Imagine, if you will, a special operations team that is sent deep into enemy territory with the mission to free people who are being held captive in the heart of that country.
As they stealthily pass through the countryside they see many atrocities they could stop and deal with, possibly even greatly impact, but if they did they would be discovered, and it would endanger their primary mission.
The longer they are on their mission the more frustrating the situation becomes, especially since they know much of the pain and suffering the inhabitants endure could be stopped if they set aside their primary mission.
Occasionally they encounter a situation — a hungry child, or a cold elderly person — and they are able to give them food or a blanket. It doesn’t stop the oppression and the evil that consumes the land, but it does speak of their love for the ones they can quietly impact as they continue on their mission. They wish they could do more.
Still, the black ops team knows its duty — the critical nature of their mission — so they press on, not allowing themselves to be distracted by secondary issues, as important as those secondary issues might be.
That is similar to what the Christian encounters today. You look around and see atrocity after atrocity in our nation and the world. We see not only the horrific act of abortion ending the lives of nearly a million children each year in this nation alone, but sadly, as if that we not bad enough, many of the leaders in the U.S. are willing to vote to allow mothers and doctors to murder a child after it’s born alive, if the mother wants the child “aborted.”
In addition to these horrific human abuses there is the growing issue of human trafficking in the sex trade, and other types of slavery. It is estimated there are currently over 40 million slaves in the world, and several of the top 10 nations in numbers of slaves are actually trading partners with the U.S. It is also estimated there are as many as 400,000 “slaves” in the U.S.
Why do I share this with you today? Because these issues are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the actions occurring due to human depravity. We could also look at the corruption in public officials, domestic violence upon children and women, or the lives beyond count ravaged by drugs. The list goes on.
But consider that in Matthew 26:11 Jesus said, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.” Jesus wasn’t saying that the poor weren’t important, because He taught elsewhere that they were. What He was teaching in part was about the priority of Christ. In the life of the Christian, the gospel of salvation and eternal life must be our priority.
The problems I’ve mentioned are issues of the heart, which is why people need Christ; He alone can change their hearts. We will always be surrounded by these evils. It’s not that we shouldn’t care about these and other issues; we certainly should. We must speak out against them, and we should lift them up to the Throne of Grace continually, but as Jesus was pointing to, we must not forget our primary mission.
We are in this world, but are not of this world; we are citizens of God’s Kingdom. We’ve been sent into the land to be used by God to deliver the Good News that Jesus died to pay for their sins so that they can be set free from the bondage of sin and death. That’s our first priority.
Certainly we will encounter people along the way who we can feed or clothe, save from abortion, or set free from human slavery, but that must not be done to the point where we forget, or let ourselves be distracted from our primary mission.
That became very clear in Jesus’ public ministry. There were times when He could have continued healing or feeding people, as He was doing in Mark 1. But when the people asked Him to stay and continue doing those things Jesus clearly stated He had to go elsewhere because His priority mission was to preach the gospel to the lost. That priority mission of taking the gospel to the world has been given to us by the Lord, and we must stay focused on our priority mission.
Clearly there are times when healing the sick or feeding the hungry is a powerful avenue through which we can share with them the Bread of Life — Jesus; but we must make certain that those means of accomplishing our priority mission do not themselves take the place of our priority mission.
I know it’s tempting to allow other things to take the place of sharing the gospel; but we need to remember that when life is done, whether it’s a long life or a short life, people must face God’s judgment for sin. If they face Him without Christ then they will be lost for all eternity, and how hungry or well fed, how sick or how well they were in life will be of no importance as they face eternity separated from God. We must tell them they need to repent and put their faith in Christ alone.
People need the Lord. Stay on mission for Jesus.
Jon McCartney is pastor of First Baptist Church of Tooele.