Acts of social concern testify to the very core truth of salvation.
Those who wait for Christ to return have been given a special purpose on earth. “I . . . have sent them into the world,” Christ declared as He prayed in the garden before His crucifixion (John 17:18).1 And as He ascended into heaven, He directed His followers to “ ‘go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them . . . [and] teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you’ ” (Matt. 28:19, 20).
The imperative verb in this text is “make disciples.” The other three verbs—”go,” “baptize,” and “teach”—are all helping verbs, elements in the key process of making disciples. The fundamental mission of the church is to find, persuade, and encourage men and women, boys and girls, to be followers of Christ, “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).
To make disciples, it is necessary first to go “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8), and establish a ministry of presence with “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” (Rev. 7:9). Even before winning a hearing with any people group, Christ’s servants can begin to demonstrate His compassion. Adventists work to “first meet the temporal needs” and “then find an open avenue to the heart” where they can “plant the good seeds of virtue and religion”2
The display of compassion for the hurting, the poor, and the unjustly treated is testimony to the truth about God. Throughout Scripture God unfailingly urges compassion for aliens, orphans, and widows (Deut. 14:29; James 1:27). “Our God is full of compassion,” (Ps. 116:5, NIV). He “rises to show you compassion,” exclaims the prophet Isaiah, because “the Lord is a God of justice” (Isa. 30:18, NIV).
Jesus focused His ministry on the needs of people. In Luke 4:17-19 He makes His first public statement of what His life and ministry are all about. Verse 17 records that “he found the place,” so this was not an accidental selection. Verses 18, 19 claim divine anointing of His work, and state several purposes or goals: “ ‘to preach the gospel to the poor; . . . to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.’ ”
Some people attempt to “spiritualize” this text, declaring that the poverty is spiritual, not economic, that the prisoner and oppressed are under religious oppression, not physical bondage, etc. This is not an accurate presentation of the text. The original language is very clear. Christ is speaking of real low-income people, real incarcerated criminals, real victims of disease and social injustice. He is reading from Isaiah 61, and it is clearly a passage referring to God’s intention to establish a Kingdom for His people, in which there will be no more poverty, injustice, violence, disease, unhappiness, or despair.
Acts of social concern testify to the very core truth of salvation. “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).
Demonstrations of compassion for the disadvantaged and downtrodden are a tangible evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence. They provide the “look and feel” of Christ’s message, just as surely as preaching, teaching, and various print and electronic media provide the content. The Adventist Church should be known as a place where those in crisis will find comfort, and those without hope will find a “Blessed Hope.”3