Politics, Mercy, and Mission
Topic: Topical Passage: Mark 1:32-39
This morning, I want to preach a topical message entitled “Politics, Mercy, and Mission.” There are several reasons why I decided to do so. First, I just finished our series on the OD, so it’s a good time to revisit our 2019 theme, “Be a Disciple. Make a Disciple.” As well, our text last Sunday on the Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats is often used to argue that Life Point’s mission statement is too narrow.
Our constitution states, “Life Point Baptist Church exists to glorify God by pointing unbelievers to new life in Christ (evangelism of the lost), and also by leading believers into a fuller life through Christ (Christian growth through discipleship).” However, many Christians would argue based on texts like Matthew 25:31–46 that the church’s mission includes mercy ministry—caring for the weak outside the church and transforming the culture. It’s an important question that deserves attention.
Finally, this week is the 4th of July, and I imagine that we have varying opinions in this room of how our church should be involved in politics and how much we should identify with politicians and political views.
So we are going to open several cans of worms, and I doubt that we will all leave today seeing every application exactly the same, but I pray that we will leave with more clarity regarding what the Scriptures teach about the mission of the church and at the very least that you will leave with a better understanding of why we do what we do.
And I want to be very clear that my focus is on what we do as a church, not necessarily what you do as an individual citizen, because our responsibilities as citizens of the community and the state are not identical to local church’s mission. That being said, we might as well start by putting everything on the table.
During the last couple of years there has been a lot of passionate discussion among Christians about politics. On the left end of the spectrum, there has been a lot of energy directed at issues of social justice. For example, many evangelicals have argued that the gospel demands that the church fight racism in the culture at large, not just in the church. We must also embrace traditionally liberal political policies on reparations, care for the poor, etc., again because the gospel demands it.
Of course others on the right have reacted strongly. Several well known evangelical leaders have called churches to link arms with Donald Trump, essentially claiming that he is he is one of us and his political agenda is the church’s agenda. What do we do with these sorts of things?
But maybe even more practical is how should we think about our involvement our community? People will occasionally ask why we don’t have a food bank or a clothing closet? Should we endorse any local politicians? Should we sing patriotic songs in our worship? And then what is our purpose with outreach events? What are we trying to accomplish by giving out water bottles on Thursday or by running VBS?
These are important questions, and if we don’t know what the Bible says about our mission and what that means for us, we could easily wander in many directions that do not honor the Lord. BTW, we could get off course even while doing good things, if we aren’t doing the most important things. So since our goal is to honor the Lord by doing what he has called us to do, we must go to the Word to see what God requires us to do.
II. Mark 1:32–39
(Read): The events of this text take place early in Jesus’ public ministry at the end of the Sabbath. It’s been a busy day for Jesus. He taught in the synagogue at Capernaum, and v. 22 says, “they were astonished at His teaching.” And before he even left the synagogue, Jesus cast out a demon.
Then Jesus went to Peter and Andrew’s house, and he healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a severe, potentially life-threatening fever. Jesus has grabbed the city’s attention through his teaching and miracles.
Therefore, once the sun set and the Sabbath was over, v. 33 says “the whole city was gathered together at the door,” presumably of Peter and Andrew’s home. And Jesus did not disappoint. Verse 34 says that he healed many who were sick. He’s not healing the sniffles. No, Jesus miraculously healed many life-threatening or life-altering diseases for those with no other hope. He also cast out many demons that were torturing their victims.
Imagine the excitement that night. People’s lives were changed. Families are crying with joy, and the crowd is dumbfounded by what they have seen. And Peter, Andrew, James, and John go to sleep that night dreaming about their future glory alongside Messiah.
(v. 35) But when they wake up in the morning, Jesus is nowhere to be found. Despite the fact that Jesus was surely exhausted from a full day of ministry, he snuck off to a “solitary place” early in the morning to spend time in prayer with the Father. I could preach a whole sermon on his example. However, that’s not our focus today.
Rather, notice that the crowds had begun to form again in Capernaum, and Peter believed Jesus needed to capitalize on the opportunity. These people had real needs, and Jesus needed build his brand. Therefore, Peter goes looking for Jesus. The particular Greek verb translated searched pictures the disciples as furiously searching for Jesus.
You can hear Peter’s frustration when he finally finds Jesus and confronts him. He says, (v, 37) “Everyone is looking for You.” In other words, “What are you doing out here wasting your time praying when there is so much good you could be doing?”
But Jesus doesn’t back down (vv. 38–39). Understand that Jesus could have returned to Capernaum and relieved a lot of suffering. He could have healed more diseases and fed the poor. It all would have been good.
But Jesus is clear. “I didn’t primarily come to relieve physical suffering. I came to preach the gospel—to call sinners to repent and believe.” It’s worth adding when Jesus performed miracles his primary goal was not to relieve suffering. He did them to prove that he really is Messiah. Therefore, people should listen to his preaching. The gospel was always primary.
