The pastor of our local mega church was interviewed by various news sources this weekend explaining why his congregation wanted to do good in the community this December. Just in time for the late-December rush of extra worshipers, the pastor announced that $5.3 million in local medical debt had been purchased by the church and over 5000 families in Los Angeles would receive letters saying that their medical debt had been paid off. The buzz online is quite impressive. What a huge mercy for struggling families!
The congregation that I serve also does mercy ministry among our members and in the community. Our mercy budget is supplied in the old fashioned Presbyterian way—through a simple wooden dropbox marked “Mercy Fund.” I have dozens of stories of God working through the funds that go into that dropbox. These stories of mercy are secrets of love that I share with my congregation and several in the community in which our church lives and serves. I will not share even one of them here with you—but maybe someday, over coffee, we can marvel at His mercy and lovingkindnesses towards His people.
Our God is a merciful God. Our God loves merciful worshipers.
But here’s my concern: the Lord Jesus gave very specific instruction on how mercy ministry was to be conducted by the church.
In Matthew 6:1-4, Jesus says, “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”
So as grateful as I am for this large congregation loving my community in this way, I am left a bit sad as I read the news articles, scanned over the comments and praises, and saw the interviews by various news sources. The entire plan seemed to be to do this deed so that they would be seen.
Why can’t we love without sounding the trumpet?
“Look at us! Look what we did!”
Glory from men.
Why can't Christians and churches just love without the need to be seen?
Jesus warned his people that this is not love—but a very manipulative form of pride. It is mercy for the sake of one's own reputation rather than mercy out of love for the poor and needy.
Jesus actually calls this hypocrisy. “Do not your charitable deeds before men, to be seen of them.” That is the instruction of Jesus.
As a pastor, I should be rejoicing in this merciful deed—but I am sad. I am sad because I should not even know about it. This $5.3 million in medical debt was purchased for $50,000 one interview noted. “Just pennies on the dollar!” the pastor told ABC News. I am sure this will help in filling up the December 25th services with many from the community, but I am left wondering just one question:
Was the $50,000 taken from the mercy line of the budget or did it come from the advertising line?
Consider that question. Jesus’s words give us insight.
Now go and show mercy—your Father knows.