A Call to Mercy Ministry

Introduction: What are mercy ministries? (James 1:27; Exod. 23:4,5,9; etc.)

I have been very encouraged to see the mercy ministries that you people have been showing over the past four years. If you have not been involved, you may not realize the massive amount of work that has been done, because a lot of it is behind the scenes; some of it is confidential. Typically, people who have been engaging in these things don't toot their own horn. They just do it and go on to another chore. And so, I am not preaching this because you as a church haven't been involved. I am thrilled with the involvement. But for any new comers, I am ending this series on the church's foundations to explain that I want mercy ministries to always be central. And I think so far they have.

Some of you have been involved in 1) giving generous financial gifts to members who are needy, 2) or giving donations of food (not only to the food pantry, but directly to the needy. 3) Some of you have been involved in hard core counseling, 4) jail visits, 5) nursing home visits, 6) care for disabled family members, 7) gift of two vehicles that we were able to pass on to needy members, 8) financial counseling, 9) physical labor to help people out.

Mercy ministries is a label that covers all kinds of activities. The Samaritan provided friendship to someone who had no friends, advocacy for someone whom no one else would stand up for. Emergency medical treatment, transportation, a hefty financial subsidy, shelter and even a follow-up visit. Scripture would call visits to the elderly in a nursing home an act of mercy ministry. That Old Dominion house is an act of mercy.

And I want to encourage you by saying that Jesus promises, blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. If you desire more blessings and more mercies from the Lord, you may need to be where the flow of God's mercies is richest – in ministry to others.

Now I also want to say that today's sermon is not intended to correct all of the abuses and socialistic misinformation that has been propagated in the church. I recommend David Chilton's book, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators, for that. He not only gives a marvelous critique of Ronald Sider's policies of guilt, but he gives a positive alternative. George Grant has also written some wonderful books on Biblical charity. But today, I want to start with the worst case scenario of a person who cannot help himself – a person who can't glean, and who is utterly helpless and defenseless. What do we do in a situation like that? This passage on the Good Samaritan is useful in exposing attitudes toward charity on all sides of the equation.

And this morning I want to use the same three tests to evaluate ourselves that I used in the deacon's class. I'll be adding some material. There is the possessiveness test, the involvement test, and the sacrifice test. You can measure your own neighborliness by these three tests.

The Possessiveness Test

"What's mine's mine and what's thine's mine if I can get it." (v. 30)

The first test is the possessiveness scale. And I'm going to start with the lowest level. Verse 30 says, Then Jesus answered and said: A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Someone once said that these thieves had the attitude, "What's mine's mine and what's thine's mine if I can get it." This is so obviously wrong, that we might not think the church is ever guilty of it. But I want us to stop and think about that for a moment because I believe envy pervades the church of Jesus Christ. In fact, you may want to put the word "socialism" beside point A.

OTOC (Omaha Together One Community) is an organization of envy and socialism, and their remedy for poverty in Omaha will only make poverty worse. We are so used to thinking of the welfare society as being an expression of the Good Samaritan. But it is not. The Welfare Society is far closer to the bandits in this chapter than it is to the Samaritan. Why? Because it is using the power of the sword to forcibly extract money from these people so that they can redistribute the money to those people. In contrast, the Samaritan used his own money, his own donkey and his own time to help. The Good Samaritan was not a socialist. He didn't even demand that the inn keeper be involved in his charity project. It was personal involvement. But churches in Omaha are asking the government to take other people's money to help the victim. Frederic Bastiat in his masterful treatise, The Law, that the youth/parent Table Talk recently discussed, defined any kind of redistribution scheme as legal (but immoral) plunder. I highly recommend the book. It was written in 1853, and is very insightful. The things that he was describing as going on in France are exactly what is happening in America today.

He starts just by defining plunder on a personal level, when a thief holds you up and takes your money. He says:

When a portion of wealth is transferred from the person who owns it – without his consent and without compensation, and whether by force or fraud – to anyone who does not own it, then I say that property is violated; that an act of plunder is committed. [Almost everybody agrees with his definition at this point. But he goes on.] I say that this act is exactly what the law is supposed to suppress, always and everywhere. When the law itself commits this act that it is supposed to suppress, I say that plunder is still committed, and I add that from the point of view of society and welfare, this aggression against rights is even worse.

