Have you ever unthinkingly said, “Hi, how are you?” to someone, and their response hasn’t been positive, or it’s been positive…but something tells you they’re not really doing so well? For instance, they say “Fine,” but you get the vibe that they’re not fine. In that split second you’ve got to make the decision to either dig deeper or move on and not connect meaningfully with them about what’s wrong.
Connecting Like Jesus Did
When Jesus lived here on earth, He always took the time to connect meaningfully with other people and meet their needs—whatever they were. But unfortunately, many of us don’t follow His example because it takes time, energy, and sometimes even our money or other resources that we don’t feel we can spare. And to be brutally honest, sometimes we don’t do it because we just can’t be bothered to do it. We can be lazy, uncommitted, unconverted, apathetic, or selfish.
Jesus loved (and loves) people, and He served them sacrificially. He gave His life for them so they could spend eternity with Him. People and relationships are important to God. If you and I want to be more like Jesus, then we need to want to care about others! We please God when our thoughts and actions show compassion for others; when we minister in some way to individuals who are facing various kinds of challenges—whether it’s joblessness, illness, homelessness, poverty, loneliness, or depression.
Walk the Talk
It’s easy to say that we love God, but it’s hard to show it. Because the Bible tells us that we show our love for God by loving others. We may be tempted to ask: “Why does it matter how I treat others as long as I love God? Isn’t that what really counts?” The answer is a resounding “Wrong!” The Bible clearly shows us that good works come out of a heart that’s thankful to God for what He’s done for us. And those good works are an accurate indicator of the quality of our relationship with Jesus.
Setting the Captives Free!
An important part of Jesus’ mission while on this earth was to set people free. He set them free from the disease of sin, and many times He also set them free from physical or emotional diseases—and even social constraints. The following Bible passage, written hundreds of years before Jesus was born, clearly describes His mission when He was here on earth:
The Spirit of the Lord God has taken control of me! The Lord has chosen and sent me to tell the oppressed the good news, to heal the brokenhearted, and to announce freedom for prisoners and captives. This is the year when the Lord God will show kindness to us and punish our enemies. The Lord has sent me to comfort those who mourn, especially in Jerusalem” (Contemporary English Version, Isaiah 61:1-3).
Fast-forward to the time when Jesus was 30 years old and getting ready to begin His public ministry. He stood up in his local synagogue (church), opened the book of Isaiah, and, as He read aloud, dropped a spiritual atomic bomb on everybody. As He read, He was describing Himself—directly out of the passage that we just read in Isaiah (see Luke 4:18, 19).
The Master’s Mission
Let’s take a look at what Jesus was saying here. His mission was fivefold:
- Preach good news to the poor
- Proclaim freedom for the prisoners
- Recover the sight of the blind
- Release the oppressed
- Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
Jesus made it clear that we Christians are to spread the good news of salvation by our words and especially by our actions. Remember, He let people know that the Messiah didn’t come to set up a flashy, physical, and fighting kingdom that would free the Jews from Roman rule. Jesus didn’t come to focus on the elite, wealthy, powerful, and important. He came to help all people—specifically focusing on those segments of society that were: forgotten, weak, sick, or powerless. Examples include homeless people, widows, orphans, prisoners, etc. This plan to establish a spiritual kingdom instead of a worldly one made many people mad enough to want to kill Him!
The idea of Jesus—and His followers—taking the role of a servant to others still makes many Christians uncomfortable and unhappy. Many times many of us have been perfectly contented to sit by on the sidelines and leave the ministry to the “pros” we pay to do it. Micah 6:6-8 says:
With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (New International Version).
We see here in this passage that if God has a choice between our “sacrifices” of money and our having right attitudes of justice and mercy toward others, He always considers as our best gift to Him our willingness to serve others with justice and mercy and to be humble toward Him.
Fight for…Their Rights?
At the beginning of the book of Isaiah, God judged the people of Israel. He basically focused on their selfish and unmerciful internal attitudes and their external actions resulting from those attitudes:
What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?” says the Lord. “I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! . . . I want no more of your pious meetings. I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them! When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows (New Living Translation, Isaiah 1:11-17).
Did you notice that God called the Israelites’ failure to help those in need a sin? When the Lord has convicted us to do something for someone less fortunate than ourselves and we don’t help that person, we’re sinning (see James 4:17)!
Also, did you notice that after God finished going off on the people, He gave them a chance to confess and repent? God gives us unlimited chances to confess and repent (that is, until the close of probation, shortly before Jesus’ second coming). There are two things that I want to highlight from Isaiah 1:11-17:
- The confession is only as good as the repentance that follows it. You see, confession is the attitude, but repentance is the action that follows that attitude.
- God is always very clear about what true repentance should look like, both in a specific situation and in the general way we should live our lives—if we’ve been truly converted.
Romans 5:6-8 puts it plainly:
Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him (MSG).
As Christians, we should show others the same grace, mercy, and love that we were shown by God. Then, and only then, will we be truly walking the talk.