March 17, 2015

Why 'Loving People' Can Be a Bad Reason to Help the Poor

“As with persons in any other helping profession, sometimes the motivation to enter the ministry is to gain the appreciation, attention, and acceptance which is personally needed but which is not being supplied elsewhere. Sometimes it is the unconscious desire to dominate others and in effect to become little popes, which is an easy goal to achieve if one ministers to immature people. Many pastors receive much unconscious gratification from being able to direct people and set them straight. Many pastors after self-examination have discovered that part of their original motivation was the need to be infallible and the church situation often plays right into this pathology. Another very important motivating factor in some pastors is the presence of a repressed and unrecognized reservoir of anger and hostility. In this case the pastor will probably become a preacher whose favourite and most frequent message is one of hell fire and brimstone yet he himself will have absolutely no awareness of the great satisfaction he receives from roasting his flock over the flames of hell.” (Basil Jackson, ‘Psychology, Psychiatry, and the Pastor: Part II: Maturity in the Pastor and Parishioner,’ Bibliotheca Sacra 135 (April 1975), 111–12.)

Substitute the word ‘pastor’ here and add the word‘Christian’ and we have an insightful bunch of questions when it comes to working among the poor. There is no doubt that our kind of ministry attracts all kinds of oddballs with all sorts of hang ups. If you’re involved in ministry in the inner city, schemes, or council estates, then it’s always worth asking yourself: What is my true motivation here?

Now, let’s consider Jesus’s very hard words to the 12 disciples in Matthew 10:37–39:

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

Thomas Doolittle was a Puritan pastor, converted at 17 under the ministry of Richard Baxter and later went on to be his assistant pastor and a tutor to Matthew Henry. He wrote a famous sermon entitled: “Motives to Love Jesus” in which he sets out 28 reasons why Christ should be the source and object of our undying love. He asks us the following:

“CAN YOU FIND A MORE EXCELLENT OBJECT FOR YOUR LOVE THAN JESUS? If you search through the whole creation, could you find any like him? Are riches, honours, pleasures, or other relationships comparable to Jesus, whom you ought to love supremely? Should not the highest good be the best object of your love? Can you love lesser things, and not the greatest good? Is not all the goodness in the creature but as a drop to the sea, as a candle to the sun, as a speck of sand to a mountain- when compared to the goodness that is in Jesus? If David were worth ten thousand other men, is not Jesus, David’s Lord, better than all the world?” (Thomas Doolittle 1630–1707)

If we want to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in a housing scheme ministry then we must do it because we love Jesus first and foremost. If we cannot put Jesus above everything in our life then we will not make it, because the sacrifices needed to make it work on a scheme are enormous. The glory of God in Christ must be our ultimate objective. We must have our roots firmly planted in the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Any other reason than that, whilst laudable, will lend itself to future troubles. Moving into a scheme to “love on people” (as some of our American cousins say) will not stand us in good stead when someone deliberately sets fire to our car, tries to assault us, throws dog turds at our window, and throws bottles of urine through the church doors.

Remember, we love God because he first loved us and we love people because he first loved us. When we’re sat with our head in our hands, wondering why we’re here (and this will happen if we stay around long enough) it will be because of this love of God that will enable us to persevere. A housing scheme is not a place to come and raise our self-esteem. It is so easy to turn our ministry and needy people into an idol when in actuality it is Jesus who is calling for our full attention and affections.

The greatest question to be answered when interviewing someone for this ministry is not, “How qualified are you?” but, “Are you deeply in love with Jesus Christ?” Can we read and apply Matthew 10 without trying to water it down? Do our family know this is true? Jesus is asking us to review every single precious thing in our life, and he is asking us to be prepared to give them up. Many people will jump on the word “prepared” and say, “Yes, I am prepared” until the time comes. Many of us would say we were prepared to offer our little Isaac’s at the altar of God, and yet the reality is that most of us would be struggling to even offer our car or a room at our house or some other irrelevant material possession in love and devotion to God Almighty.

Leave all you have, sell your prized possessions, leave your sick parent(s), your nice church, your friends, and move your family into the housing schemes of Scotland, taking a message nobody wants to hear, working in hard, hard ground, with little or no tangible fruit. How’s Matthew 10 looking now? Even before you have reached this sentence, many of you are already annoyed at the radical, over the top, fundamentalist, literal tone of the last paragraph. So, don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying this is a ministry for everybody. But, regardless of your lifestyle and regardless of your culture, Matthew 10 stands as a universal principle. Loving Jesus will take us to hard paces, both geographically (for some) and spiritually (for all who take it seriously). We in the West particularly are the Rich Young Ruler, which is why so many of us shake our heads and walk away sad and/or angry from this type of teaching.

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my names sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:19)

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