I think we need to understand that concept of Bastiat. He demonstrates how government use of taxes for education is theft. If it would be wrong for me to forcibly take money from the person across the street so that I can educate my children, why is it not theft when the government does exactly the same thing? Government use of taxes for welfare, or school loans, or local disaster relief, etc is theft. What modern Christians mistake for charity by the government is actually robbery and tyranny. And we are in a sad state of affairs when the church of Jesus Christ cannot distinguish between the bandits and the Good Samaritan who used his own personal property and love and efforts to help.

I am constantly getting these glossy booklets wooing me to take government money to fund the church's charity programs. They promise me all kinds of money. I just need to apply. But President Bush's Faith Based Initiative is founded on plunder, not true mercy ministries. And any church that takes the money – and unfortunately, many are – has stained hands. Socialism feeds the envious attitude of other bandits who believe that "What's mine's mine and what's thine's mine if I can get it." We must resist such banditry with all of our might, and not tolerate the newspeak that redefines words and makes what God calls plunder, charity.

What's mine's mine and what's thine's thine if you can keep it." (vv. 31-32)

The next level away from possessiveness was "What's mine's mine and what's thine's thine if you can keep it." If you want a phrase that can summarize that, you could put in the evolutionary capitalism of Spencer. Not capitalism. I think this parable assumes capitalism to be true. The inn keeper for example is not condemned for failing to give free board and room. There is no government condemnation of the priest and Levite. These are free actions. So the phrase I am looking for is not capitalism, but evolutionary capitalism. Let me explain the difference. Biblical capitalism is freedom from government so that we can use our liberties in generous God-glorifying ways. Biblical capitalism sees all our wealth as a stewardship trust from God that we are morally obligated to use in God's ways. Evolutionary capitalism sees man as not only free from government, but free from God's moral responsibilities.

Let me give you some illustrations from the Old Testament. The Old Testament was capitalistic through and through, but it mandated that our freedoms be used to help others. The government did not enforce loving of neighbors or loving of enemies. But it was still a mandate. For example, Exodus 24:3 said, "If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. That would have been quite an inconvenience, time commitment and hassle. Probably every bit as much of an inconvenience as this Good Samaritan went through. The next verse said, If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it. When Christ gave this parable, He was not giving something new. He was simply rebuking the people for failing to follow the Old Testament. Leviticus 19:34 says, The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. And there are numerous other Old Testament Scriptures which indicate that we are called to radical mercy ministries.

And I'm sure that the priest and the Levite both had their reasons for not stopping. They were probably the same kinds of reasons we give to ourselves when we see a woman stranded on the side of the road and we don't stop; or when we witness an accident and we don't stop, even though we could be a witness. And we think, "Oh, somebody else will stop." But nobody does. We won't steal, but we aren't about to lose our time or our energy by protecting someone else's property. If we see someone prowling around a neighbor's house, or we see a kid has thrown a brick through his window, it doesn't take much energy or time to tell the homeowner about the problem, yet how few people actually do that? The Scripture indicates that we are responsible. We wouldn't think of stealing, but would we offer to let our neighbor borrow our wheelbarrow? Those are the kinds of questions by which we can measure the degree of possessiveness that we have. Possessiveness of time, energy, convenience, money and property are the death of missions; and they are the death of mercy ministries.

Let me read to you Exodus 23:4-5. If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.

According to that passage, even with an enemy we can't take the attitude – "Well, that's his responsibility." Or "That's his problem." "It's his property if he can keep it."

What's thine's thine and what's mine's thine if you need it and the Bible approves." (vv. 33,37)

The third response to this test was "What's thine's thine and what's mine's thine if you need it and the Bible approves." Christ defines the true neighbor as the Samaritan who was willing to part with his safety, his time, his energy and his money. There are other passages that indicate that there are limits to this principle. You don't give to everyone who has a need or you would fail to be a good steward. And we have addressed those issues in the Wealth and Poverty series. But I want to address another misapplication of this Scripture before we move on.