As a result, Jesus walked away from the crowds at Capernaum to preach in the other synagogues throughout Galilee. Everywhere he went he called people to repent, and he authenticated his message by casting out demons and performing miracles.
The application for us is obvious. We have the most precious treasure possible in the gospel. We have something that no other humanitarian organization can offer. We have the gospel of Christ and the good news of how you can be transformed into his image. Our mission is to make that known. Lest we doubt that this is our mission, notice that the apostles and the early church made this their priority.
III. Colossians 1:24–29
I simply want to highlight 2 truths from this passage. First…
Man’s greatest need is conversion (vv. 26–27). When we preach the gospel, we are offering “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” There is nothing people need more, no matter what they may want more.
Therefore, when we share the gospel, we aren’t peddling a self-serving sales pitch, and we certainly aren’t shoving religion down people’s throats. We are offering the greatest hope to meet man’s greatest need. There is nothing more merciful, kind, or generous we can offer than to proclaim the gospel. As a result …
Our mission is to preach the gospel to all people (vv. 28–29). Notice Paul’s singular focus in 28–29. Paul gave everything to this mission.
This is exactly what we see throughout Acts and the epistles. Yes, Paul frequently urged Christians to be good citizens who honor the state and maintain a good testimony in the community. He urges us to be good employees and good neighbors and to care well for our families.
However, think about the record apostles’ work in Acts. Think about everything Paul says in his epistles about his mission. You will not find a single instance where they are doing any ministry that is not sharply focused on evangelism, discipleship, and the maturity of the church. And Paul never tells the churches to march against slavery or fix poverty in their community. No he tells them to care for each other, make disciples, and to walk in obedience to God’s will.
Therefore, I believe that our mission statement at Life Point perfectly captures what God has called the local church to do. We are to glorify the Lord by reaching the lost and helping them grow them into maturity. But if it’s that simple, then why is there so much confusion about the church’s mission?
IV. What is the source of the confusion?
As always our theology drives our practice. And theological confusion is the primary reason there is so much confusion about our practice. First…
We confuse Israel with the church. Very often when people argue that the church needs to redeem the culture, they lean on OT prophecies about Israel’s need to care for the poor (Jer 22:1–5).
God commands Judah’s king to execute justice for the weak and the oppressed, and since many people believe that the church has replaced Israel, they assume that this responsibility has been transferred to the church. It’s now our job to deliver the weak and fix corruption.
But there are massive differences between Israel and the church. Israel was a political nation, and its leaders had political duties. But the church is not a political state. You simply can’t equate the responsibilities and resources of a government to the responsibility and resources of a local church. Therefore, we’ve got to consider the context of these statements before we just assume that they declare God’s purpose for us.
The same goes for much of what Jesus says about the kingdom (Luke 4:18). If you take this verse in isolation, it sounds like Jesus is saying our mission is to heal the culture. However, Jesus is quoting a prophecy in Isaiah about what Messiah will do during the Millennial Kingdom. And Jesus is saying to Israel very early in his earthly ministry that I am the one who will establish this very political kingdom and fulfill these prophecies.
However, the gospels go on to say that Israel rejected Christ, so Christ created something very different from the Millennial Kingdom in the church. I hope we can see that a local church simply can’t pursue the same cultural agenda as a government of the Millennial Kingdom.
But sadly many people do not make a clear distinction between Israel and the church, and the blending of the two opens the door to a lot of confusion about the church’s mission. So be careful to read Scripture in context and with a complete theological framework. Second…
We confuse individual with corporate responsibility. I want to be clear today that the Great Commission is not an excuse for you to neglect civic responsibilities. The Bible tells us to honor the king and pray for the king. You should participate in the political process and stand for righteousness in the culture (1 Tim 2:1–2).
You should also care about suffering. I imagine we are all familiar with the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. Notice in v. 27 that Jesus has just commended loving the Lord and loving your neighbor as yourself as the heart of godliness. So the lawyer asks in v. 29, “Who is my neighbor?” In other words who am I responsible to love and serve?
Jesus answers by saying that your neighbor is anyone in need that you have the ability to help, and this parable gives a powerful illustration of what this care looks like. And since this kind of care fulfills the second great commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s at the heart of godliness, so it matters. So we better never hide behind the Great Commission as an excuse to be cold and selfish.
But I think it’s also important to recognize that our responsibilities as citizens are not necessarily become the priorities of the local church. Paul summarizes the church’s mission in Ephesians 4:11–13. The mission of the church is to grow mature disciples.
And you will not find a single instance in Acts or the epistles where the congregation strayed from this focus, which is incredible considering the amount of injustice and suffering all around the church.
