Mercy ministry is the body of Christ taking active steps to minister mercy to those with physical or material needs. One thing that makes this particularly difficult in our culture is that we have access to help that can actually exacerbate some root problems of poverty, like laziness or greed. Some people avoid working, because the benefits of not working are too lucrative.
On one hand we have Proverbs 14:21: Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.
And on the other hand, we have Proverbs 20:4: The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing. Paul says it more strongly in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
We sometimes think that simply giving food or money away is the answer to the problem, but that can actually be a barrier against getting to the root of the problem. Our mercy ministry must ultimately get at root bondage, not merely alleviate temporary issues.
How then, should we minister to the physical needs of those in need? Here are some guiding principles:
Sometimes by giving money or food.
But we must stop assuming that giving money or food will solve the problem. The messy work of offering real help requires more time and effort than we often want to give.
Sometimes by not giving money or food, when the person needs to get up and work.
By not assuming that economic issues are because of laziness.
The unemployment rate in our church’s neighborhood is 17.7%, and the percentage of people at or below the poverty level is 36.5%. It’s easy to assume that those problems exist because of laziness. But …
While laziness is a real temptation for all of us, there are significant contributing factors that make it difficult for industrious people to break out of poverty. Here are just a few in our neighborhood:
- Limited transportation
- Limited access to childcare for those who can work
- Lack of employment opportunities in poor neighborhoods
- Language barriers (32 spoken languages in our neighborhood)
By not assuming that economic issues are not because of laziness.
… because they might be.
By developing relationships to begin digging to root causes and meet true needs.
And this takes a lot of time and effort. Get your hands dirty; labor hard in the church; don’t wait for others to do the work.
By remembering that God is the only one who can fix humanity’s greatest problems.
Poverty and hunger aren’t our worst enemies. The wrath of an infinitely holy, just God against sin is our greatest foe. The only hope that any of us have against that enemy is an infinitely loving and gracious Savior. God’s justice and mercy meet at the cross. Our only hope is turning from sin to Christ for mercy and rescue.