The Works of Mercy
Today is Mission Sunday, and in a few minutes, some of the folks who serve on our Missions and Evangelism Committee will come up here and share with you about a few of the things Liberty Spring Christian Church has done during the past year or so to reach out to our community with the love of Jesus Christ.
Now, we would probably all agree that the past 12 or 13 months have brought more than their share of challenges.
But one of the things I hope you will see by the time we are done here today is the way that God has shown His faithfulness to us, even as it seemed to us that the whole world was coming apart at the seams.
And what you need to know right up front is that He didn’t show Himself faithful to us because we somehow deserved it but because He IS faithful, and because He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him in faith.
Turn in your Bibles, if you would, to James, chapter 2. Today, before we hear the testimonies of God’s faithfulness from some of those who saw it firsthand during the past year within our church, I want us to take a quick look at a passage of Scripture that can be confusing for those of us who believe that we are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
Now, James, the half-brother of Jesus, has been describing in the first part of this chapter the problem of those who show favoritism within the church. He warns them that those who show honor to the wealthy and dishonor the poor among them are committing sin. And then he encourages them to speak and act as people who are subject to the law of liberty — the law of grace.
The law of grace reminds us that not one of us deserves to be saved — not one of us could ever, as the Apostle Paul put it, stand before God and boast of our righteousness.
We who have become part of the family of God have been adopted as sons and daughters solely as a work of His grace, poured out upon the world as His own sinless Son suffered and died on the cross, taking upon Himself the punishment that we deserve for our sins against God.
By God’s grace, those of us who have followed Jesus Christ in faith that His sacrifice is our only means of reconciliation with God have been saved from the just penalty for our rebellion against Him. We have been set free from our enslavement to sin.
And so, if we are people who are subject to this law of liberty, to this law of grace, James says in verse 12, we should act that way.
But how does it look to act that way? It looks like mercy. It looks like kindness or concern expressed for someone in need. It looks like compassion.
And that’s what James describes in the next few verses. Let’s pick up with verse 13.
For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
Now, I want to give the others all the time they need to speak up here this morning, so I’m just going to pick a couple of points from this passage to highlight for you before they come up here.
You have heard me say many times up here that we are saved BY grace alone, THROUGH faith alone, IN Christ alone. There are no good deeds — there is no amount of good deeds — that can bridge the gap that our sin has made between us and God.
So what’s this that James is saying about works?
Just this: Faith without works is dead faith. Faith without works is faith that doesn’t have the power to give you eternal life.
The point he is making is that saving faith manifests itself in works of mercy — giving a poor person clothing and food, instead of just saying we’ll pray for them.
The point is that saving faith manifests itself in trusting God enough to make a sacrifice.
That’s the point of James’ retelling of the story of Abraham and Isaac in this passage.
You see, we often look at Abraham as a hero of Old Testament faith, and indeed, the writer of the Book of Hebrews names him as one of those heroes in that great chapter on the heroes of faith.
But Abraham’s faith was a work in progress for much of his life, and even after God had justified Abraham because of faith, even after Abraham had believed in the Lord and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness, Abraham still had a tendency to put his faith in himself.
God had promised him a son, but Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren, and they were both old, so Abraham took matters into his own hands and fathered a son with Sarah’s handmaiden. His works demonstrated that his faith was in himself.
And when he traveled into the land of Gerar, Abraham told King Abimelech that Sarah was his sister, because he was afraid the king might kill him and take her from him if he knew they were married. Again, his works demonstrated that he had more faith in himself and his own lies than he had in the God of Truth.
But God is merciful and faithful, and so He had Abimelech restore Sarah to Abraham, and he opened her womb and gave them a son, Isaac.
And then, when Isaac was a young man, God told Abraham to take Him up to a mountain and sacrifice Isaac to God.
But you all know the story. Just at the point where Abraham lifted the dagger to kill Isaac, the angel of the Lord intervened and provided a ram for the sacrifice.
God had tested Abraham’s faith, and this time Abraham had passed the test. He had finally trusted God sacrificially. He was prepared to sacrifice the son through whom God had promised to make a great nation, because He knew that God would somehow keep that promise, even if he didn’t understand how it would happen.
In this event on the top of that mountain, Abraham’s faith in God was demonstrated as having been perfected — as having become complete. This action on Abraham’s part showed that his faith was now completely in God and not in himself.
Liberty Spring Christian Church was faced with its own test of faith during 2020. With many businesses shut down and millions of people out of work, would we continue to devote the church’s resources to our outreach ministries? Would we honor God by doing sometimes costly acts of mercy in our community?
Would we have faith that He would provide the sacrifice that we would make to Him? Or would we take the seemingly safer route of trusting in ourselves, of holding onto the resources He had given us?
