The apostle Paul tells us, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” The virtue of doing good to others is a divine principle that is recognized worldwide even by those who may not understand other Biblical truths. For example, the Dalai Lama said, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them,” Mahatma Gandhi taught, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” Many Christians and non-Christians would agree with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s conclusion, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
The error that many make is not recognizing that our purpose in life should be God centered rather than people centered, as we see in Solomon’s words, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” Jesus explains to those who asked him, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.”
However, as followers of Christ, we recognize that an important part of our service to God includes doing good to others. After Jesus explains that the first commandment is to love and serve our God with all our heart, soul and mind, he continues, “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Loving our neighbor implies doing good to him, as Augustine explains, “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” In Jesus’ words, “Do for others what you want them to do for you.” We are to be good to those outside our circle of friends, as Jesus explains, “And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.” We even are to reach out to our enemies as Jesus tells us, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”
The problem we face is we get busy in our own personal duties and needs and we can forget about the needs of others. Also, there are an overwhelming number of opportunities to do good, and we don’t know where to begin. We cannot fill all the needs. From the panhandlers on the sidewalk, to the homeless at the shelter, to the starving in Africa, to the war refugees in camps, we are unable to supply the needs of so many needy. Sometimes it seems easier to just turn away from it all and do nothing. Is not knowing where to begin or the seeming hopelessness of making a difference an excuse to do nothing?
Paul’s words help give us guidance to what we should do. First of all, he says, “As we have opportunity,” and also, “especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” We should start with those in our ecclesia. When we wake up in the morning do we think about what good we can do today to help someone we know? It need not be spectacular, just a kind act of encouragement — a get-well card to a brother or sister who is ill, a helping hand to someone infirm, a visit to the lonely. Jesus explains, “whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” We need to be thinking about what we can do to help our fellow brethren and sisters.
We are also to help others — even enemies. To whom do we reach out when the need is so great? We can look at the example of the apostles and Christ. The lame man at the beautiful gate of the temple was known to all those who entered the temple that way, yet Peter and John did not give him money. Jesus and his apostles did help the poor because Judas Iscariot complained when a good source of revenue was not added to the fund, yet they did not resolve the problem of poverty, and, in fact, Jesus tells them, “For the poor you will always have with you.” There were many impotent at the pool of Bethesda, but Jesus healed only one — the man who had been lame 38 years. We cannot help everyone, but that is no excuse to help no one.
Ronald Reagan once said, “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” As we have opportunity, as Paul explains, we should reach out to help. We can make a difference to someone. We can provide a food snack to a homeless person we encounter. We can support a child in a Christadelphian orphanage; we may not be able to supply the entire orphanage, or all orphanages, but we can help at least one child. When we hear of a need, a neighbor who has lost a job, a family bereaved of a member, we can send over a meal. We need to be open to the needs of others and be willing to help.
Another lesson we learn from Jesus is that food is temporal but salvation is eternal. Jesus did not feed every hungry person in his day, but he did feed the 5000 and 4000 who came to hear him. Not every unhealthy person was healed, and often some demonstration of faith was required. Other miracles, such as the raising of the son of the widow of Nain, were performed because of Jesus’ compassion for those in need. We learn that while focusing on helping believers or those seeking to believe is a major objective, we also should show compassion to those who cross our path. Our priority should be to help others to gain the greatest gift, the gift of salvation, by assisting with their physical as well as spiritual needs, but we should not ignore a pressing need in those we encounter.
God is looking for people to reward with eternal life and a place in the Kingdom, people who are obedient to His commandments and who develop the character of Christ. An important part of Christ’s character is the compassion he showed to others, despite how he was treated. Peter tells us how Jesus “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.” Then, later, “Who, when he (Jesus) was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously:”
Let us follow the words of Christ when he tells us, “Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for those that mistreat you and persecute you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who makes his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and rains upon the just and the unjust. God is good to all His children. He is not willing that any should perish but that all might come to repentance.” May we strive to develop a Christ-like spirit of compassion and to be good to God’s children, as we have opportunity, especially those of the household of faith.
Robert J. Lloyd