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How We Can Learn from Early Christians' Efforts to Prove the Relevance of God's Love Through Their Compassion


The Baptist church in Chelm, Poland, has become a gateway to safety and security for hundreds of Ukrainians fleeing their homeland. Church volunteers tell refugees that the church has free drinks, showers, and places to sleep. The congregation has also set up a children’s area where they can play or watch educational videos on a screen.

Marek Glodek, president of the Baptist Union of Poland, says, “What we’re seeing is a movement of love and generosity across this nation. Poles are opening their doors and arms to Ukrainians. They are taking them into their churches. They are taking them into their homes. They are feeding them. They are caring for them.” 

He adds: “This is what Jesus calls his believers to do all the time. Polish Christians are taking the teachings of Jesus seriously and living them out each day during this situation.” 

Chinese airliner crashes in southern China

This morning’s headlines remind us that such “situations” are a tragic part of life on this fallen planet. 

China’s Civil Aviation Administration is reporting this morning that a China Eastern Airlines jetliner has crashed in southern China with 132 people on board. Police are hunting two suspects after gunfire broke out Saturday at a car show in Arkansas, killing one person and injuring at least twenty-eight, including several children. Four people were shot in downtown Austin early Sunday. 

Wildfires in areas west of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex had burned about 54,000 acres as of last night. At least one person has been killed and fifty homes have been destroyed. One of them belonged to a relative of my wife; their family lost everything. 

And according to the United Nations, ten million Ukrainians, roughly a quarter of the nation’s population, have been displaced inside their country or fled as refugees. 

However, as we have seen across history, God’s people demonstrating God’s compassion can demonstrate the relevance of his grace and transform hurting hearts. 

How early Christians "turned the world upside down" 

When Peter and John encountered a “man lame from birth” (Acts 3:2), Peter said to him, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (v. 6). When “his feet and ankles were made strong” (v. 7), “all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what happened to him” (vv. 9–10). In response, Peter preached the gospel to the assembled crowd (vv. 11–26). 

When early Christians encountered those in need, those who were “owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-35). When “the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits” were brought to the church, “they were all healed” (Acts 5:16). 

When Peter “found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed” (Acts 9:33), he said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed” (v. 34a). Luke records: “Immediately he rose. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord” (vv. 34b–35). 

When unwanted babies were abandoned, early Christians rescued them and raised them as their own. When slaves were marketed, Christians bought them and set them free. In a culture where women were the possession of their father until they were the possession of their husband, Christians valued women equally with men and embraced the eternal significance of their kingdom callings (cf. Galatians 3:28). In a day when Jews despised Gentiles as unclean and Gentiles oppressed Jews, Christians proclaimed that “God shows no partiality” and welcomed all into the family of God (Acts 10:34). 

The pattern of early Christianity is clear: the need was the opportunity. When followers of Jesus saw someone suffering, they intervened personally in the power of the Lord in a way that met felt needs to meet spiritual needs. They embraced every problem, every pain, every challenge as an invitation to prove the relevance of God’s love through their compassion.

And by Acts 17:6, they had “turned the world upside down” and sparked the mightiest spiritual movement the world has ever known. 

Giving away "gas for God"

God wants his people today to view challenges as opportunities just as the first Christians did.

When disaster and disease strike, our skeptical culture is prone to ask, “Why did God allow this?” Early Christians would ask, “What can we do about it?” When we adopt an abundance mentality that sees every problem as an open door for God’s love and grace, we then become instruments of that grace in transformative ways and the culture takes note. 

Tillie Burgin began what we know today as Mission Arlington thirty-five years ago with a simple phone call. A woman called First Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, seeking help with a bill she could not pay. Tillie met with her and promised to pay her bill. But she also asked if she could begin a Bible study in her apartment for the residents. 

That first gathering has grown to 360 Bible studies and congregations in the DFW Metroplex. In total, Mission Arlington / Mission Metroplex led 757 people to Christ last year and touched more than 350,000 lives. My wife and I have witnessed personally the transformative power of their daily commitment to meeting needs in Jesus’ name. 

Last Saturday, Pastor Brian Carn of the multi-campus Kingdom City Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, spent $10,000 from his personal finances to give away $35 gas cards to more than 300 drivers on the west side of his city. His “Gas for God” event is just one example: churches in Chicago, North Carolina, Alabama, Missouri, and Mississippi held similar gas giveaways. Each was reported by their local media. 

How to measure your life

Our skeptical, post-Christian culture is not likely to be won to Christ through business-as-usual Sunday religiosity. But when we are a movement that rushes to the front lines of suffering armed with courageous and sacrificial compassion, God redeems deprivation and pain by leading its victims to his transforming grace. 

Erasmus was right: “Length of life should be measured not by the number of years but by the number of right actions.” 

How long will your life be?

Publication date: March 21, 2022

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Khanchit Khirisutchalual

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

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