This is the third article in the series, “This do, and you will live”, the theme of the Combined weekend held in Adelaide in October, 2011. It is challenging and compelling and we commend it to readers for their consideration.

Caring is a topic of great importance. In fact, it is a matter of life and death for if we care not, we will not inherit eternal life. We know that it is life eternal to know the only true God, and His son, the Lord Jesus (John 17:3). Do we know God? John says, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:7). To care is to love and to love is to truly know God and the essence of His character, that God is love. Similarly, do we know the Lord Jesus? Again John says, “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3). What was his commandment? “That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Consider the words of John again, in 1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” To choose life then is to choose a life of caring.

One of the key points we learn from Scripture is that caring is more about action and less about words. Is our faith dead in the terms of James 2:15, “Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone?” It is, if it fails to find expression in action. Can we see ourselves in the scenario James paints? How often has a brother or sister come into our ecclesia with obvious needs and the best we can muster is to wish them well, to let them know that we’ll be thinking of them and do absolutely nothing to actually care for their physical needs. As James put it, if that is us, what good do our mere words actually accomplish? By historical and global standards we have all been blessed. As such, when a brother or sister comes into our ecclesia with obvious needs, let’s follow our hearts. Let’s resolve to act on the impulse to care, before we allow ourselves time to justify doing nothing. In the words of 2 Corinthians 1:4 our God has comforted each one of us in our tribulation “that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves have been comforted of God.” Let us not be guilty of expecting from heaven what we are not prepared to show here on earth. Let us faithfully administer the grace God has bestowed upon us by caring for our brethren and sisters such that our faith is alive and not dead. The Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5:6, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (niv). How loudly is our faith expressing itself? When it comes to caring, I am sure we would all agree that when all is said and done, more is said than done! James says, “be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only” (1:22), or as the niv puts it, “Do not merely listen to the word … Do what it says”. Let’s remember, the smallest deed done is greater than the biggest intention. Caring is often less about the public and the big and more about the private and the small – the little deeds actually done – the card actually written, the cake actually baked, the flowers actually given and the cup of cold water actually given. If we do these things we have this assurance from the Lord Jesus, “verily I say unto you, (you) shall in no wise lose (your) reward.”

As unto the Lord

In the final analysis, the extent to which we have cared for our brethren and sisters will determine whether or not we are a recipient of the gracious gift of a place in the Kingdom of God. When we stand before our King, what we believe will be a given – without such knowledge we would not be there. But what we know and believe will not see us stand at the Lord’s right hand. The ultimate and incisive test on that day will be what we have actually done in view of what we know and believe. The Lord Jesus will care not for what we know, unless He knows that we have cared for his brethren. He said, “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me” (Matt 25:34). If we fail to appreciate that what we do unto our brethren and sisters is done unto the Lord Jesus we will never inherit the kingdom. He explained, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”! Was not this what the Apostle Paul learned on the road to Damascus – “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me … I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” Similarly, before his ascension, Jesus asked Peter, ‘if you love me, feed my sheep for in doing so you will prove your love to me.’ If our brother is struggling to make ends meet would we stand by and do nothing if that person was our Lord Jesus? Would we fail to visit our sick brother (or sister) if that person was our Lord Jesus? The Lord Jesus is telling us that each and every one of our brethren and sisters is Jesus to us. How shall we show our love to our Lord Jesus? By caring for his brethren and sisters. And how shall we show our love to God? By doing exactly the same: “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Heb 6:10).