Now to give balance, I want you to notice that this is to be our attitude with our own help to another. We should not expect others to have this attitude toward us. There is nothing worse than people who demand charity or expect handouts. Turn with me to Galatians 6 where we see what our own attitude should be on both sides of receiving and helping. Galatians 6:2 says, Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. That is the principle we are looking at in this point.

But Paul knows exactly what will happen with some people who read this. Lazy people will look at that verse and instead of concluding that they should help others, they will conclude that others should help them. They will think, "Paul said that you need to help me bear my burden." But that's not what Paul said. Paul tells everyone (which includes even the person who is in trouble), to bear the burdens of others. One of the healthiest things a person who is receiving help from the church can do is to begin to give, and to begin to help others, just as they are being helped.

So to ward off any selfish conclusions, Paul adds three verses to clarify. Beginning at verse 3, For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. [that's clarifying that none of us deserve any help. None of us should be demanding. Next verse] But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. [If you are not involved in work or ministry, you have no right to expect ministry. Next verse] For each one shall bear his own load. Notice the difference between verse 5 and verse 2. Verse 2 says, "Bear one another's burdens" and verse 5 says, "For each one shall bear his own load." But if each person had both attitudes ("I'm going to bear my own load and carry my own weight, but I'm also going to help others") then no one would abuse the system.

But keeping the caveat of Galatians 6 in mind, it is still important that we be willing to part with things when the Lord providentially leads us to people who have need. All that we have and own should be used for the master's pleasure. And we need to measure where on the scale we find ourselves in terms of possessiveness. Have we truly given our house to the Lord for Him to use as He pleases, or is it only theoretical? Do you take back possession when God wants it to be used, and its not convenient? Have you given God your car? What about your body, your time, your rights? When people step on our rights, it becomes quickly apparent whether we have given them to the Lord, or whether we are possessive. Sometimes it takes something major to make some people get over this hurdle. For Dr. Dick Kaufman, my pastor at seminary, it was having a drunk puke on his nice carpet. At that point it he had a choice – either allow for wear and tear on the house if God chose, or stop ministry. We tend to be far too possessive of our money, house, car, clothes and things. We might need it, so we hang onto it forever. Saving is good, if we are saving for the kingdom. But saving so that it will never get used is not. True Biblical capitalism is stewardship capitalism, and you can write stewardship capitalism beside point C.

The Involvement Test

Aware (v. 31 - "saw..passed")

Another convicting measure of our neighborliness is how involved we are with our neighbors, especially with their needs, hurts and stresses. Neither of these church men was ignorant of the plight of the Samaritan. Verse 31 says, Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed on the other side. He saw the need, but for whatever reason, he chose to pass at a safe distance. Perhaps he planned to notify the guards when he got to his destination. We are not told. But somehow he managed to justify non-involvement. Now just because we are aware does not necessarily mean that we have to be on the first line of defense. It's amazing how much prayer you can offer up as you read the news. There is not a Christian in our church who does not know at least some of the needs of unbelievers; or the needs of missions; or the plight of millions of Christians in persecution in other countries. The question is, are we content with awareness, or do we move to some involvement? Sometimes our uninvolvement is Biblical, sometimes it is not. Obviously one person can't do everything. We are talking about our involvment with those whom God has placed in our lives.

The first level is simply awareness of a problem, but choosing to keep at a safe distance. We are in this category if we are always too busy to stop by the road and help someone.

Concerned (v. 32 — "arrived... came... looked... passed")

The second level shows concern and a willingness to investigate. I'm sure that the Levite was really bothered. This is good. I'm sure most of us are concerned when we notice bad things happening to others. Verse 32 says, Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. He not only saw, but he must have been troubled enough to investigate. It says when he arrived at the place, he came and looked. Sometimes Christians will make peace with their conscience by making some effort at coming to the problem and being informed. We may subscribe to magazines like the Voice of the Martyrs, or hear radio shows, or go to extra meetings to be better informed. We may take a tour of the Open Door Mission or the jail and offer up a short prayer. But if after being informed we pass by on the other side, we are not neighbors to those people. True neighbors are more than just concerned neighbors. They are more than just pray-ers. James says that if a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food and we tell them that we will pray for them, we have done no good (James 2:15-16). James 1:19 says, pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. And it is that issue of visiting them that the next point deals with.

