During my seminary and college days, I would enter a class on the first day of the semester with one question on my mind: WHAT WILL BE ON THE TEST? I wanted to know what would really matter when exam time rolled around. I had quickly learned that when it came to tests no two professors were alike. Some took their test material from the lectures, others from assigned reading, others from required research in the library, still others from a combination of all of these things! So, when I walked into class on that first day I would always pay close attention to the professor’s orientation lecture to discover his or her particular philosophy of testing. It was important for me to learn up front how I would be tested. My second year of seminary I intentionally registered for Dwight Moody’s Systematic Theology class because I had heard that all his test questions came from his book. I thought, This is great. I love to read….I’ll study Moody’s book and I’ll be ready when TEST TIME COMES! Well the particular semester I chose to take Moody’s class, he had hired a new grader who totally restructured the course. This grader, who turned out to be Moody’s 2nd cousin, talked him into expanding his tests so that they were based on his book, his lectures, assigned research in the library…..everything! And the tests were horrible! It was the only class in my three years of seminary that I got a C.
Well whenever I read through today’s text from Matthew 25 I get a mental image of a classroom of sorts. Jesus is the professor and He is sitting on a tree stump with all of the disciples seated on the ground in front of Him…pencils and notepads ready. It’s the first day of class and Jesus is telling Peter and James and John and the rest of the guys His philosophy when it comes to tests. He relates to them what will matter when it comes to EXAM TIME.
Now, with this mental image in your mind, take your Bibles and turn to Matthew 25 as I read verses 31-40.
31 – “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.
32 – All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 – He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 – “Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
35 – For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
36 – I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 – “Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
38 – When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?
39 – When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 – “The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
In this text Jesus, the Master Teacher, is saying to all of His disciples or students — both then and now — that when life ends and we all stand before Him…..ONE thing that will matter….ONE thing that will be ON JESUS’ FINAL EXAM…..is whether or not we ministered to the needs of people who are hungry or are too poor to afford warm clothes or sick or thirsty or in prison.
Now this is not the only thing that will matter. Jesus is not saying we will pass His exam and be welcomed into heaven on the basis of good works. One thing I learned in Moody’s Systematic Theology class is that we must study all of the Bible in light of all of the Bible. In other words we must not take verses out of context but must understand them in light of everything else the Bible says. If you took this passage out of the context of the rest of scripture you might conclude that all is necessary to get into heaven is to do good deeds for needy people. But this would be ignoring other scriptures like Ephesians 2 which say we are saved by grace through faith…NOT by works. When we systematically study the Bible we see that scripture clearly teaches that our entry into heaven is not based on what we do but on our faith in what God has done in sending Jesus. We are saved as we individually respond to God’s grace by confessing our sin and asking for His forgiveness through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
It helps us to understand how all this works together when we note that the Greek word for blessed in verse 34, is a perfect passive participle so, a better translation of this phrase would be, Come you who have already been blessed by my Father. The sheep in this passage are Christians. The goats are non-Christians. The people pictured as feeding the hungry and clothing the poor and visiting the sick are believers who throughout their lives have demonstrated their acceptance of the grace of God with their ministry to a needy world.
So Jesus is exhorting us here to remember that Christians should be known for the way they react to human need. This is why we who make up Redland Baptist Church have embraced MINISTRY as one of the five things we focus on. Take your bulletins and look at the cover and for the fourth time in as many weeks let’s read together our brand new purpose statement and the fourth part of the acronym that we have written to interpret it-the part that begins with a C. Redland Baptist Church is a grace-driven church for a grace-needing world…. CARING IN THE NAME OF CHRIST… …which refers of course to MINISTRY.
Well, since MINISTRY will be on the test it would behoove us to do some studying. When I was in seminary often I would often meet with other students just prior to a test and we would review the relevant material and study for the test together. We discovered that our grades were always better if we did this.
So, why don’t we do that this morning? Let’s gather around the textbook — God’s word — and cram for this part of the test together. I think we can organize the relevant material on the subject of ministry around two statements. They are printed in your outline. Here is the first one:
1. When grace-driven people GET, they respond by GIVING
Being grace-driven means we realize how much God has done for us. We begin to comprehend the staggering cost of our salvation. And when this happens we respond with a desire to give back to Him any way we can. When we GET we respond by GIVING. We understand what Paul meant when he wrote in II Corinthians 5:14-15, For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore we should no longer live for ourselves but for Him who died for us and was raised again.
