Christ has given His church deacons to lead the church in its ministries of mercy. Deacons serve those in the church by ministering to people in their times of need. Though deacons lead in this area, ministries of mercy are also the responsibility of every Christian.
Providing mercy to those in need is often a challenging task. It involves giving of yourself. I think that Paul understood this, for he encouraged those who were providing care for others not to grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:9).
Yet we can quickly grow weary of doing good for a number of reasons. I’ll mention three:
First, it can be frustrating. Ministries of mercy are often aimed at those in dire straits. There’s no guarantee that our investment of time or money will result in a life change. There’s no guarantee we will see any change happen. Sometimes we see progress. Other times we see regress. And more often than not, we see progress quickly followed by regress.
Second, there’s potential for failure. We may give money to the wrong person. We may get scammed or cheated. We may pay to feed someone’s addiction. People won’t make good on their promises or live up to their potential.
Third, it makes us feel foolish. Ministries of mercy have a way of taking us into places of deep personal insecurity and asking us to give from places we feel the least qualified to give. How can we help the woman who gave birth to a dead baby, the young mother dying of cancer, the older, home-bound couple who can’t seem to scrape together enough money to pay their light bill, or the young man who suffers from a mental disorder that keeps him from getting steady work? Often it just seems easier to ignore the problem. Keep people at a distance. Send off a check. Pretend we don’t see or don’t care.
Mercy ministry is tough. But it’s good. When we participate in ministries of mercy, we are reminded in a real way of people’s need for a savior. We soon realize we aren’t that savior.
That’s one of the reasons doing mercy is so beneficial. It reminds us that there are problems in this world we can’t solve with hard work or money. The sin outside of us, the sin in others, and the sin in our lives means that this side of Jesus’ return, there will be poverty. People will suffer. There will be needs.
It also reminds us that we serve a God who is committed to eliminating that poverty, that suffering, those needs — forever. His son died and rose from the dead, guaranteeing a better day is yet to come (Rev. 21:3–4). When we meet another’s need, we are reminded to hope for that day to come.
Doing mercy also serves as a wonderful test of our hearts. Passages like 2 Corinthians 8:9, James 2:14–17, and 1 John 3:16–18 indicate this. Our doing mercy — or not doing mercy — demonstrates our grasp and application of the gospel. It helps us see the things in our heart that we worship and hold dear.
If you are being merciful, praise God. You are showing others the mercy He has shown you. If you aren’t being merciful, seek to grasp the mercy that is yours in Christ. Consider what it means that Jesus left heaven, came to earth, and died on a cross — for you. Ask God to help you grasp the mercy He showed you in Christ. Ask yourself; If this is the mercy I’ve received, how can I not be merciful to others? How can this mercy help me be merciful to others?
God commands us to be merciful (James 1:27). When we show mercy, we glorify God by imitating Him and giving expression to the mercy He’s given us.
Here are four practical ways to practice mercy within your church.
Give to an alms fund. Jesus said that what you do with your money is a good indication of the things you really value. If you want to be merciful and want your church to be known for its mercy, commit your money to help those in need.
Get involved in ministering mercy to those in need. Don’t simply abdicate your Christian service to the deacons. Find places of need. Ask how the Lord has gifted you to care for those needs. Meet those needs. Get direction from your deacons if needed, but you don’t need the deacons’ permission to care for needs. Scripture already gives you the authority to do so.
Get involved in a way that fits whom God has made you to be (Rom. 12:3). If you are skilled at carpentry, use that skill instead of trying to cook a meal. If you can train people to work or help them get jobs, do that instead of filling boxes at the food pantry.
Make mercy ministry part of your small group or Sunday school class. Pool your money to have funds on hand to meet needs that arise in your group. Use the financial and people resources in your group to meet needs that you know of through your networks. Don’t abdicate what you can handle; don’t foolishly take on what you can’t meet.
When Paul shared the story of his calling and training with the apostles, they confirmed he was not called to preach a different gospel. They approved of his calling and of his theology. They did encourage him, though, to do one thing: “Remember the poor.”
Paul’s response? “The very thing I was eager to do” (Gal. 2:10). By God’s grace, may the same be true for us.