What does having social concern mean? How can we be involved?
With escalating food prices, food lines seem to be getting longer at a soup kitchen in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur. Those in the queue, comprising the poor, homeless and drug addicts, are so grateful to volunteers who obey Christ’s command to be salt and light in the world. Such soup kitchens have certainly made a tremendous impact on society.
At the heart of social concern is the premise that all human beings have dignity as they are made in God’s image. Regardless of their sex, race, religion, educational or socio-economic level, everyone deserves to be treated with love and respect. Our God is a God of justice. He is the defender of the downtrodden, defenceless and disadvantaged. He provides for the needs of the widows and orphans.
As Micah 6:8 enjoins us, we are to be like him:
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
The Gospel in word and deed
It all starts with a social conscience. Sharing our faith verbally is not enough. Believers need to let our light shine forth so that others can see our good works and glorify God (Matthew 5:16).
Early in our history, the La Salle brothers laid the foundation for mission schools in our land, whereas Catholic nuns started caring for the sick in hospitals. Later, inter-denominational organisations like Malaysian Care, World Vision and World Outreach became involved in social work.
Why are these people so loving? What drives them? As much as these acts of kindness pique the unbelievers’ curiosity, they also prepare their hearts to receive the truth. Believers can make a difference in this world by demonstrating love and concern for the needy, be it in the family, neighborhood, workplace or society. People may not know Jesus, but they can see his love incarnated in caring people — like those who dish out free food in Petaling Street.
Faith has to be down-to-earth. It’s no use telling those without food and clothing, “God bless you, stay warm and eat well” without giving them these necessities. Faith without good deeds is dead (James 2:15-17). No wonder we are described as “a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
Practising rituals, such as fasting, without loving our fellow men is not what God truly desires. Fasting can be spiritually beneficial as a discipline but God wants us to reach out to others with acts of charity and justice. These include treating our employees fairly and providing food and clothing to the needy (Isaiah 58:3, 5-7).
We cannot compartmentalise our faith. He who prays and tithes in church cannot say, “Well I have already paid my dues this morning,” when, at lunch hour, he refuses to help a poor beggar.
What motivates us in making acts of kindness a way of life?
Often, it’s rewards that spur us on. Jesus promises rewards to those who practise simple acts of charity. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36).
Though it’s good to expect rewards, we should rather respond out of gratitude to a God who is rich in mercies and goodness towards us. “Praise the Lord, my soul, and do not forget how kind he is. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases” (Psalms 103:2,3).
A special calling?
Some may be called to a ministry devoted to helping others — whether it is serving prisoners, orphans, old folks or single parents, the disabled or foreign workers. (The latter are often exploited by unscrupulous agents and employers as they are often ignorant of the country’s labour laws, not knowing how and where to seek redress when oppressed).
But not all are called into such ministries of caring (1 Corinthians 12:28-30; 1 Peter 4: 10-11). A need does not necessarily constitute a call; where our gifting lies also matters.
Notwithstanding, we are called to love and care even though we may not have a specific gifting in that area; we can also pray, encourage others and donate towards worthy causes.
A renewed mind
To be socially responsible, first and foremost, our minds have to be transformed. If our minds are focussed on a lavish lifestyle, most of our time, energy and resources will be sapped away, leaving little left for social concern.
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good, pleasing and perfect his will really is” (Romans 12:2).
We tend to be inveterate conformists. We want to keep up with the Ah Chongs (Joneses). The temptation is simply to blend into the background, like a chameleon. The committed life, however, is shown by the degree to which the believer stays in the world without yielding to it and without failing to be a witness to it. It’s so easy to be ensnared by the world’s riches and pleasures, encumbered by its cares and worries (Luke 8:14).
Those who have been blessed abundantly can take a leaf out of Rick Warren’s book. The best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life gives away 90 percent of his income and maintains a humble lifestyle. A latecomer to the cause of social justice, he once confessed to some 500 church leaders in a hotel in Rwanda: “I have been so busy building my church that I have not cared about the poor. I have sinned, and I am sorry.” Certainly success hasn’t gone to his head.
Our mindset and lifestyle will ultimately determine how effective we can be as salt and light in this world. “We have to live simple lives that others might simply live,” says Peter Young, one of the champions of social concern in our land.
The above article was first published in Asian Beacon magazine, Aug 2008, issue 40.4
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