“The only thing that counts is faith working through love.”
— Galatians 5:6a (NRSV)
For God so loved the world... that is part of the most famous of biblical verses—John 3:16. It could never be said, truthfully, that God hasn’t fallen in love with his world. The Father gave his Son for it. The Son died for it. The Holy Spirit is its hope.
If God is indebted to himself to work, eternally, through the process of creation, our Lord is certainly pressing us to do the same thing—to engage in faith that works through love; the acts of good works.
God has seven interests so far as the world is concerned:
1. The Poor and Needy
Poverty has always been an issue, but more than ever it knocks at our door. In this global world, even though we have the technological wherewithal, we still have significant inroads to make in reducing poverty and slavery.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news to the poor, but many of the poor are missing out on it. Whilst there will always be need (Matthew 26:11, cf. Mark 14:7, John 12:8), we may or may not always have opportunities to meet that need.
We can say with a perfect sense of assurance: God yearns to equip the poor and needy.
2. The Hungry – Physically and Spiritually
It’s difficult to know what’s worse: physical or spiritual hunger that cannot be sated.
Whilst there is a famine sweeping pockets of the Third World, there is also a famine sweeping the entire globe: one of spiritual means. Whilst thousands die of malnutrition and disease every day, including many innocent infants and children, many other thousands and millions are dying of spiritual malnutrition. We can feed the ‘hungry’ where we are and, in this day, beyond.
We can say with a perfect sense of assurance: God yearns to feed the hungry.
3. The Outcast
The gospel according to Luke shows us, through the eyes of an outlier, the wondrous focus that Jesus made of the outcast.
Touching the untouchable, caring for the handicapped, enabling the disabled, becoming as eyes to the blind, loosening the tongues of the speechless, binding up demonic powers, and uprooting addictions—these are all central to God’s passionate concern.
We can say with a perfect sense of assurance: God yearns to love the outcast.
4. The Imprisoned and the Persecuted
Christ came to set people free, yet there are many in life, due to the workings of the judicial system, that are not free. Because of poor decisions or not people find themselves incarcerated beyond their will. Our task is compassion.
Compassion has many forms, but in this case it’s simply care. It’s visiting people in prison, witnessing God’s grace to them, not usually through words, but through our manner. It’s caring for the persecuted and absorbing hatred—not propagating it. It’s also calling alive the gospel truth that nothing can separate us from Christ.
We can say with a perfect sense of assurance: God yearns for the protection and spiritual liberation of the imprisoned and the persecuted.
5. Children and the Vulnerable
God’s intrinsic heart is after the child—we are all, or have been, children. We’re certainly God’s children. This heart of the Lord extends to the suffering—those captivated beyond sense of freedom.
Our role in exemplifying God is of mercy, the gentle touch, with no essence of bitterness, always empathising with the concerns of the day.
We can say with a perfect sense of assurance: God yearns for the rights of children and the vulnerable.
This level of help is not open to everyone, perhaps, but everyone has money to give, as shown by the poor widow (Luke 21:2). But philanthropy suggests riches, and those with riches ought to clothe the kingdom in whatever splendour they can procure.
This is also about love of money versus love for God. It’s about cheerful giving (2 Corinthians 9:7) and the stewardship of whatever riches God has given us.
We can say with a perfect sense of assurance: God yearns to see the broadening of the kingdom objective through the giving of material wealth.
7. The Power of Deeds over Words
Faith must be active in love and good works must be timed well. These are ways that grace works.
Faith, consequentially, bears fruit. Indeed, there is not a differentiation between Paul and James—they both speak the same language and exhort the same message: faith expressing itself through works is love.
We can say with a perfect sense of assurance: God yearns for words to be converted to action.
God is passionate about you and I, for we have a unique share in what interests the Lord. Faith must express itself through works, for that is love. These seven interests, then, speak of how we please God in the manner of our activity in, through, and for love.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
General Reference: Thomas C. Oden, The Good Works Reader – Classic Christian Readers (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007). The sevenfold structure within this article is taken from the book, as are several subheadings.