This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. John 15:12
I heard a comment recently in relation to some Christians filling a need in the community that went something like “help, but without the religious involvement, would be good”, and something in me got a little bit cross, if I’m honest. Why are some people willing to accept help, but with conditions? It got me thinking, if “religious” people had not stepped in to help or offer up their brains/knowledge, what would the world be missing. Well, let me tell you…it’s a LOT!
Christians throughout history have stepped up in so many ways. There’s the setting up of the obvious Christian charities like The Salvation Army; The Samaritans; St John’s Ambulance; British Heart Foundation; Christian Aid; and Compassion, to name a few. And then there’s the well-known names, such as Florence Nightingale; Mother Teresa; CS Lewis; Martin Luther; Isaac Newton; Bono and Cliff Richard – all who are well known for their impact on, not just illness and homelessness, but also in the Arts, Science, and philosophy. The word “charity” even stems from the late Old English meaning “Christian love of one’s fellows”.
But, did you know, that we have the following thanks to fellow Christians “sticking their noses in”?:
Computers – Charles Babbage
Calculators – Gottfried Leibniz
Electricity – Michael Faraday
Understanding of colour blindness – John Dalton
The energy unit ‘Joule’ – James Prescott Joule
Development of vaccines – Louis Pasteur
Food Banks & The Trussel Trust – Carol and Paddy Henderson
Hospice – Dame Cicely Saunders
Tearfund – George Hoffman
Hospitals for the destitute and dying were founded under the reign of Constantine. Before that the only ‘hospitals’ available served the Roman Army in restoring their soldiers back to fighting health. The Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of St Francis, were among the first to open and run modern general hospitals. And Churches and monasteries had a huge impact on education, dating back to the Middle Ages.
More often than not, it is the church who “see a need, fill a need”. But why? Because God told us to!
Romans 12:13 says “When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality”. God is a God of mercy and compassion, and we can see that echoed throughout the whole bible, with Psalm 145: 8 – 9 describing Him as a God who is gracious, full of compassion, slow to anger, great in mercy and good to all. As His followers, we are to emulate His compassionate, loving nature. To all who are in need, not just to those we love. As James 2:14 – 17 says “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless”.
Back when the early church was forming, the view of the culture at that time was that compassion for the needy was foolish: the poor man should be left to die. But Christianity changed that. Christians treatment of others was a stark contrast to what was the norm. Their compassion and ‘lived-out’ faith resulted in communities that were based on love and care; communities in which people felt they belonged and were part of a family. If one member suffered, they all suffered. Their ethic of compassion and care was a major factor of the growth of Christianity in the early 3rd Century. As Sociologist Rodney Stark writes “To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services”. The early Christians took John’s question to heart: “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s love be in that person?” (1 John 3:17)
Given the fact that we are mere humans, there are almost certainly areas in which we as Christians need to improve, but there’s a lot that I think we have done right, and to be able to “help, but without religious involvement”, to me, seems a little impossible. It is down to past Christians doing what God asked of them – to love, be gracious and compassions, and to help in whatever way we can, that has led to so many wonderful charities, and places of assistance being available to us today.
So, our challenge is to ignore the nay-sayers, and listen to what God is asking us to do. What need can I see, and how can I help fill it? It doesn’t have to be as big as inventing a computer, or electricity (though if that’s your gifting, go for it!), but it could be volunteering at a homeless shelter, offering to cook meals for someone who could do with a bit of extra help, donate clothes to the various clothing banks, buy an extra food item each time you go shopping and donate it to the food bank. Whatever you are able to give, whether that’s of monetary value or in “donating” your time, God asks us to be willing to reach out and help. Deuteronomy 15:11 says “There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with others in need”. Be the help WITH the religious involvement!
I would like to finish by saying it you are reading this, and you are in a situation where you are in need, please do reach out and contact us, and we will do our best to assist you in whatever way we can. There’s no judgement here. Please don’t suffer alone or in silence.
by Danie Shallcross