Commitment: What Caring MeansDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 10, 1993
Selected highlights from this sermon
Caring. We have trouble caring sometimes, don’t we? We hear about tragedies and difficulties, yet we are often indifferent in our response to them. God’s people should be different. Christ cared for us, so we should care for others.
Paul cared for the Thessalonians by the truth he spoke and by his nurturing behavior. Most of all, Paul’s heart for them was displayed as he endured persecution and riots to assist the fledgling church in their city.
My topic today is caring. This is a second [third] in a series of messages on commitment. Last time we talked about what God sought, namely people with a whole heart that belong to Him. But today we’re talking about what it means to care. And I begin with a story that is told by Todd Brooks. I shall read it:
Bad luck! The light turned red and I was trapped standing at the corner. I prayed for it to change quickly. “Can I have something for my file, Mister?” he asked. This man was a crazy. There’s no doubt about it. The grimy box under his arm gave him away immediately. Crazies always carry something, usually a shopping bag with handles. They can be unstable but this guy looked pretty safe.
“Sorry. No money.” I had repeated this lie so often it came out automatically.
“Have you got anything for my file?” he repeated. Slowly the message sank through. I fished in my pocket, pulled out a brochure and handed it to him.
“No,” he shouted, and almost pathetically he finished, “I don’t have a file for that.”
I took a look back and turned away. “Come on, light, change.” I stepped over the curb to look for a break in the traffic. “I’m Howard,” he said. “What’s your name?” “Mark.” One syllable was all the information I intended to give. I chanced a quick look to see what he was doing. He had a pencil in one hand and was stooping to pick up a piece of paper. Just then the light changed and I took off.
A few days later I was walking the same route when I noticed an ambulance parked outside a dingy alley. I joined the crowd of onlookers to see what had happened. Two attendants in white jackets wheeled their stretcher out of the alley. It was the crazy. His face was showing so I knew he wasn’t dead, but as the attendant shut the door I could tell by their conversation that he wouldn’t stay uncovered for long.
A policeman stayed back and questioned some of the people in the crowd but received no answers. Nobody seemed to care that much, not even the cop. It was just a little added excitement on an otherwise dull day. The cop raised his voice and asked, “Did anyone know this guy?” Nobody answered. Finally, I volunteered. “His name was Howard.” The people around me backed away as if knowing the crazy’s name made me crazy too. The cop came over and began to pump me for more information. “His name is Howard. That’s all I know, sir.” “Well, thanks for your help. Oh, by the way, would you take this for me?” He reached down and picked up the crazy’s box. He shoved the box into my hands and walked away before I could say anything. “Why would I want this guy’s garbage?” I thought. I looked around for a trash can but knew I couldn’t just toss the box. Maybe it was the stories of misers who had thousands of dollars, yet lived by bums, or perhaps even a slightly misguided sense of loyalty to the human race.
Whatever it was, I opened the box. I was disappointed. I saw nothing but old clothes and one file folder. No wonder this guy didn’t have a file for my brochure. I guess even crazies are into specialization. I pulled out the file and dumped the rest of the stuff. Then I noticed the crude painting on the folder. It said, “Friends.” I opened it and looked inside. It held only a small scrap of paper. On it was written, “Mark.”
I tell you that story today...it’s a story I have thought of this past week because about in the middle of the week I decided to walk across LaSalle Street to get a sandwich at Treasure Island, and there was a woman who was there trying to keep warm along the street with a couple of bags. And I say to you to my shame the only words I spoke to her was I told her what she already knew, namely that the wind was cold. And then I walked on.
And I’ve been thinking to myself, hoping that someday this coming week I might meet her again, because I think of this story of a man who had only one friend whom he had met for those few seconds, and he was his only friend.
We live in a world today that is filled with cruelty and self-indulgence. To make up for my own guilt regarding the woman that I just told you about, I did today (just so that, you know, to try to balance the ledger) do the snow-blowing on my neighbor’s driveway. I don’t know if that helps any, but I thought I’d tell you that too. But we live in a world today that is very, very cruel, that is very self-centered. And everybody wants to be left alone.
I grew up on a farm, and on the farm we knew everyone who lived within a radius of five or six miles. It was common that when some machinery broke down, or when you needed a dozen eggs, you’d go to the person next door, and there was a sense of camaraderie in the ownership. Today people don’t want to know who lives next to them in high rise apartments. We live in a day of loneliness, of carelessness, and irresponsibility.