Ecclesial hospitals

Another key question will be what we as servants of our Lord are found doing when our Master returns – not what we are not doing. Christ said, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing” (Matt 24:45). The word rendered ‘household’ is the Greek word therapeia, which literally means, ‘a place of healing or therapy’. The essential question for us then is: are our ecclesias places of healing, of therapy and of caring? Each of our lightstands can be the ultimate centres of caring, the very best hospitals imaginable and yet could it be true that at times we lack the one essential ingredient that makes a building a hospital … patients!? Could it be true that at times, in an effort to keep our ecclesias perfectly ‘hygienic’, we are wary of admitting or, perhaps worse, we turn away those in need of care, of therapy and of healing? We have been perfectly equipped to be instruments of God’s care – the ultimate “Doctorsand yet for fear of contaminating ourselves we could fail to administer that care to those who need it most? Christ warned, “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31). While pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is to keep oneself unspotted from the world, James says it is fundamentally about visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction (1:27). Why is that so? Because, as Brother Thomas put it, “God-manifestation … is the grand purpose of the Eternal Spirit”, and is not our God, “A father of the fatherless, and a judge [‘defender’ niv] of widows” (Psa 68:5)? As faithful and wise servants at our Lord’s return, we will be found committed to ensuring our ecclesias are places of therapy and of caring. Like our Lord, we will be found as physicians caring for the sick. Like our heavenly Father, we care for the orphans and the widows in their distress.

Our Lord will soon come. What will he find us doing? The Apostle Peter wrote to others living at the end of an era: “the end of all things is at hand … above all things have fervent love among yourselves” (1 Pet 4:7,8). Does love occupy its rightful place in our ecclesias? Does love define who we are? Are we a community of carers? We should be! An ecclesia whose members have fervent love one for the other is an ecclesia that cares.

The principle of God manifestation rightly shapes our doctrine and yet, like caring, it ought not to remain a concept only but rather a principle we strive to make a reality in our daily living. How? By imitating the character of our heavenly Father and following in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus – the perfect replica of the Father. The Lord Jesus in the upper room rose from supper to wash his disciples’ feet. Why did he do that? He explained, “I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). God manifestation therefore must be much more than a doctrine to us. We must walk in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus, we must walk the talk and not just talk the talk, we must do as he did. Verse 17: “If ye know these things, happy [or blessed] are ye if ye do them”!? We will not be blessed for what we know to be right. We will be blessed if we do the things we know to be right. Love is the stamp of discipleship. With it we are a disciple, without it we are imposters. Do we truly manifest God’s character? Here is the test – “Be imitators of God … as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph 5:1 niv). The one who cares, is the one who truly knows what God manifestation is all about.

The signature of our Lord was compassion

Every instance of one having compassion on another in the New Testament is attributable to the Lord Jesus. This beautiful word literally means for one’s bowels to be moved. The Lord’s heart went out to others. His heart bled for them as he considered their desperate plight. How often do we read that the Lord was moved with compassion that spontaneously welled up inside him compelling him to do something, to reach out to heal, to feed and to restore to life? A man full of compassion; a man who cared and a man who said and did exactly what our heavenly Father would have done, if He had walked the earth – for our God is “a God full of compassion.” Like our Lord, do we have hearts that are touched with the feeling of the infirmities of others, hearts that are moved with compassion for others, hearts that care?

How much did caring mean to the Lord Jesus? Consider that the Lord’s final act was an extraordinary act of caring. Even in his moment of greatest suffering, the Lord’s heart went out to others – to his mother whose heart was being pierced through with a sword. Is there ever an excuse for us to be so preoccupied with self that we fail to care for the needs of others? Did our Lord Jesus discriminate when it came to caring? Did he strictly ration out his care only to those he considered worthy of it? Absolutely not! How often do we read that he healed all who were brought unto him? Did he not say, “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matt 5:42)? If we do not do likewise how could it be said of us that we love our enemies or do good to them that hate us? If our love for our neighbour does not extend to the unbeliever, we are not true children of our heavenly Father (v 45). We shall then be the “children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil” (Luke 6:35). The primary focus of our care should absolutely be directed toward our brethren and sisters and yet this ought not to be to the exclusion of all others. Paul writes, “let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10; 1 Thess 3:12; 5:15).

Yet, there is a sense in which the Lord Jesus teaches us that we ought to discriminate in our caring! We ought to especially care for the lost, the poor, the needy and those who have no helper. The Son of man came to save that which was lost (Matt 18:11). Do we have this same care? As shepherds in the ecclesia of God, when one of the Lord’s sheep goes astray, do we hike into the mountains and “go after that which is lost, until we find it” or are we content rather to remain in the comfort and ease of the 99? The scribes and Pharisees sought to have the woman caught in the act of adultery stoned but it was he who was without sin who chose not to condemn her. It is wrong to conclude that the one who cares for the weak is most likely weak in the faith.