Involved (vv. 33-35)

Like the Samaritan, we need to find ways in which we can be involved in measurable, concrete ways. Have you had physical contact? Look at the closeness of this Samaritan. Starting at verse 33: But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. [Christ does not expect that we will have the capacity to have hearts bleeding for every man, woman and child upon the earth. We have limited abilities. So He has us especially concentrate on those He providentially brings into our paths. There is proximity. He goes on] And when he saw him [he too needs to be aware of the problem. "And when he saw him"] he had compassion on him, [There is one motive that will drive us to action. He had compassion on him,] and went to him [there's breaking the social barrier and actually making contact] and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; [providing physical and medical assistance] and he set him on his own animal [there's lending of property], brought him to the inn [there is transportation; giving a lift], and took care of him [there is some custodial care]. On the next day [This shows prolonged contact. He took time to be with him and make sure everything was all right. "On the next day"], when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, "Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay. There are so many levels of personal involvement in the life of this person that we can learn from. And we studied those in the mercy ministries class. But it is critical that we be involved.

We have seen in point I that being a true neighbor involves denying yourself. You can't be possessive of your time, your comfort, your schedule. And we need to be open to sharing.

And so, the second major point is that it involves closeness.

Lastly, let's look at the kind of sacrifice that was made. And remember, that as we look at these items, Christ said in verse 37: "Go and do likewise." Christ expects us to imitate the Good Samaritan. And when we get deacons, they are not responsible to do the whole work of mercy ministries. Their calling is especially to lead in mercy ministries and to stir them up in the congregation.

The Sacrifice Test

Taking Risks

The first and most obvious sacrifice that the Samaritan made was to take a risk. First of all, it was a risk to deny himself the impulse to pass by on the other side. There was a good reason why this road used to be called "the bloody way." It was a perfect hideout for bandits, and so travelers usually were casing everything out carefully. Just to give a little perspective, Jerusalem rests at 3000 feet above sea level, while Jericho, only 17 miles away rests at 1000 feet below sea level. That shows how steep the road was – a 4000 foot drop over 17 miles.

The road descends sharply through very mountainous territory full of caves and crags which would allow thieves to strike and then hide. One author likened it to walking through a dark alley in the worst part of a modern city, with one exception – it was many miles to the nearest streetlight. There is a certain risk in getting involved. In this case he could have gotten robbed by the same people. Or who knows, this person might accuse you of having robbed him. That's one of the worries that I have when I help people – that I will be sued by the people I am helping. Now there are ways of wisdom that can help to reduce the risk. I've learned not to give out money to people who have alcohol on their breath. I've learned to involve others in counseling strangers. If a person asking for a handout is hungry I take them to the restaurant (or even more frequently, I invite him to my home for a meal) and whether at the restaurant or at home, I talk with him while he eats. It takes more time, but I know he won't blow it on booze. So wisdom helps you take precautions, but there will always be some risks when you try to be a neighbor to someone. As much as I have taken precautions, I have gotten ripped off numerous over the years on charity. If you invite someone over to your house, they might be critical of your decorating. If you witness to your neighbor, he might get angry at you; people might accuse you of being a fanatic. A neighbor is willing to take risks, whether they are physical, social, financial, or whatever. In fact, I think that all dominion has a certain willingness to face risk.

Time Schedule

A second sacrifice was time. This person spent the night with the man and went out of his way to help. It is obvious that patching the man up, putting him on his donkey and taking him to the inn was not planned. Some Christians have a Good Samaritan factor in their schedules called a fudge factor. It is enough slack in the schedule that if God providentially slows you down, you will still be able to make things up. But there is a sacrifice of time, and it needs to be taken into account in any schedule that is developed. Plan for God to be asking for your time, and then you won't be so frustrated when these things happen.

Emotional Expenditure

The third sacrifice was emotions. There is an emotional expenditure. Doing what he did is stressful. Verse 33 says, he had compassion on him. Compassion is the Greek word splanknizo, a word that refers to intestines. You've all had the feeling of your insides churning with emotions. Sometimes those inward emotions keep us from being involved. But in this case, the Samaritan was willing to expend those emotions. Having compassion is not always pleasant. And it is actually an unwillingness to feel nervous that keeps many of us from being involved in mercy ministries.