What I’d like you to do is to take your Bibles today and turn to 1 Thessalonians, chapter 2, where the Apostle Paul gives us a lesson on what caring means. First Thessalonians, chapter 2. The Apostle Paul began that ministry after he came to Philippi. In the seventeenth chapter of Acts we read that he was there for three Sabbath days. I can’t believe that the Apostle Paul actually began a church just after three Sabbath days. It could be that those are the only days he was in the synagogue because as he writes to these people, it seems as if he shared with them all the basic doctrines of the Christian church, particularly regarding the second coming, as becomes clear in this letter as well as in 2 Thessalonians. And what the Apostle Paul does is he pours out his heart to this congregation and basically defends himself, because he was under criticism, and showed to them how much he really did care.
Now I have to say that the Apostle Paul was sometimes criticized for being harsh, cold, aloof, and indifferent. Not all personalities are alike, and you have someone like John, for example, who had a personality that immediately loved people, or you have Andrew. Paul apparently was not that kind of a man, but beneath the strong exterior of his powerful preaching, there was a man who really cared and who understood what people’s needs were and did what he could to meet them.
And what I’d like to do to help us today is to point out that in this passage of Scripture, he delineates three different levels of caring; levels of caring that you and I can actually carry out every single day of our lives.
First of all, Paul says, “I helped you by what I said.” I’m going to pick up the text in verse 3. He says he came there amid much opposition. Verse 3, 1 Thessalonians, chapter 2: “For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity, or by way of deceit, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed. God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others even though, as apostles of Christ, we might have asserted our authority.” Just that far for a moment.
The Apostle Paul says, “Our message came to you in truth. It was not a message that was based on deceit. It was not based on our own desire to promote ourselves.” He says, “We shared with you honestly and openly the Gospel of Christ, and not only was the message genuine, but,” he says, “so were the motives that we had when we presented it.”
Now, you understand that Paul was under criticism. Some people said that he did it for money. That’s why he says in the text here, “We did not do it as a pretext for greed (in the last part of verse 5) God is witness.” Other people said, “Well, you know, Paul was actually a pretty good preacher, but he preached and he flattered us so that he, in turn, might get glory and everyone might talk about what a great orator he was.” No. In verse 6, “We did not see glory from men, either from you, nor from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.” In fact, he says, “Our presentation of the Gospel was not with deceit.” This is going back to verse 3. That means without guile. There was no bait to Paul’s hook.
There are some methods of presenting the Gospel that are unworthy of the Gospel. Paul says, “We never tricked anybody into believing. We never used any deception. There were no invitations that were deceitful.” And so what Paul says is, “We cared for you by what we said.”
Stop to think of it, if we say that we care for people, one of the best ways that we can care for them is to share with them news that will put them in good stead for the rest of eternity, namely the news of the Gospel. And if they are already believers, the best way that we can care for people is through words of encouragement, as the text says, words with grace seasoned with salt, so that what comes out of our mouths is actually care. Care.
And this relates not nearly to what we say about Jesus Christ in the presence of others, but how we handle conversations about other people. Jesus taught that it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. He said, “How can you, being evil, speak good things, because a good tree bears good fruit, but an evil tree bears evil fruit?” And actually, what comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what is in our hearts. That’s why James says that the tongue is set on fire of hell, and unless you put out the flame, you’re going to be saying destructive and evil things.
I read recently that scientists say that everything that we say, all of the vibrations that are set in motion through speech, carry on beyond the walls of the building in which they are said. They carry on into the atmosphere, and eventually, perhaps, land on some other planet. If only we had instruments that would be sensitive enough to pick up those words, we could maybe hear them again. Little wonder Jesus said, “By thy words thou shall be justified (or vindicated) and by thy words thou shall be condemned.” You say, “I want to care.” You care by the words that come out of your mouth.
Secondly, the Apostle Paul says, “I not only cared because of what I said, but also because of what I did.” And here we come to that verse 7: “But we proved to be gentle among you, even as a nursing mother.” That’s the idea here. Not just a nurse, but as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Now we get to where caring costs something.
Now, what does a nursing mother do for that infant that is in her arms? First of all, she nourishes that infant. She feeds it. And as she nurses the infant, actually her own strength and what she eats eventually is translated into nourishment, and is eaten by the baby. That is to say that the baby imbibes the nourishment given the mother so that if she eats the wrong things the baby can get sick. Paul is saying in the very same way, “I absorbed the Word of God into my life so that I might be able to feed others based on what I myself have been fed.” So Paul says, “When I was among you I provided food.”
