Explore: The power to meet needs

 • The Explore the Bible lesson for Oct. 20 focuses on John 6:5-11,26-31,47-58.

I find this week's Bible study lesson to be an interesting "take-away" from our passage of Scripture. While I have studied and taught from this text on many occasions, I personally never have considered the correlation of the “feeding of the 5,000” to our calling to help minister to the needs of the hungry, both near us and around the world. This is a good example of why we have a diversity of writers of these lessons—we get to see different perspectives.

Because of this lesson, however, I now have the opportunity to share a few ideas on this subject. We actually have had some differing opinions (what I would call a 'friendly' differing of opinions) regarding this idea recently within our own association of churches. Let's see if I can lay out some of the arguments.

Physical vs. spiritual needs

Some would say there is a danger in focusing too much on the physical needs of the people. This group would argue there are at least two inherent problems. First, there can be a real tendency to focus on the physical because it is less stressful than focusing on the spiritual.

When you focus on bringing food, people tend to be grateful and joyful. On the other hand, when we present the Gospel, including a discussion of our sin problem, people's response is not always positive. In this way, focusing on the physical is easier emotionally.

In addition, there also can be a tendency—maybe because of the first problem—to spend an inordinate amount of time meeting physical needs to the detriment of time needed to present the gospel. There are many examples of churches and Christian non-profit organizations whose main focus is on meeting spiritual needs and, unfortunately, people's most important need—their need for Christ—goes unaddressed.

Now, others would approach this from the complete opposite direction. I recently learned a quote I use all the time was originally said by Theodore Roosevelt: “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Attitude matters

Those who ascribe to this view would argue offering a sign of love and peace by trying to meet a physical need opens the door for a loving, caring presentation of the gospel. It is important to note one's attitude while doing this act of kindness matters considerably.

We cannot pretend to care so we can quickly get to the presentation and check this off our list. Whatever ministry we do has to be done with complete sincerity and genuine compassion. This, of course, seems to be the point of the author of this week's Bible study lesson.

In general, I am not very good with these kinds of debates because I can see the value of both sides. I do fear we can get so excited and wrapped up in the physical that we forget we are here on this earth to shine the light of the truth of Jesus Christ into a dark and dying world. On the other hand, there is no greater way to open up a heart to possibly hear the gospel presented than by finding some way to show God's love to them physically.

Keep main things in forefront

Personally, both myself and the church where I am pastor, have done this in many ways. We have shown God's love with baseball camps in Germany, food for children in Haiti, medical supplies in India, Christmas shoe boxes for kids around the world and as much food distribution as possible within our own community. However, with each of these mission opportunities, we also have made sure a strong emphasis also has been made on bringing the good news of Jesus Christ as well.

Having said all this, I believe followers of Jesus Christ have to work hard to keep the main things at the forefront of our lives. We never would want to focus on the good at the expense of the best. After all, let's remember Jesus own words from this week's lesson: “This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:58).

The physical needs we meet always will be temporary. When we bring the gospel, we are making an eternal difference.

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