Over and over in the Gospels you see Jesus being moved with compassion and doing something. Our emotions can be a motivator. But what has happened to many Americans is that they watch TV shows that stir up the emotions, but with no way of practical outlet. They just sit their and condition themselves to ignore their emotions. So when they are in a situation where compassion arises, they still frequently fail to act.

Physical Exertion

Fourth, there was physical exertion. A lot of mercy ministries require sweat. When Matt got the Old Dominion House projects going, it involved physical exertion. We cannot view sweat as a disease. A willingness to sweat is part of having a missions attitude toward neighbors.

Using Money

And of course using money was a sacrifice. Some people would rather give money than sweat. But God calls for a balance of all these ways of sacrifice. Each family should have a portion of his budget available for mercy ministries just like the Old Testament saints did. Hospitality to strangers is another way we expend money for people. But this involves sacrifice.

Breaking Social Barriers

Ministry to the unpleasant

And then finally, there was the sacrifice of breaking the social barriers. For some people this is the hardest area. I've outlined three social barriers that were crossed by this Samaritan. First of all, he ministered to a person who was unpleasant. Verse 30 says that he was naked and wounded severely enough that he was half dead. Verse 34 implies that he had multiple wounds. Anyone who has worked in the ER knows that its not a pleasant process to be cleaning people up who have hair matted with blood and dirt and who are a mess from head to toe. Christ sometimes calls us to do the unpleasant. Many don't like to visit people in nursing homes because the smells and sights depress them and make them feel uncomfortable. You see people sitting in poop, and it sometimes stinks. It is a whole lot more sanitary and convenient to have the Open Door Mission deal with derelicts or with the homeless. But Christ wants us to cross over these social barriers. Don't shield your children from the nastiness of a nursing home or the uncomfortableness of the homeless. Sure they may get shocked. But there are some pretty shocking things in the Pentateuch, and all five books were mandatory for everyone to hear from three years old and up. God doesn't want us sheltered. Our children will never learn to be neighbors if they are sheltered and we let others handle problems in a sanitary way. Take them once a month to a Nursing Home or some other similar place and as a family minister to these people. Model to your children what it means to be a Good Samaritan. If you want your children to catch a missions vision, then you need to cross these social barriers.

Ministry to those who persecute you

Another social barrier that requires sacrifice is ministering to those who persecute you. It wasn't by accident that Christ picked the Samaritan for this illustration. The Jews treated the Samaritans worse than any other Gentile. Alfred Edersheim quotes old Jewish rabbis as saying, "May I never set eyes on a Samaritan;" "May I never be thrown into company with him!" "to partake of their bread is like eating swine's flesh" (a paraphrase). He commented, "The Jews retaliated by treating the Samaritans with every mark of contempt; by accusing them of falsehood, folly, and irreligion; and, what they felt most keenly, by disowning them as of the same race or religion, and this in the most offensive terms of assumed superiority and self-righteous fanaticism."1

Yet here was a man who was willing to minister to a person who had probably persecuted him. Now that's tough. It's tough to take over a pie to the neighbor that called your kids monsters. And I'm talking about a pie without arsenic. It's hard to be neighbors to those who aren't in the least neighborly themselves. But as Christ said, If you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. In other words, your standard is God, not what others do. And God tells you, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." He tells you in Deuteronomy 10:19, Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Proverbs 25:21 says, "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty give him water to drink." Ministry to those who persecute you is a big social hurdle to climb.

Ministry to the racially different

The last social barrier that this man overcame was ministering to a person who was racially different. Being a neighbor means that a person's skin color will not affect the quality of our love and ministry. It means that we will reach beyond the social constraints and seek to draw them in.

So here is a defining passage that I want our church to be defined by. It is a passage which criticizes both socialism and unaccountable capitalism. It calls upon us to be stewards of our time, energies, money, resources and be willing to make what sacrifices God calls us to in order to advance His cause. It calls us to be more than theoretical about mercy and to put into practice the same love that God into practice on our behalf. And may God multiply our church many times over as we seek to obey this Samaritan mandate. Amen.


  1. Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book I, p. 399.

A Call to Mercy Ministry is part of the Foundations series published on October 12, 2003

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