Another thing that a mother does is she protects the baby. Paul says, “I want to protect you from those who are critical, from those who speak evil against the apostles, and from those who have wrong doctrine.” Today in a day of eclecticism we don’t speak much about wrong doctrine. Everybody is allowed to believe as he wishes, but the Apostle Paul said to the people at Ephesus, “Wolves shall come among you, and they will not take care of the flock, but they will divide the flock.” And they will begin these little groups where there will be factions and disagreements and arguments, and they will be led astray. Paul says to the elders of the church, “Guard the church.” That’s the responsibility of caring.
And then, of course, you give an example to your children. You model behavior. Paul did that. That’s why later on he says, “We didn’t receive any money from you.” Sometimes the Apostle Paul received money from churches, and even asked for it, but not here because it was an issue of criticism. That’s why he said, “We labored night and day. We made tents during the night, and we worked during the day. We did all that we could so that we might be able to model behavior that was beyond criticism.” Children learn from example.
We’re learning with our own children that even after they grow up and go to college and don’t need us any more, they still need our money, which is an interesting twist on becoming parents and having children that are growing up.
Also, no doubt, Paul nursed those believers, healing their hurts. Healing their hurts. And how important that is. You say you want to care. You find someone who is hurting and you listen to their hurt, and you help them bear it through your prayer and through your interest.
I read this past week that fifteen million Americans are in something like four hundred thousand self-help groups throughout America. You have all these various self-help groups that are springing up for every kind of difficulty and aberration. Do you know that it may well be that the church has failed, and that’s why people are seeking their sense of identity, their friends, and their help through sources that are not based on the Scripture. That may be of some limited amount of help, but ultimately cannot do for them what Christ alone is able to do. Now the Apostle Paul says, “I not only said the right things, but I did the right things to help because I cared.”
But there’s a third level of caring not only based on what we say and what we do, but also on what we are willing to endure. Now, the Apostle Paul put up with an awful lot there in Thessalonica. If we took the time to read the seventeenth chapter of Acts, we would find out that there was persecution. When he came into the synagogues there were riots among the people.
Now, interestingly, Paul was not intimidated. Paul didn’t run for cover because he had this overwhelming sense of conviction that he had been brought there by God to do something. And so he was willing to endure persecution. He was willing to endure criticism. You see, that’s why he says in verse 9 of the second chapter here, “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working day and night so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaim to you the gospel of God. You were our witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.”
Now Paul is saying that “We were willing to have our lives examined. We were willing to have our lives as an open book so that the Gospel might not be spoken against.” And Paul says, “That was part of what we were willing to endure. As we gave you (middle of verse 8) our own lives we communicated to you.” It’s one thing to communicate information. It is quite another to communicate your very own life.
So Paul says, “We cared for you by what we said. We cared for you by what we did. And then, we were willing to endure.” You see, the extent of our caring, the extent of our love is dependent on how much we are willing to endure, and how long we are willing to endure it. And sometimes God brings people into our lives that need a lot of care and a lot of help, and a lot of attention, and they may appear to be a burden, but they are God’s invitation for us to show forth Christ.
Now, in order to tie all this together and to help us to get a handle on it, let me say that our caring for one another is first of all, to be based on Christ’s caring for us. If we read the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians, he says in verse 5: “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction, just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” He says, “It was the Gospel that came in power, and it was the Gospel that changed us, and changed you and made you into a caring kind of person.”
You see, in the Bible, when God gives His commands, when He tells us to love one another, for example, all those commands are always based on something that Christ has already done. The reason that I point that out is I feel very uncomfortable preaching a message that exhorts people to do A, B, and C unless I point out that there is a reason why we can fulfill the command, because God has graciously supplied the strength to do what He commands us to do. We don’t have those inner resources. Left to ourselves we are just as selfish as the person next door. We are basically into our own lives. But then we experience Christ’s caring. We experience His work on the cross, and we ask Him and say, “Jesus, how much do you care for us?” and He stretches out His arms and He dies. And now He says, “I have given to you the gift of the Holy Spirit that you might be able to get beyond yourself, and begin to love even as I love, to be able to have eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts that beat with mine.”