The carer is not a respecter of persons. He does not restrict his care to those he believes will reciprocate. James graphically warns against partiality towards the rich and poor (2:2–4). He adds, “if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin” (v9). To love one’s neighbour as oneself is not about selectively choosing or favouring those neighbours we believe will reciprocate. Caring is not investing and expecting a return. To care is to give expecting nothing in return. The true carer’s only concern is the wellbeing of the object of their care – as in the example of Timothy, “who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:20,21 niv).

Who is my neighbour?

A lawyer challenged the Lord Jesus, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). This expert in the law knew the answer, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself ” (v 27). The Lord’s response, “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live” (v28). This lawyer had all the right answers and yet such perfect knowledge would not see him inherit eternal life. The lawyer’s failure to do what he knew to be right reduced what he knew to be right to nothing (cf 1 Cor 13:2). Like the lawyer, do we strive for perfection in our understanding and knowledge and yet fail in the execution thereof? The lawyer, willing to justify himself, responded, “And who is my neighbour”? (v 29). The Lord does not answer the lawyer’s question but rather cuts to the heart of the man’s real issue in a parable. After being attacked, a certain man is left to die. A priest (who was to preserve knowledge – Mal 2:7) passed by on the other side, doing nothing. A Levite also, “having knowledge, and having understanding” (Neh 10:28), passed by and did nothing! In contrast, when a certain Samaritan saw the man, “he had compassion on him” (v33). Strong feelings of compassion welled up inside him compelling him to do something. He went out of his way to care for the poor man (v34). Pointedly the Lord Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves”? It is as if the Lord Jesus was saying to the lawyer, Ask not who is my neighbour? Ask, am I a neighbour? Am I a good neighbour? Do I act neighbourly? Unlike the priest, the Levite and the lawyer, he was a man of imperfect knowledge (John 4:22). Yet equally, unlike the priest, the Levite and the lawyer, he was a man who acted perfectly. He was a man who actually loved his neighbour as himself. Like the priest and the Levite, the lawyer would have done nothing if it had been the Samaritan lying on that road because the lawyer did not consider the Samaritan his neighbour ( John 4:9)! Who don’t we consider to be our neighbour? The Lord used a Samaritan (one of imperfect knowledge) to teach a lawyer (one of perfect knowledge) that knowledge without execution is nothing. The Lord also used a Samaritan (one whom the lawyer would have shunned) to teach the lawyer that loving one’s neighbour as oneself is all about being a good neighbour to all. It is not about defining “who” is our neighbour, with the intent of narrowing the application of the Lord’s command. Let us heed the Lord’s final words to the lawyer, verse 37, “Go, and do thou likewise” (v37). We have the truth, brethren and sisters, if, like the Samaritan (one of imperfect knowledge), we are moved with compassion to do something when we see our brother or sister in need and demonstrate love in actions and in truth and not with words and tongues (see also 1 John 3:17,19).

The same care one for another

Much of the focus of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is on the need for unity in an ecclesia wracked by division. The apostle likens the ecclesia to the human body (1 Cor 12). Just as the human body is a single unit comprising many parts, so it is with the body of Christ (v12). Having arranged thevarious parts just as He wanted them (v18), He does so with the intent “that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another” (v25). Is that an apt description of our ecclesias? Think of our white blood cells, which are immediately deployed to an area where an infection has developed. Do we immediately rally to the aid of one of the members of the Christ body who needs our care? Are the words true for you and for me, “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow-prisoners, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb 13:3 niv)? Is that us, brethren and sisters? And what is it that binds us all together? Is it not love that binds us all together, having the same care one for another? Did not Paul exhort us, above all these virtues, “put on love, which is the bond of perfectness” (Col 3:14) that we might be “knit together in love” (2:2). Love, brethren and sisters, is the glue that holds us together. Love is the ligament of the ecclesia of God.

In the words of Peter, the “end of all things” is surely at hand: let us therefore “be sober and watch unto prayer. And, above all things, have fervent love among ourselves” (1 Pet 4:7).