke on–feeding the poor, clothing the needy, forgiveness and healing division–and more concerned with matters like sexual conduct and sacrilege.
While those things are all well and good to be concerned about, should we not be more concerned about the things that Jesus actually spoke about in his life? He didn’t seem to see a lack of chastity or even a lack of proper worship as the primary concerns of his time. He spent almost all of his precious time on Earth spreading charity and forgiveness, dining with prostitutes and tax collectors.
Yet so many of those “Christians” who today speak about our “godless” world seem more concerned about what our kids watch on TV than they do with whether the sick are getting healthcare. They seem more concerned with whether we’re turning to some other religion than with whether our politicians are killing people needlessly. This does not seem very Christlike to me, and it troubles me deeply.
I’d love to know your thoughts.
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Thank you for your very thoughtful comment. My “short” answer would be that to do God’s will in the sense questioned above means to obey His decrees. As Jesus taught in John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” These relate not only to how we treat each other but also to how we treat God Himself. Indeed, Jesus taught:
Mark 12:30-31 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
Notice here that Jesus puts the love of God before the love of others. We must love Him above all else, and loving Him entails obeying His commandments. Compare this to Exodus 20, which is what these two greatest commandments are summarizing. The first four commandments are about how we worship, or relate to, God.
God’s law is a moral law, and His morality encompasses all areas of life – not only giving to those in need, but also approaching Him in the manner He has asked us to. Consider, for instance, Luke 19:46, where Jesus drove the money-changers out of the temple because they were profaning the place where God was to be worshipped: “Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Related passages from John include the following: John 2:15-17 And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up). Or consider all of the confrontations Jesus had with the Pharisees, who were the hypocritical religious leaders of His day (ie. Matthew 23:23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone). Jesus cared very much about how God’s worship was observed.
We should be careful not to assume that Jesus spent most of his time doling out charity or that such was his primary purpose. When he was criticized by the Pharisees for spending time with the tax collectors and sinners, he responded as follows:
Mark 2:17 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
From this we can see that His main purpose was to call sinners to repentance and not merely to look after people’s physical needs (although He definitely did both!). That is why He spent His life travelling around and teaching people. He knew that they were in need of a Savior and He wanted them to know that He was that Savior and that they needed to repent of their sins and place their faith in Him. As Jesus Himself said,
Mark 1:15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
And again, Jesus makes it clear that His purpose in coming to earth was not to open some sort of social services agency but to give His life for sinners:
Matthew 20:28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Interestingly, rather than make the poor the sum total of His ministry, Jesus actually once put Himself above their needs, albeit for good reason:
Matthew 26:8-11 But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.
Of those who heard the gospel, the ones who repented and trusted in Jesus were commanded to obey all of His teachings. These included matters of
- worship (John 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth; Matthew15:9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.),
- personal piety (Mark 10:19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother), and
- love for our neighbours (Matthew 25:35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in).
As far as “Christians” who appear to focus too much on spiritual matters and not enough on physical needs, I can only really speak for myself. I hold that both are important and that we as Christians are to do our part in both areas as the opportunities come our way (Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them). Concerning charity, I believe the following:
James 2:14-17 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Proverbs 3:27 Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.
But all this while bearing in mind that “charity” can do more harm than help if it is not balanced with personal responsibility:
2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
So what children watch on television concerns me, but so does caring for the sick and needy; engaging in unjust wars concerns me, but so does the state of apostasy in the church; reaching out to those Jesus reached out to concerns me, but so also do issues of morality. In short, if God cares about something, then I care too, and it is my duty as a Christian to make sure that I never stop caring.
Some today would assert that matters like worship are secondary to matters like caring for our neighbors, but I don’t think the distinction is so easy to make (see above comments). What does it help, for instance, if everyone is warm and well fed when the ship they are traveling on is sinking? We are living in a time of great spiritual declension, and until the followers of Christ get their house in order, we cannot expect to see God’s blessings on our nations. So in this time, matters like worship become very important, for Proverbs 28:9 He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination. On this, an interesting study could be made of the ancient Israelites. Every time they abandoned the true worship of God, they brought nothing but trouble on themselves and their societies. So it is with the church today. That is why so many are sounding the alarm bells over matters like worship and doctrine (cf. 1Timothy 4:16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee), for “as the church goes, so goes society.” It would be wrong of me to provoke God to further judgment on my nation by refusing to render unto Him what is His (Mark 12:17 And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.) It would be wrong of me to assist those who would return Western society to the state of immorality and doctrinal confusion and indifference that prevailed in the Middle Ages. Yet that is the direction toward which the church, and society following it, is galloping.
I share your concern about hypocrites in the church as I have personally been at the receiving end of their “charity”—or lack thereof. I have personally experienced the frustration of so-called Christians dismissing me by saying they would “pray for me” when they knew I had legitimate and pressing needs. I have also personally experienced the loving care and concern of Christians who sacrificed their time and energy, etc. to help my family through a difficult time. Each of us must seek to help others in the way that God would have us help them in their particular circumstances.
That said, it can sometimes seem like Christians are ignoring charitable issues when they really are not. I think many of us are mindful that we are not to go around blowing our own horns and drawing unnecessary attention to the good that we do. Consider:
Matthew 6:1-6 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. …
Mat 6:16-18 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
Our good deeds are to be between us and our Father, and we are not to seek out the approval or attention of others when we do them (though we also aren’t to go to extremes to try to cover them up – Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven – the point is that we are to just do the good deeds and not hide them from people, but we also aren’t supposed to specifically seek out applause or attention for doing them, as some of the ancient Israelites did). So when I sponsor a child or give money to the poor or help an elderly family member or a friend in need, etc. few people would ever hear about it because God has seen what I have done and that’s all that matters to me.
I hope these thoughts have addressed the concerns that you raised, but if they haven’t, please feel free to comment again.