“Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”Acts 14:15-17
Paul did this thing.
…it was a good thing, but it ended up causing a lot of trouble.
In his defense, he had no way of knowing; like many well-intentioned actions, the unintended consequences… well, let’s just say they got out of hand.
Again, to be clear: Paul did not do anything wrong, and I am not suggesting that he should have done anything differently, however, there is a powerful lesson for us, a warning & an encouragement.
There are two parts to gospel living. For all who would faithfully walk in and seek to share the gospel, we must give purposeful attention gospel demonstration and gospel declaration.
1. Gospel demonstration
Jesus calls His people to be salt & light in the midst of a hostile world. The goal is that the world “may see your good deeds and give glory to your Fathers who is in heaven.” (Matt 5:16)
When Jesus was asked to identiify the greatest commandment, He said that the greatest of all the commandments was to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, souil, strength, and mind. But then He offered a second command “that is like” the first: to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Love our neighbor, serve them, get to know them, and meet needs as you are able. This is how gospel people demonstrate God’s goodness and communicate His love.
However, we must be careful. It is possible that we could meet every need in our community and gain a reputation for love but still not prove faithful to our Lord and His mission. Gospel demonstration must find it’s completion in gospel declaration.
2. Gospel declaration
The man “had faith to be made well.” The most important needs require faith because our most important needs are spiritual. Every other need we have is temporary, and every kind of provision is fading, but our soul’s need for forgiveness and salvation is eternal.
We cannot be content with simply meeting physical and temporary needs. Gospel people declare God’s grace in the gospel.
Good works are good. But good works are limited. More than that, good works can be misunderstood.
People like when good is done to them and for them. In Paul’s case, doing good to a lame man caused him and Barnabus to look like gods. The people of Lystra were even prepared to worship them!
We can gain quite a following, draw a crowd, and earn some money… we can win favor and build a reputation by doing good. And while there is nothing wrong with doing good, we must resist to urge to think too much of earning favor or sustaining a particular reputation.
Doing good might earn us the favor of the world, but we must be willing to sacrifice any and all social capital so that we can point people to Jesus. Our ultimate purpose is to turn people from vain idols to serve a living God. Meeting people’s needs will gather a crowd but calling out their idols will put rocks in their hands.
And don’t think that this is a simple issue of evangelism & ministry. Church people are just as quick (sometimes quicker) to pick up and cast stones. Build them up, offer comfort, and remind them of God’s love and promises and you will be loved. Confront sin, ask for commitment, or even change the order of worship, and you can find yourself stoned.
Living and leading well is risky business. In the morning you will find yourself saying, “I am just a man and not deserving of worship,” only to turn around and say, “Am I really deserving of death?!”
If we are to live and serve faithfully, we must stop worrying about pleasing people, or establishing a reputation, or winning a culture… and simply focus on offering and maintaining the gospel for the rescuing of souls.
If loving people and pursuing mission leads us to meet certain needs, to engage in acts of kindness, or social engagement, or political advocacy, then so be it! But let’s be careful to keep the main thing the main thing. Let’s remember we are Gospel-people first… citizens and heirs to a kingdom that will never end.
And if commitment to the gospel leads to misunderstanding or persecution, if we end up beat down, cast out, exhausted, depressed, and discouraged, we can then gather believers arounds us, get up, and keep going.