On Sundays we have been going through a Bible study that has been looking at the Biblical themes of Witness, Mercy, and Life Together. As we have seen there is a wonderful connection in each of these themes.
In the book of Acts (and in Paul’s Epistles), we see that the Church’s Life Together (koinonia) was expressed in the mercy and care shown for their brothers and sisters in Judea who suffered from the famine. In fact, the collection for the saints in Jerusalem (see Romans 15:25-28, the word “collection” in the ESV is koinonia in the Greek). Along with this care for the neighbor was the proclamation and witness of the Gospel. Where you find one of these: Witness, Mercy, or Life Together, you see the other two hand in hand.
Today, we have a tendency to compartmentalize things. We see this even when we think we may have the best intentions. However, when it comes to our Witness, as we proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, or the Mercy we show to our neighbor, it is important that we do so by way of the Gospel.
One of the key “Gospel words” in Scripture is “given”, which we see in Matthew 28:18, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Making disciples is a gift, and so is our proclamation. The Holy Spirit will do with it as He pleases, creating faith when and where He pleases. We simply speak the Gospel because it has been given to us and because our neighbor has need of hearing that in Christ they are forgiven.
The same is true for the Mercy we show to our neighbor. Sometimes we think that showing mercy to our neighbor is only worthwhile if we will have the opportunity to speak the Gospel to them, or even more crassly, if it will eventually get them to join our church. This is wrong as it ultimately makes another person a means to some other end.
So why do we care for our neighbor? Simply two reasons: because of the undeserved love that God has shown us in Jesus Christ and because our neighbor needs us. If God’s unconditional love is the basis for the Church’s carrying out of Mercy, then there are no strings attached. We don’t feed the hungry in order that more butts will fill the pews. We love because Christ has first loved us.
Also read: Why Do Lutherans Care? A Theology of Mercy by Rev. President Matt Harrison.