You see, if we let it grace will change us. It will make us gracious, giving people. E. Stanley Jones said, Grace binds you with far stronger cords than the cords of duty or obligation can bind you. Grace is free, but when you take it, you are bound forever to the Giver and bound to catch the spirit of the Giver. Like produces like. Grace makes you gracious…the Giver makes you give. The words to the following hymn express this truth beautifully. Listen to the lyrics:
Because I have been sheltered, fed, by Thy good care I cannot see another’s lack and I not share My glowing fire, my loaf of bread, My roof’s safe shelter overhead, That he too, may be comforted. Because love has been lavished so upon me Lord, A wealth I know that was not meant for me to hoard, I shall give love to those in need, shall show that love by word and deed; Thus shall my thanks be thanks indeed.
When, as Christians, we begin to understand how much God has given to us, we are then motivated to give back. We see ministry as an opportunity to do just that. In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace? Philip Yancey lists several Christians who became amazingly gracious givers.
Millard Fuller, a millionaire entrepreneur from Alabama was a rich but miserable man. Then he visited Americus, Georgia where he met Clarence Jordan and became involved in his Koinonia Community. They led him to Christ and Fuller responded by giving away his personal fortune and founding Habitat for Humanity, an organization based on the simple premise that every human being deserves a decent place to live. They have built thousands of homes for the needy all over the world. Fuller once said, The reason I do what I do and so many of our volunteers do what they do, is because we are being obedient to Jesus.
Another example of this is Chuck Colson. Shortly after he experienced God’s grace and became a Christian he founded PRISON FELLOWSHIP which today operates in almost 80 countries. To this date the families of more than 2 million U.S. prisoners have received Christmas presents thanks to Colson’s ANGEL TREE ministry. Overseas church members involved in PRISON FELLOWSHIP bring pots of stew and loaves of fresh-baked bread to prisoners who would otherwise starve.
Then there is Bill Magee, a plastic surgeon who was shocked to find that in Third World countries many children go through life with cleft palates that never get treated. They cannot smile, and their lips curl open in a constant sneer, making them the object of ridicule. Magee and his wife organized a program called OPERATION SMILE. Through this ministry, plane loads of doctors and support personnel travel to places like Vietnam, the Philippines, Kenya, Russia, and the Middle East in order to repair facial deformities. So far Magee and his group have responded to their own experience of the grace of God by operating on over 30,000 children and in so doing they have left behind a legacy of smiles. And we could go on and on listing Christians who have responded to what they have received from God by giving to meet the needs of others. But you know tragically Christians do not always respond to the grace of God in this way. We forget the cost of God’s gracious gift of salvation. When this happens we don’t minister to the needy of the world. Instead we become inwardly focused and expend all of our time and talents on entertaining self.
This reminds me of the story of visitors who took a tour of a huge oil refinery. The tour guide showed them all the intricacies of the refining process: the vast catalyst chambers, the pipes, the heating vats-everything that went into the refining of oil. As the tour ended, one of the visitors asked the tour guide a simple question, Sir, you showed us everything except the shipping department. An oil refinery this size processes a huge amount of petroleum, turning it into gasoline and lubricants. But you haven’t shown us where it’s all put into containers and shipped out to the world. Well, you see, said the tour guide, We don’t have a shipping department. Everything that is produced in this refinery is used up as energy to keep the refinery going. Many churches are exactly like the refinery in this story. They receive but they don’t give. All of their energies are focused on maintaining the church and none on ministering to the community and world around them. Groups of Christians like these are not grace-driven. For they have ignored Jesus’ command in Matthew 10:8 when He said, Freely you have received, now freely give.
We must not allow this to happen to us here at Redland! If we want to continue to grow and enjoy the good spirit we now have we must recall God’s grace and respond by embracing a ministry to the needy of our community and world….not just for our own benefit….not just because we selfishly want things to keep improving around here but because Jesus says that when we visit the sick and clothe the naked and feed the hungry and visit in the prisons, it is as if we were ministering to Him. Remember His words in verse 40? Jesus said, Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to me. What did Jesus mean by that? Why would Jesus say that ministering to the needs of others was the same thing as ministering to Him? Well He says this because God loves every human being on this world of ours. He loves them as a Father would love His children. They are His special creation. He has a plan for their lives. You know I love my kids…and when they hurt, I hurt. I remember when Daniel was a toddler he had to go into Shady Grove Hospital and have tubes put in his ears and his adenoids removed. And I remember how much he hurt. That little guy rolled all over his bed because of his discomfort. I couldn’t handle that. I wanted to do anything I could to take away his pain. It hurt me to see him hurt. And when those doctors and nurses did things to alleviate his pain…when they ministered to my little boy, it was as if they were ministering to me. When he began to feel better, I began to feel better.