Take the issue of slavery. It produces all sorts of terrible abuses in defiance of God’s image, and slavery significantly affected the early churches, since so many Christians were slaves. However, the apostles never rally the church to fight slavery, because they knew that such a fight would distract from the Great Commission and that was not okay, when the church’s mission is discipleship.
So in sum, God has given you many responsibilities, but he has given the church one primary responsibility. That doesn’t mean that we can’t occasionally band together to do something kind. For example, a few years ago we collected an offering for the Tumaini orphanage in Tanzania. But we also have to recognize that the church has limited finances and hours, so the gospel must remain the priority. Third…
We confuse our obligations in the body with our obligations to the culture. The NT is clear that we cannot tolerate injustice or neglect in the church. For example, Paul did not tolerate racism in the churches and neither should we. Our unity in the gospel must destroy all such lines.
And James 2:15–17 is pretty clear about our obligation when there are physical needs among Christians. God says that a faith that ignores pressing needs for a brother or sister in Christ is dead and worthless. So as I said last week, caring for each other is not optional.
However, the NT doesn’t say we have the same obligation to everyone in need. We simply can’t meet every physical need, so our priority has to remain with the church (Gal 6:10). Now, we must not miss the first part of that. As we have opportunity, we should serve as many people as we can.
However, our primary obligation is to each other and by extension to fellow Christians in other places. That’s why a couple years ago when Houston was flooded by a hurricane we sent money to a sister church, not the United Way.
So folks, we need to see this distinction as we read the NT and then we need to live it. Because if we fail here, we are going to misdirect much of the Lord’s resources. Fourth…
We confuse America with Israel. This point matters as we think about politics. In particular, there is a long history in American Christianity of viewing this country as a “new Israel.” When the Puritans first settled in New England, they had visions of establishing a kingdom much like Israel.
While very few people today hold onto that kind of hope (it’s pretty clear we aren’t headed toward becoming God’s kingdom), Christians are still often guilty of reading promises to Israel as promises to the church (2 Chron 7:14). Christians often want to believe this is a promise for America, but in context, it’s clearly directed toward national Israel. God never promises a “Christian America.”
Again we should honor the state. We should long for righteousness in our nation. We should pray for revival and for laws that promote biblical morality. But again, when you look at the NT model, you won’t find any sort of deep connection between the church and the state.
On the contrary, the cause of missions stands above the state, and the church should be a place where people from every nation feels at home and are not pressured to sacrifices their patriotism in order to participate gladly.
Therefore, I am proud to be an American, but I also believe strongly that God’s church is not a servant to America. This church stands for something for more significant and far more pure than any nation ever will. Fifth…
We want people to like us. This is not a theological issue, but it is very practical. The fact is that on Thursday if we just stand there and pass out water bottles all day, while never saying a word about Jesus, lots of people will like us and think we are kind people. If we had a blood drive or a food drive without any gospel focus, again people would like us.
Of course, we want people to like us, and there is value showing the world how the love of Christ has transformed us. However, it’s easy to let the desire to be liked push us toward good works and away from a gospel focus.
But we must never forget that man’s greatest need is the gospel, and our greatest duty to make disciples. So must do what God has called us to do, whether people celebrate us or they are offended by us. This is because ultimately we serve an audience of one. If we ever have to choose between God’s approval and man’s, may we always choose God. So in light of all the ground we have covered today, I’d like to close with 4 conclusions.
V. Where do we go from here?
We must care well for each other. The NT is abundantly clear that we are responsible to care for our own, especially the elderly, the weak, and the vulnerable. We must do this well.
We must be good neighbors and citizens. As I said earlier, we better never use the Great Commission as a shield behind which we hide from biblical responsibility. We should love all people, and we should fight for justice and righteousness. Christians should be the best neighbors, the best employees, and the best citizens, because we have sincere hearts of love, kindness, and integrity. So go after people, and show them how Christ has transformed you.
We must prioritize evangelism. At times we can combine kindness and evangelism. That’s what we are doing on Thursday and with our blessing bags. But anything we do as a church in the community must have a gospel focus, because the best gift we have to offer is always Christ and because Christ has commanded us to take the gospel to all people.
That means that if you are visiting with us today and you have not received Christ, there is no greater way we can extend love to you than to tell you that Jesus saves. In John 4:13–14, Jesus told a thirsty woman, “Whoever…” You may have lots of needs and lots of cares, but none is greater than your need of forgiveness and eternal life. We’d love to talk with you today about how you can know Christ as Savior and find your most basic satisfaction in him.
We must prioritize discipleship. Our work is not done when someone prays a prayer to receive Christ; rather, it has only begun. So if you are a young Christian or a stagnate Christian, be reminded today that Christ calls you to be a disciple. Pursue maturity.
And then see the many needs around you. There is tremendous need in our church to help each other onto maturity, so make a disciple. This is what Christ has commanded us to do above all else, so let’s be faithful to our first mission.
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