Mercy, The Third Leg of the Healthy Church

Since we are looking at the health of the revitalized church as a three-legged stool, it is time to take a look at the third leg balancing the stool – Mercy Ministry. A revitalized church must address Mercy Ministries as well as Worship and Discipleship in order to be the church Jesus – through the Bible – calls us to be in our locality, our time and our culture¬¬, that is, our local neighborhood. Keep in mind that the God of scripture calls us not to a sequential approach but to a collaborative approach among these three legs of the stool. Each of these three God-given and God-commanded ministries beautifully shows His people a different reflection of his grace. Ponder as you read this examination of the scriptural basis for Mercy Ministry, and then the next two entries which will continue to unpack Mercy Ministries. We will be ready then for further reflection and discussion as we examine the art of weaving the ministries into that collaborative reflection of God’s Grace.
Consider this: “the essence of the diaconate: that the physical and financial cannot be divorced from the spiritual.” This part-sentence comes from Professor Don MacNair’s book, The Living Church, A Guide For Revitalization. Specifically, the words appear in Appendix A, “The Living Church and the Deacon,” and they are at the heart of the concerns for what we here at Metokos Ministries refer to as the Mercy Ministry of a local church. Professor MacNair also writes, “Under the direction of the elders, deacons must work to prevent physical and financial problems, deal with them when they occur and encourage healing of spiritual maladies exposed by physical and financial ills.” (p.155) So, what is the Scriptural basis for the practical suggestions offered by Professor MacNair and now, Metokos? Let me begin with a look at the mercy ministry in the book of Acts.
Paul, in his final address to the elders of Ephesus recorded in Acts 20, reminds us why the church matters, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood… And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” As Paul ends his address to leaders he loves, note the tears on the part of all with these words, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” These are the words that haunt my heart from this passage, “we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus,…” These words give us Paul’s only quote of Jesus, and they are used to provide support for the ministry of mercy, helping the weak.
Paul’s concern expressed in his last words to the Ephesian elders are a local expression of what happened in the church in the Jerusalem church in the early days of the church. The Greeks lodged a complaint against the Hebrews (recorded in Acts 6) “because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” The church had begun a first century “meals on wheels” in response to a need, and the needs of some were overlooked because they were Greek, not Hebrews. The first deacons were dealing with ethnic and economic issues as well as the lack of equality in the local church’s care for widows. This diversity issue is something Professor MacNair reminds us will be a part of a revitalized local church. See his Appendix C, “Diversity, Unity, and the Community in The Church” (p.163ff) to think about three areas of diversity for local churches to address – educational, economic, and ethnic.
For Presbyterians, the 1645 Form of Church-Government is the foundation for how we see the church. The brief section on Deacons – after reminding us what they are not – states that deacons are, “…to take special care in distributing to the necessities of the poor.” The footnote supporting this is the carefully-chosen passage from Acts 6:1-4. These words together give us that Biblical focus and mission statement for deacons, “…to take special care in distributing to the necessities of the poor.” They also echo Paul’s words, “we must help the needy.” In 1645, the church, imperfect as it is in every generation, expected an economic diversity so that “distributing to the necessities of the poor” would be part of a local congregation’s life and ministry.
Notice the wording of these 1645 document and Acts, “the poor,” not “the poor in the church.” Yes, we should begin with the poor among us. Paul reminds readers in Galatians 6, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Consider this passage from 1 John 3, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” The Biblical motive for “helping the needy” and “distributing to the necessities of the poor” is that we have been loved first. Within the church we are to lay down our lives for each other. Here is John’s big question in this passage, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” It is God’s first love in his son that revitalizes a local church – his abiding love. Mercy then, along with worship and discipleship are the response of the local revitalized church of that abiding love.
Now let us return to Paul’s words from Galatians 6, “let us do good to everyone.” Paul has just warned his readers “not to grow weary of doing good.” This idea takes us to the question in Luke 10, “who is my neighbor?” Here, Jesus relates the parable of the Good Samaritan to flesh out the background to the answer to a question Jesus asked the young lawyer, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” The parable ends with these words of Jesus, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Yes, Jesus wants us to know that mercy is at the heart of loving your neighbor. Our Lord frames his story of a stranger helping a wounded victim around an outsider, both religiously, and ethnically from his audience.
These Luke 10 words of Jesus expand on his words recorded in a message to a multitude in chapter 6. Consider these parts of verses 27-36 from the middle of that message from Jesus, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,… Give to everyone who begs from you,… And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them… But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” We have much to consider in this passage. Take with you today what Jesus ends with – a call and a command, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” A revitalized church is merciful because its congregation has experienced in a fresh way the mercy of the Father and desires to be like the Father, that is – merciful. These words of Jesus challenge our safe view of the church and the Christian life, “Love your enemies…he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”
Mercy ministry in a revitalized church will stretch the comfort zones of educational, economic and ethnic diversities as you begin to see the unseen poor all around you in your community and neighborhoods. Grace will become generous in helping the poor. To help us move beyond the finger food of a blog to consider the meat and potatoes of mercy ministry, I suggest Merciful, The Opportunity and Challenge of Discipling the Poor Out of Poverty by Randy Nabors. This book opens eyes about poverty in the USA and in our neighborhoods. Not only does he give practical suggestions for engaging the poor, but he also helps readers to understand the historical context of urban poverty. For those of us in rural communities, we can learn much and work on translations to our context. Randy’s passion for this ministry grows out of his own story, which he shares in Merciful.
In the next two weeks, we will build on this scriptural base and look at the relationship between justice and mercy, then the challenges of mercy ministry in a revitalized local church and presbytery.
As always, please repost this piece to help spread the word about Metokos Ministry.

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