Magnify my human reaction as a father to his children an infinite number of times and you begin to see how our Heavenly Father feels when any human being on this planet hurts. He is so concerned that He notices every hungry child….every homeless family….every cancer patient writhing in pain…every prisoner alone and cold. When they hurt, God hurts. God does love all people and desires to adopt them as His own children! So when GRACE-DRIVEN Christians minister to the hungry and the poor and the sick we DO minister to our Lord. And Christians should leap at any chance to give to their God who has given them so much.
Of course the greatest thing we can give needy people is the good news of God’s love in Jesus. But, it is very difficult to tell some one about Jesus when his stomach is empty. If you do give him something to eat he will want to know why you GAVE to meet his need and then you can tell him how God’s giving motivates our own. This principle is why denominations like our own do not limit their missionary appointments to evangelists but send agricultural and medical missionaries so that by meeting physical needs we can have an opportunity to meet spiritual needs.
Doug Nichols served as a volunteer missionary in India in 1967. While there he became ill and was forced to spend several months recuperating in a government-run hospital. Doug didn’t speak the Indian language so he tried to pass out gospel tracts printed in the local dialect to doctors, nurses and fellow patients. But all snubbed him and refused to take a tract. One night not too long before Nichols was released from the hospital, he was awakened by groaning from an old man who was in the bed across the aisle. The next morning his sense of smell told him why the man had been groaning. He had needed to go to the bathroom but was too weak to do so. The stench in the ward was awful. Other patients yelled insults at the old man. Angry nurses moved him roughly from side to side as they cleaned up the mess. One nurse even slapped him. The old man curled up into a ball and wept. The next night the man’s groaning again woke Nichols. He noticed the old man trying to stand and walk to the bathroom but he was so weak he would collapse on the bed. So Nichols got out of his own bed and put his arms under the little old man and picked him up. Listen to Nichols’ own words about this incident:
He was very light due to old age and advanced TB. I carried him to the washroom, which was just a filthy, small room with a hole in the floor. I stood behind him with my arms under his armpits as he took care of himself. Then after he finished, I picked him up, carried him back to his bed. As I laid him down, he kissed me on the cheek, smiled, and said something I didn’t understand.
The next morning another patient in the ward woke Nichols and handed him a steaming cup of tea. He motioned with his hands that he now wanted a gospel tract. As the day went on other patients came and asked for the same booklets about the gospel that Doug had tried to circulate before. Nurses, doctors, interns….everyone wanted the literature. A few days later an evangelist who spoke the language visited Nichols and discovered that several had put their trust in Christ as Savior as a result of reading his tracts. What did it take to reach these people for Christ? It wasn’t the ability to speak their language and persuade them to make this decision. It was the compassionate act of ministering to an old man by helping him to the bathroom. Giving enough effort to meet this old man’s physical need made it possible to satisfy the spiritual needs of many people.
So remember, those who GET respond by GIVING. Make note of that! It will be on the test! The second thing we should know to help us prepare ourselves for the final exam of life is….
2. When grace-driven people GO they GROW
You see needy people are not the only ones who benefit when Christians minister to them. The one who GOES out to minister benefits as well. The act of helping other people matures us. It pushes us to grow spiritually. It forces us to rely on God’s strength because we find that ours in not sufficient. Then we learn that in God’s strength we can do amazing, God-sized things. Actively serving others causes us to think less about serving ourselves. We become more self- less, giving people.
So Christians who work to meet the needs of others GROW into better people! Philip Yancey says, In a paradox of faith, the one who shares love comes away enriched, not impoverished. And he is right. One of the main benefits of giving is it’s effect on the giver! Those who GO do GROW!
Dr. Jurgen Trogisch has done a study of the effects of ministering to severely mentally disabled children. The children in this study were not able to respond or reward the nurse or orderly who worked with them in any way. Dr. Trogisch wanted to see how this reward-less work affected the workers.
