Authentic Christians Must Meet Physical and Spiritual Needs of the Lost
Too often people think of being a Christian in terms of what we should avoid doing. The focus becomes then on avoiding the things that the Bible ensures us are things that not only displease the Lord but put us in the position of sinning against Him. No authentic Christian wants to do that, though there are times when we do fail. The object is to get back up, dust yourself off and while admitting to Him of our failure, continuing to move onward in fulfillment of His will for our lives.
I saw one documentary about a football training camp where a player had obviously hurt himself during a play, possibly pulling a tendon or ligament in his right leg. You could tell he was extremely frustrated, but he got up and even though he was limping heavily, you could hear him under his breath say, “Come on! Let’s go! Walk it off!” because he knew if he gave into the pain, he might as well go sit on the bench and call it a day. If he did that, he would effectively be telling those watching him that he had no stamina, no follow-through, and really cared more about himself than the team. You have to give him an “A” for effort at least.
It is the same with the authentic Christian. This type of Christian tends to get up immediately after falling. He knows that he made a mistake and he is more than happy to admit it. However, he does not tear his clothes, throw ash on his head, and sit in a depressed stupor until he feels that God has seen and accepted his self-deprecation.
So it is important to understand that one side of being an authentic Christian means being aware of the ever-present danger of failing and doing our best to avoid those times. Yet, when failure does happen (and it will), that same Christian confesses to God that he failed as he gets up and begins again to move in the path of righteousness. Satan loves it when Christians become introverted to the point that all they think about is how much they fail God. They walk around dejected, believing that they must strive to be holy and come to a point where they can neither move to the left or to the right without feeling as though they are going to fail again. They walk a tightrope of their own making.
I do not believe the Scripture teaches that this is how we are to live. God is the One who creates holiness within us. Our job is to submit to Him.
The other side of the coin is what helps us get our minds off of ourselves, which is being a true servant. The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) tells us that two religious men (priest and a Levite) saw a Jewish man lying on the side of the road. He had been attacked and assaulted by thieves and left for dead. Instead of helping him, they passed by on the other side of the road.
Then a Samaritan comes along and even though Samaritans and Jews did not get along, this Samaritan stopped to help. He ultimately saved the man’s life by taking him to an inn and paying for the innkeeper to care for him.
As we go through life, we need to be aware of the fact that while God wants us to avoid evil, the best way to do that is by actively meeting needs of people who have real needs! We cannot do this with an “I have to do this even though I don’t want to” attitude. It must be done because we truly care about people. We care that they are lost. We care that they have needs that they honestly cannot meet. We care enough to do something for them because their need is right in front of us!
This is how God works. Often He meets the physical need of a person before the spiritual. Jesus did that countless times throughout the New Testament. He met physical needs because those needs were there. He wasn’t meeting physical needs because he wanted to pound them with spiritual truth later. He knew that people who have physical needs – hunger, thirst, in need of a doctor – cannot concentrate on a spiritual problem unless the physical need is taken care of first. That is the way fallen humanity thinks. Our stomachs often demand attention first.
Jesus came to give eternal life, which is the most important need all human beings have. However, in order to be able to meet that need, sometimes, a person’s physical needs must be met first. With a full stomach, or with medical treatment, or to slake someone’s thirst, people are often more willing and able to hear the gospel.
Too many “socialized Christians” believe that our job as Christians is to simply meet physical needs. We are to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, meet other needs as well, and then move on. These individuals have no clue of the real purpose of meeting needs. It is not so that we can say “we loved them by doing something for them.” It’s so that filling a physical need often opens the door to preaching the gospel. People who see Christians meeting needs while preaching the gospel will understand that they are being cared for in all ways, physically and spiritually. People who see “socialized Christians” simply meeting physical needs may simply think “that was a nice person.” But how does that save anyone? How does simply meeting a physical need address spiritual issues? It doesn’t.
There are two sides to being a true Christian, but they are to blend perfectly. We use our will to submit to Him in order to appropriate His strength so we can avoid sinning. We also use our will to focus on the physical needs of other people who often then become open to hearing the gospel.
We must do both. In some cases, we may not be able to do both. If we cannot literally fill someone’s physical need, we can always offer the gospel (Acts 3:1-26). Peter had no gold or silver to give to a lame man, but God – through Peter – healed the man’s physical body. Following that, the man went to the Temple with Peter jumping and praising God!
The man’s body was made whole and soon, his spiritual senses were directed to God in mighty praise.
We have an obligation to meet physical needs where we can. But we cannot stop there. We must always offer Christ’s gift of eternal life to all people. This is the answer to the spiritual need in all people that is never quenched with anything else.