Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Thinking about good works

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Picture By Norman Rockwell

Sometimes it can be difficult to strike a balance in the doing of good. As a student of life in the Jesus way, the loving of others pushed past the boundaries that I often become so comfortable to stay behind. Even in being a somewhat outgoing person, I do have a zone of comfort that I exist in. I suppose we all do.

The combination of religion and good works is one that can become dicey prospect. Sometimes people will do good works for the photo op, sometimes they will do a good deed just for the potential opportunity to share their particular religious perspective with the deed recipient, and other times people do good because they are compelled to quietly help someone and that gift of giving is all the payment they ever desire.

There seems to be a wide range in the good deeds scale. According to Scot McKnight in his book, 40 Days living the Jesus Creed, this scale is a vast one.

"Many today are concerned about the doing good works solely so we can have an opportunity to tell others about Jesus. Other worry about being too aggressive in evangelism. So, how can we steer between these two poles and still let our good works lead to God?" (Pg. 84, 40 days living the Jesus creed, McKnight)

I have to say that I've been a part of and also experienced the vast range of good deed efforts in my life and time in the church. In my youth and some of my adult life, I'd have to say some of my good deeds were somewhat of a ruse for what should have been explained as direct evangelism efforts. Today when I think about those times, I feel uncomfortable with this manipulative approach to outreach. If the purpose of an effort is evangelism, that is fine, I just feel it is important to be up front about the intention of the effort.

Too many times I've seen helps efforts disregard or dismiss the real,tangible,physical and emotional needs of a person all for the purpose of telling them about Jesus, praying a prayer for salvation, and walking away satisfied with their own evangelism/outreach campaign; only to leave that person in the same physical state they were before they were spiritually bombarded.

James 1:27 says, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

Caring for the needs of others has the everyday face of practical care and sincerity that sometimes is lost in the name of evangelism "campaigns".

McKnight explains this further by explaining:
" We begin with behavior - doing good thing for others. Next we check our motive: good deeds need to be propped up by doing good for the sake of the other and for the sake of God. We also have confidence: our prayer is that our good works will somehow be used by God to show his goodness. Finally, sometimes there is an opportunity: people of the Jesus Creed wait for God to prompt someone to ask the question, "Why are you doing this?" (Pg. 84, 40 days living the Jesus creed, McKnight)"

It's when I consider the words, " Love your neighbor as yourself." that I pause to think how I would feel if someone were only to come to help me in some way because of their desire to peddle their philosophy to me. I would feel manipulated, foolish, and like I was being seen as less than in the eyes of the helper. I would not desire to feel or be treated in this manner and I'd fathom a guess that others would not like it much either. I think not.

When Jesus looked upon people in need his first response was compassion, after that he did what he could to help. What if I could begin grasp what good works sincere compassion could accomplish in this world around me? What if help could be given unconditionally and with no strings attached. What if I were more focused on the needs of others than I was with my own? What if I was quiet long enough for someone to ask the question, "Why are you doing this?" and my truthful answer was, "Maybe by helping others I can begin to learn more about this God of love. Thank you for helping me to become a better student in the way of Jesus."

We all are on a journey. I hope that my deeds are more help, less ego, and quietly, gently point to the compassionate face of Jesus. There is so much to learn, there is still so much to learn.


dianne said...

You put this so well, Tara. Some great questions to ask ourselves as well. I have to admit to running so far from the agenda-driven evangelism that I have totally discounted good works at times, which should be flowing out of a rightly focused heart. Oh yes, much to think on and learn!

Heart2Heart said...

Great post! Too often when we are trying to reach out to others, we need to check with the motive is. Are we looking to look good for our own benefit, so we can claim we did something good, or are we willing to do something for someone with nothing expected in return. I love how you used Jesus as an example of how He would do good for others.

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Lamont said...

Thank you for your thoughts.

I keep thinking of when Jesus looked over Jerusalem and the text says..." He was moved with compassion for them."

Jesus did not (and does not) simply see homes and neighborhoods - he sees us. The seeing with the eyes and compassion of Christ is a perspective that is necessary in all interactions and application of "love your neighbor as yourself."

Mel said...

Excellent questions to examen. Always learning--always, always.....

Lamont said...

Sometimes I'm moving to quickly through life to consider my motives in things. This whole discussion makes me want to push the pause button and take a good long look at the heart of it all.

pds said...

Your post gives me the impression that you view caring for the practical needs of others as generous, and doing evangelism as selfish or manipulative. Why the dichotomy? It seems that the solution is to do evangelism out of genuine love. When we do evangelism we are caring for the needs of others- their spiritual needs. It is not to build our kingdom but to build God's kingdom.

I think the solution is to do all of the above with a wholistic love for the whole person.

Lamont said...

I think that the good and kind things we do for others should come out of the natural overflow of thankfulness and love we have for God ourselves.

Ie. "Love the Lord your God with your heart, your strength and your mind...and love your neighbor as yourself."

By truly understanding God's love for ourselves, then we can better understand how to love others.

I agree that caring for others should be a holistic matter, one that includes the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of a person.

What if we could unconditionally give-care-love-share and allow the actions speak for themselves - and point less to ourselves and more to Jesus.

In a world full of angry shouting, I think more action of love would speak volumes.

pds said...

I don't disagree with you. As for the balance and manner of doing things, we would do well to follow the example of Jesus and his apostles. They showed concrete love by acts of kindness, but they also communicated the good news to people thirsting for it.

My main point, which I don't think you addressed directly, was how you portrayed sharing the gospel as peddling one's own philosophy. If we do it right, sharing the gospel is an act of love for the benefit of others. It was for Jesus and the apostles.

Lamont said...

I agree that sharing the gospel is an act of love, when the motives are loving.

My statements concerning peddling are based on my own experience when suggesting to a group that it would be wise to take the time to participate in some local social justice and conservation efforts in the community. It was frustrating to me that these efforts were dismissed as being rather unimportant compared to more direct soul-winning efforts (ie. tracks and street witnessing). I feel there are many different approaches to sharing our faith and was discouraged when the suggestions were seen as less than.

Outreach and evangelism are very important and do benefit others when (as you said) we do it right and it is an act of love. In addition to outreach being done with a loving heart, I feel that its expressions are as varied as the personality of the person that is doing the sharing.