Evangelism – Serving Fellow Image Bearers

Last week, we considered the fact that every man, woman, and child is made in the image of God. That is a fact worth celebrating because it reminds us that every individual possesses inherent dignity. When we understand the surpassing worth of an image bearer, we celebrate.

We also serve. For one way in which we celebrate our image-of-God-bearing neighbor is by loving, and one way we love our neighbor is by serving. Thus, our second of four installments on evangelism will focus on serving fellow image bearers.

Not too long along, a friend of mine reminded me of a statement made by Cory Booker, U.S. Senator from New Jersey:

Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people. Before you tell me how much you love your God, show me how much you love all His children. Before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give.

If nothing else, Senator Booker’s words remind us that the world is watching. Though I’ll take issue with his statement next week, he nevertheless puts his finger on the way that much of the world views Christians.

Turning to Scripture, though, the letter of James has strong words of warning for anyone who might think that celebrating fellow image bearers doesn’t include serving them. In the context of describing living faith, James says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16).

From this example, we can draw two principles. First, celebrating fellow image bearers must include your hands in addition to your head and heart. There is no profit reveling in the magnificent truth that God created you and me and every other person in his image if it never overflows into service. No doctrine, no matter how glorious, is worthwhile unless it results in action. Theology apart from doxology, doctrine apart from worship, celebration apart from service is but a counterfeit of the truth. Our celebration must include service.

Second, and related, serving fellow image bearers is not extraordinary. James’ example of service toward fellow image bearers is not drawn from a dramatic missionary endeavor. He does not appeal to anything spectacular. Instead, he points us to simple service. Service looks like helping our neighbor meet his basic needs throughout the course of our everyday lives. Service doesn’t have to look like moving heaven and earth each and every day.

Dr. Dan Doriani picks up on this idea and applies it to work:

We know we should consecrate our work to God, but we think we love our neighbors outside of work. … [W]e may think, “I love my neighbor by bringing meals to the sick, by collecting for food pantries, and by serving in a homeless shelter.” Fair enough, but far more people love their neighbors by working on farms, in grocery stores, and in restaurants. When we grow good food, transport and package it well, preventing waste and decay, when we sell grain, meat, vegetables, and fruit at fair prices, we also love our neighbor.[1]

When we serve fellow image bearers throughout the course of our everyday lives at work, in our neighborhoods, or as we run errands, we make the most of the divine appointments scheduled for us. When our celebration of the image of God in man overflows into serving fellow image bearers, we avoid James’ charge of a counterfeit faith.

So what does this mean for us, particularly in relation to evangelism? It means that faithful service towards others is an ingredient in preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t mean you have to labor serving your neighbor for six months until maybe you then have earned the right to tell that person about Jesus. Such thinking would be wrongheaded. If someone asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, then by all means make a defense!

But consider this: if you set out to make chocolate chip cookies and during preparation you don’t add sugar, then the end product will be something other than chocolate chip cookies. Those who eat your cookies won’t know the full delight of chocolate chip cookies. Those who learn how to make chocolate chip cookies from you will never actually make the right cookie.

If we evangelize the nations apart from serving/loving our neighbor, then we end up doing something other than evangelism. If the mind is converted to the right way of thinking about God but the heart and the hands remain dead, then what has happened is not evangelism. An ingredient is missing, and the end product is not actually true conversion. There is no profit in bringing your neighbor to a dead orthodoxy.

So let’s celebrate image bearers by serving them so that we can show forth the love of Christ that has transformed our minds, hearts, and our hands.

[1] Dan Doriani, “A Short Theology of Social Reform,” Place for Truth, 10 July 2018, http://www.placefortruth.org/blog/short-theology-social-reform.

 

Assistant Pastor Christopher Diebold