So he asked them, What changes have taken place in your life since you became totally involved with disabled people? Here is a selection of their answers:
- For the first time in my life I feel I am doing something really significant. I feel I can now do things I wouldn’t have thought myself capable of before. I am more responsive now to human suffering and it arouses in me the desire to help. It’s made me question what is really important in life. I’ve learned to be patient and to appreciate even the slightest sign of progress. My own little problems don’t seem so important any longer. I’ve learned to accept myself with all my inadequacies. Above all I’ve learned to appreciate the little pleasures of life, and especially I thank God that He has shown me that love can achieve more than hate or force.
In this study, Dr. Trogisch has put his finger on a by-product of the church’s mission that often gets overlooked. We tend to focus on the OBJECTS of ministry: the people won to Christ, the number of homes built, the poor who are clothed, and the hungry who are fed. But the ministers themselves benefit as well. Ministry grows us! You know we often dread driving for hours through D.C. traffic to get to a hospital in center city so we can visit with someone . But if you are like me you always thoroughly enjoy the visit and the drive home is a joyful one. Visiting the sick has a positive effect on us. We feel better….happier…..more fulfilled. We should not be surprised at this by-product of ministry because Jesus promised, It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35 ) He said in Luke 6:38, Give and it will be given to you…a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over….for with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
And this benefit of going is not just true of individuals who minister but of churches who embrace ministry as well. Focusing on the needs of people outside our walls makes us happier inside the walls. Growing, happy churches are churches that look outward to the needs of the community and world around them. You know, here at Redland we now have a healthy, busy, outreach and ministry committee. Charlie Brinkman chairs that group and they are excitedly planning outreach ministry projects for the upcoming years. But you know this committee is relatively new. They have been working only a few months. Before they came together we had often struggled to get adults excited about outreach and ministry. The thing that sparked this excitement that led to the formation of this committee was our mission trip to Matamoros, Mexico. In this experience we as a church saw this principle of GOERS GROWING actually take place. The needy people of Matamoros benefited. We built houses and led Bible School and saw over fifty people come to Christ. But we benefited as well. We GREW spiritually and got excited about ministry and evangelism here in Derwood, MD. When asked to serve on Charlie’s committee people who went South couldn’t wait to get to work here in the North! Christians and groups of Christians that GO do GROW!
But you know for churches that don’t GO, the result is just the opposite. George Barna says,
Churches usually die from the inside out. Death is largely due to an inward focus, rather than an outward concern. Churches that grow focused on addressing the needs of the have nots in the world…whether what they did not have was a relationship with Jesus Christ, physical health, emotional wholeness or other desired aspects. Growing churches were not content to let missions support simply relate to the giving of money.
I like the way evangelist Luis Palau put it, The church is like manure. Pile it together and it stinks up the neighborhood; spread it out and it enriches the world.
So to refer back to that story of the oil refinery, a sign of health in any church is the size of its shipping department — the amount of ministry it does not just through missions efforts to countries on the other side of the globe but by serving the needs of the people on their doorstep….the poor…the hungry. Going helps us GROW.
So, in this sermon time we have reviewed two things we need to know to be ready for the FINAL EXAM….at the end of time:
When grace-driven people GET, they respond by GIVING;
And when they GO, they GROW.
And you know, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter what grade I got in Moody’s Systematic Theology class. That was only a test. This is real. Ministry is MORE than just a test. It is a reflection of our love of Jesus Himself. I want to be able to face Him that day and hear Him compliment me for my ministry to other people.
So as we sing let us commit ourselves to this kind of life-style. Let’s ask ourselves, What am I doing to minister to the needs I see all around me?
Let us ask God to help us turn from being selfish to becoming selfless people…..truly grace- driven Christians whose hearts are broken by the needs around them. God may be calling you to join us in ministering to our community and world….to join this church. We invite you to do so. Walk forward as we sing and we’ll pray together about this decision. And you know if you are here and you are not a Christian then you need to hear some bad news and some good news. The bad news is that this text teaches that at the end of time people who are not Christians will be separated from those who are. Non-Christians will then depart to live in the hell of eternal separation from God. That IS bad news. But the wonderful good news is that God so loved the world that He gave is only Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. John 3:16-17
There are people here today — including myself-who would jump at the chance to tell you how you can experience this good news of God’s love in a personal way. Whatever your decision, we invite you to make it public by coming forward and sharing it with me.