You realize, of course, that if all of us every week entertained one stranger, if we had a hundred families that did that over a course of a year, we would entertain and we would help five thousand people as a church. One hundred people every week—five thousand people. The resources are endless if only we could understand what caring is all about.
Remember our vision statement that we want to be a caring, culturally diverse community because we believe, as the old saying goes, that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And that is exactly the work that we are expecting God to do in our own lives.
A moment ago I talked about all the caring groups that exist, all of the self-help groups. The singles have about 15 small groups, and under the leadership of Mike Milco, we have about another 15 in the church. And soon we will be making the whole congregation aware of these opportunities. It is our way of saying we believe that the best kind of caring takes place in the context of the one who cared the most for us, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you know what caring means? Caring means that you and I give away our natural selfishness, because we are all naturally selfish. By nature, we do not want to give consistently to the church. We would not want to trust God regarding giving. We would not believe that He would give us the grace to be able to give generously and proportionately and regularly. That is contrary to who we are. And that’s why when you look at all the people who have meant something to God throughout the centuries, who have done great things, they all say, as did George Müller, “There came a day when George Müller died,” where we finally have Christ’s ambitions and His work, and the release of the Spirit in our hearts becomes a more powerful force than our own inclination to selfishness.
So if you can visualize with me a selfish part of our lives, every time we are generous with our time in helping somebody; every time we are generous in listening to those who may be difficult to listen to, but we want to hear their heart and help them with their burden; every time we give, we are actually giving away a bit of that selfishness and we are becoming more like Jesus Christ.
Now I need to tell you this. If you are here today and you have never personally believed on Christ, if you’ve not received Him as Savior, in a sense, this message doesn’t apply to you because it isn’t simply getting out and beginning to care, important though that may be in a certain context, unless you have received the caring work of God through the cross and the gift of eternal life, you really don’t know God personally, and all your caring will not get you to heaven.
I invite you to receive Christ, and then having done that, to actually for all of us, for myself included, to break out of our natural comfort zones and inclination to selfishness, to smash that into Christ’s power and to begin to care about people’s needs.
Do you remember that legend about St. Francis of Assisi? It may not be a true story, but there is a story that has floated around that St. Francis once had a dream. And one of the things that St. Francis did not like was lepers. He feared them, something like we may fear those today who have AIDS, though the experts tell us we have no reason to do so. But St. Francis of Assisi feared lepers, and in his dream he was running away from a leper, though he heard the voice of Christ asking him to hug the leper. And he turned around and he hugged that leper. And that leper in his arms became Christ. It’s only a dream but it’s a powerful message.
One last word. At Christmastime, we like to take all those pot shots at that inn keeper at Bethlehem who said no to Jesus. And what we forget is that what he did ignorantly, we do knowingly. He didn’t know that he was saying no to the Son of God. He thought Mary was just your average peasant woman. But Jesus said that someday, in the Day of Judgment, He’s going to say to some people, “You know, I was in prison and you didn’t visit me.” My, if Jesus were in prison today you couldn’t find enough room at the Cook County Jail to take care of all the crowds that would like to come and visit Him in prison.
If Jesus were naked today, without clothes, you couldn’t find enough trucks to hold all of the boxes of clothes that we would bring to clothe Him.
But Jesus said, “Someday I will say I was in prison and you didn’t visit me, and I was naked and you didn’t clothe me, and I was hungry and you gave me no food.” And everybody is going to say, “Jesus, we know You know all things, but this time there’s been a mistake in your computer. No way! When did we see you hungry? When did we see you in prison? When did we see you unclothed?” And Jesus will say, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, you’ve done it unto me.” Whether it’s to the homeless in Lincoln Park, or whether it is to your friends across the street, wherever you live, you and I today can actually do something for Jesus. We can visit Jesus. If we do it for Him, we do it to Him.
Caring! That’s what the Christian life is all about.
And let’s pray.
Our Father, we want to thank You today that Jesus Christ included us among His circle of friends, and we thank You that He cared enough to go to the cross. And then, Lord, He says to us today, “Be My hands, My feet. Be all that I could be here on Earth as My body.”
Now, Father, what is it that You have brought to our attention that we must do today? Who is it that we must see? What phone call is it that we must make? What letter must be written? Who should be helped? For whom should groceries be purchased today?
We pray that we might understand that we can do these things for You, Christ, inasmuch as we have done it for the least of Your brethren.
Before I close in prayer, you ask the Lord what He would have you to do based on what His Word has said today.
Thank You, Father, for hearing us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.