Today, you’re going to hear from some of the people who stood up and said, “Let’s move ahead in faith.” You’re going to hear about just a few of the many ways this church reached out with love and mercy to our community during 2020 and the beginning of 2021.
But before they come up here, let me tell you something wonderful. Last year, this church spent more money on missions and evangelism — on ministries of mercy — than it has in recent memory, and yet we concluded the year with more money in that account than we had when we started the year.
That’s certainly a testament to the faithful giving of church members, and I want to give you all credit for that and thank you for that.
However, the credit, the praise, the thanksgiving, and the glory really all belong to God, to Him who is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
He is the faithful God who provided the sacrifice that we were able to make for Him. And I believe He did so in response to the faith of those who said, “Let’s move ahead in faith, even in the midst of uncertainty and even though it might seem foolish to the world.”
We’re going to hear first from Connie Schubert, who will tell us about the work this church did with the Coalition Against Poverty in Suffolk.
Thank you, Connie. Providing meals for the homeless is a wonderful act of mercy. God’s command for His people to provide food for the poor goes all the way back to the Old Testament.
But as we hear from Cynthia Harris today about some cows, we will jump into the New Testament, where Jesus told His disciples, “By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Thank you, Cynthia.
As Christians who have been given the gift of eternal life, we are to be people who value life. We demonstrate this through our support of the Crisis Pregnancy Center, but we also found a new way to demonstrate it during 2020.
Jane Chipman will come up now and describe how that looked and the blessing we received through it.
Thank you, Jane.
2020 was a hard year for everybody, but some groups experienced an especially hard time. Recognizing how hard things were for hospital workers, we provided hot meals at Obici Hospital on a couple of occasions, but we also reached out to a number of other groups to brighten their long days.
Tracy Francis will come up now and tell us a little about that ministry.
Thank you, Tracy.
Now, if we had more time, we would talk about our support for missionaries in Africa and Haiti. We would talk about how we have partnered with the Crisis Pregnancy Center.
We would talk about the food giveaways we participated in at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We would talk about the Valentine’s cards that were sent to the residents and staff at Autumn Care Nursing Home. And there were even more outreach ministries that I haven’t mentioned.
One thing you should recognize here is that there are many different opportunities for YOU to get involved in our mercy ministries and our outreach ministries and in evangelism. These projects aren’t just for members of the Missions and Evangelism Committee.
Every one of us who is called by the name of Christ — every one of us that has been saved by God’s grace — is called to speak and act as those who are subject to His law of grace. Every one of us who has followed Jesus Christ in faith is called to show mercy, to express kindness or concern for someone in need.
Now, as we conclude today, I want to take a couple more minutes to cast a vision for you.
Let me start by asking you to look around. There was a time when we could look around here and see only people who looked pretty much like ourselves. But God is doing something amazing here at Liberty Spring Christian Church.
I don’t mean to make my Hispanic brothers and sisters here today uncomfortable, but it cannot be denied that the faces of this church look different than they did even a year ago, and I think this is a beautiful and God-honoring development.
I also think this is not a coincidence. I believe God is bringing new ethnicities into this congregation so that we might more clearly reflect the world that God so loved.
And as I see God painting this congregation with a palette that includes beautiful new shades of color and placing people here for whom English is not their first language, it has occurred to me that He has given us an opportunity to serve a largely unchurched people group right within the borders of our city.
The most recent census figures tell us that there are somewhere around 5,000 residents of Suffolk who identify as Hispanic or Latino. Many of them do not speak English. Many of them do not attend church.
And some of them probably have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ, the message of a Savior who loves them so much that He died for their sins.
In June, we will hold our third drive-in movie. Some of you have attended one or both of the others that we held and were blessed by the experience. We intend to extend that blessing to the non-English speaking Hispanic community in June by showing a movie in Spanish, with English subtitles.
We’ll have a cookout and games, and we have already invited a group of migrant workers temporarily living in Suffolk to join us.
With the help of Boris San Andres, I hope to get that invitation shared at Mexican restaurants and tiendas and anywhere else we might find folks who have been overlooked and marginalized because they do not speak English.
I’m not sure what God will do with this, but what an amazing thing it would be if he used this little, country church near Whaleyville to minister to this group of people right in our own back yard!
The people of Israel were commanded to love and show mercy to the strangers and aliens in their midst. We have been given the same command.
Will this require us to make adjustments to the way we do things? Will it require us to make sacrifices? Certainly, it will. But we serve the God who provided the sacrifice that Abraham made.
And I believe that, if we move ahead in faith, He will provide the sacrifices that we will make. All of our resources come from Him, and they all belong to Him anyway.
Our calling is to honor Him in the way we spend them. And we cannot honor Him better than by loving the people He loves and telling them about Him and about His amazing grace.
This is an exciting time for Liberty Spring Christian Church. I can’t wait to see what God will do here. I can’t wait to see Him glorified in it.