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ss nucleus - summer 1996,  Compassion for the World's Suffering

Compassion for the World's Suffering

Preaching and healing - hand in hand

God, the author, sustainer, purpose and centre of all existence, the divine I AM (Ex 3:14), is the focus of eternity. He wants to prepare us for eternal fellowship with himself, by forgiving our sins, and changing us into the likeness of Christ by his Spirit (2 Cor 3:18). This is new birth. The Gospel message is not just a statement requiring assent, but a new life demanding commitment (Rom 6:17-18). 'Go and make disciples of all nations...' Christ had commanded, as he commissioned his apostles to the Gospel task (Mt 28:19). He had already explained to them, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me' (Mt 16:24). Salvation is not only from the consequences of sin but, most wonderfully, from sin itself (Mt 1:21). We must therefore preach the Gospel both with words and with our lives (1 Thes 2:10).

Christ himself was moved with compassion for the spiritual and physical needs of people (Mt 14:14). He taught them, fed them, healed them and died for them. His healing ministry was not just a sideline of his preaching ministry, but part of his message and his messiahship as foretold by Isaiah (35:5-6). John the Baptist's doubts were to be dispelled by eye-witness accounts of Christ's compassionate healing ministry, associated with his declaration of good news to the poor (Mt 11:4-5). Preaching and healing went hand in hand (Mt 9:35). There was an inherent metaphor.

While the things that are seen are temporary (2 Cor 4:18), God has designed them to be pictures of an unseen eternal reality. With God's written word we can peer into the spiritual realm using such material concepts as: Father, King, Lord, Light, Life, Water, and Bread. So too, health and life versus disease and death, are physical experiences showing us spiritual truths. God is infinitely holy, but we have thwarted his loving desire for fellowship by our sin. Not only are we guilty of sin, but our souls are diseased and our spirits dead, as we continuously sin (Eph 2:1-2). Christ died on the cross, not only to carry our guilt, but also to heal our diseased souls, and to give us spiritual life, through his indwelling Spirit (1 Pet 2:24). As Charles Wesley, the hymn writer of the great evangelical awakening, wrote:

Hear him ye deaf, his praise ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ,
Ye blind behold your Saviour come,
And leap ye lame for joy.
(O For A Thousand Tongues verse 5)

Loving through actions

Christ's healing ministry dramatically demonstrated his victory over disease, suffering and death, reversing the consequences of the Fall. This illustration is widely understood because people of most times and cultures associate sin and suffering. Even those who reject the idea of a spiritual reality, and claim to believe in a totally random, mechanistic universe, may complain, 'Why me?' or, 'What have I done to deserve this?' Christ's portrayal of God's compassionate desire for our spiritual health was shown in acts of physical healing, often with statements which specified the connection, such as: 'Your sins are forgiven', to the paralytic (Mk 2:5-12); or 'See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.' (Jn 5:14); or 'Take heart, daughter, your faith has healed you' (Mt 9:22). The analogy is also clear in the metaphor, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick' (Mt 9:12).

As Christ is the light of the world, he also calls his disciples the light of the world (Jn 8:12, Mt 5:14). He commands them to let their light shine before men, that they may see their good deeds, and praise their Father in heaven (Mt 5:16). Compassionate love that translates into sacrificial action is the hallmark of faith. In Christ's description of the final judgment, there are no MCQs on the fine points of systematic theology. The only criterion is whether or not the professing individual's faith produced a Christ-like love, shown by the way he met the very practical needs of the least of Christ's brothers and sisters, in this way serving Christ himself (Mt 25:31-46). John Wesley puts it this way, 'We may die without the knowledge of many truths, and yet be carried into Abraham's bosom. But, if we die without love, what will knowledge avail? Just as much as it avails the devil and his angels.' (Forty Four Sermons. preface p7).

In displaying God's love towards the suffering, he may use us to open the hearts of many to understand and accept the Gospel, through the operation of the Holy Spirit. This love is a supernatural dynamic authenticating the message, so that people can see that it is not a human religion or philosophy.

Two ways to live?

The Good Samaritan put himself at risk, and sacrificed time, money and comfort to show love to someone, whom he was able to help, even though this person was a natural enemy (Lk 10:25-37). He used his limited medical knowledge to bind up the wounds with oil and wine. His knowledge of theology was doubtless less than that of the priest and the Levite, but his heart knowledge of God is implied by his actions. As Christ's hearers may have perceived, this kind of love is impossible without faith.

He did not seek to earn his salvation, it can only be inherited (Lk 10:25). The compulsion of his faith produced a love that demonstrated its genuineness. The man questioning Jesus had asked: 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?' The ultimate answer was: 'Go and do likewise.'

By contrast the rich man, at whose gate the poor, hungry, crippled Lazarus was laid, felt revulsion rather than compassion (Lk 16:19-31). His callousness, and that of his five brothers, stemmed from their lack of faith. They had refused God's word through Moses and the prophets, not because they lacked evidence, but because they loved darkness rather than light (Jn 3:19-21). No spectacular evidence could therefore change their wilful disbelief. Theirs was a deadly disease of the soul, of which callousness was only a sign. Our actions and attitudes show the state of health of our souls, just as a tree is known by its fruit (Mt 7:16).

How will we respond?

Today God has given us ability to treat the world's sick and suffering beyond the dreams of previous ages. Large populations in poor countries lack this care, and will continue to lack it, unless some are willing, at whatever sacrifice, to bring both spiritual and physical health to those in need, with a heart of love. This is not to imply that God calls us all to this kind of work, but we cannot miss God's best if our earnest desire and expectation is for the inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Pet 1:4), rather than the transient rewards of this world. As Jim Elliot, who gave his life opening the way for the Gospel to come to the Auca Indians, said, 'He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.'

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