But as I read, listen to and follow the many exchanges among the churches, I sense the lack of a key ingredient that was the main thrust of the
ministry of Jesus and the early church.
Because of a lack of this ingredient, the early church began to dwindle by the end of the first century, as the writers of the New Testament began to
In a word, this ingredient is caring.
We know Jesus embellished His earthly ministry with parables. Some were metaphorical; some were parabolic; many were enshrouded in spiritual
terminology that required ears to hear, the ability to understand spiritual principles.
When it comes to parables about the coming Kingdom of God, and future events of a judgmental flavor, we see an inescapable motif that harmonizes these
parables and the qualities Jesus looks for among His followers, His church, of all eras and ages.
We'll review some of these parables, and I believe one clear picture will emerge that will contain the ingredient most necessary for any church in
this age to possess before it will grow or even hold together.
In Matthew 25 we read a parable of Jesus concerning the separation of the sheep and goats. As it is recorded in this chapter it is long and somewhat
repetitive, but we'll focus on the key verses and theme of the text.
In verse 31 we read: "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory."
This correlates with Daniel 7:9-10 and Revelation 20:4. It is a prophetic statement.
Then during this prophesied period will come a continuing process of separation and judgment.
Verse 32 states that the "nations" will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them as a shepherd separates sheep from goats, a common practice
of Jesus' day.
But it is the issue behind this separation that is of major importance here.
In verse 24 the king says to those on his right hand: "Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the
In verse 41 this same king says to those on his left hand, "Depart from me you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his
Here we note a stark contrast. As the king invites or rejects these people, he explains the reason behind his decisions.
Those on his right hand he reminds that, when he (the king) was hungry, thirsty, sick and needy, they fed him, gave him drink, took him in, clothed
him when he was naked and visited him while sick and in prison.
To those on his left he states just the opposite: They never cared about him while he was in dire straits.
Both sides appear to be totally unaware of what the king is speaking, because they ask him, "Lord, when did we (or did we not) see you hungry and feed
you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? Or when did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?"
The king gives the familiar answer: "Assuredly I say to you inasmuch as you did it (or did it not) to one of the least of these my brethren, you did
it (or did it not) to me" (verse 40).
Identifies with us
We can conclude that Jesus identifies personally with all of His people (and all humanity, since He died for everyone) and is judging us by how we
desire to love and serve one another.
Rich and poor
Yet another parable reinforces this point. The story of Lazarus and the rich man is found in Luke 16. It is not my purpose here to address the
argument concerning the immortal soul or ever-burning hell.
But bear in mind that this a parable, and Jesus was addressing Jews who by this time in history would have been influenced by adherents to Hellenism
and the religions of the nations that had invaded and captured them (such as Babylon and Assyria) over the centuries.
He most likely was speaking in terminology that would readily get through to them.
Though this parable begins in verse 19, it is important to understand the context of the verses leading up to it.
For example, verse 14: "Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him."
Jesus returns a stinging rebuke: "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is
an abomination in the sight of God."
Then in verse 19 Jesus delivers a parable concerning a certain rich man who wore the finest of clothes and feasted on the best food every day.
He spoke of a beggar named Lazarus, one who was in pathetic straits, full of sores, who literally lay at the rich man's gate, hoping to be fortunate
enough to gather the leftover crumbs left by the rich man, who was so much in love with his riches and himself that he was oblivious to this pitiful soul lying at his gate.
The following verses paint the picture of Lazarus dying and being carried by the angels to Abraham (in the first resurrection).
The rich man also dies and is buried, to await a future resurrection.
Jesus carries the time line to the rich man's resurrection to condemnation (Daniel 12:2) and the rich man's attempt to reverse his fate.
He is reminded that during his physical life he had the best of everything, while Lazarus suffered--and now justice is served.
Lazarus is comforted, and now the rich man is the one in torment.
Jesus concludes the parable by telling the rich man that those who are still alive on earth have the Word of God to instruct them, and they need to
Surprising lack of emphasis
In my 40-some years of seriously studying God's Word I have yet to see where Jesus placed heavy emphasis on doctrinal issues.
Yes, He did say that "if you will enter into life keep the commandments." But remember that He also stated that to love God with all your heart, and
to love your neighbor as yourself, amounts to the summation of the law and prophets.
Do we understand?
I seem to recall a prominent church leader from time to time displaying his frustration over God's people's lack of understanding: "You just don't get
it!" he would say.
I'm not sure what his frustrations were exactly about. Perhaps he was speaking in generalities.
But I too have noticed over the years that many Christians, by no means limited to any specific affiliation, don't get it either.
The point, the lesson, behind these parables is that God, Christ, the law and testimony and even prophecy are all about caring!
Step one is to repent of our own sins and reconcile to God through Jesus Christ.
Step two is to receive God's Spirit and, as the apostle Peter worded it, become partakers of the divine nature.
This should guide us into becoming caring examples of God's love, the greatest testimony that can be given.
Loving only one another
Jesus told His disciples that if they were of "this world" the world would love them.
Sometimes I think that some churches adopt somewhat of a reverse mentality on this. They seem to say: If you are not of our church, we don't have to
love you. We love only our own.
Do you really have to wonder why some churches stagnate?
Did you know that a lack of caring was one of the symptoms of the fading early church?
Paul wrote to the Philippians that he had hoped to send Timothy to them, since he had no one else who would be genuinely concerned for their welfare,
for, Paul said, "they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:19-21).
Hope in the dark hours
When we see suffering around us, do we care? Do we ever call someone, visit the sick, help a needy neighbor, shovel the snow from some widow's or
otherwise incapacitated person's sidewalk?
I remember that, in the days immediately after my wife Rita's death, people in our neighborhood who were not aware of my belief system came with food,
cards and well-wishes.
I still recall how this at the very least gave me some hope in those dark hours.
Somebody actually cared.
So, all things considered, I for one am convinced that what this church needs, really needs, is to understand that the Kingdom of God is all about
caring, even caring about the most down-and-out, pathetic human specimens.
I believe I have the backing of God's Word to warn anyone whose intentions are only to gain membership for control or money or to exclude themselves
from humanity to take a hard look again at Matthew 25 and Luke 16.
Want to effectively evangelize? Care.