Doing good to all

Sermon: Sunday, 24th March, 2024
Speaker: Geoff Murray
Scripture: Acts 9:32-43

1. The importance of Christian family

I think this is an important pitstop to make in a book of the Bible where the majority of time is spent thinking about evangelism. We might think that all the church should be about is evangelism. I’m a church planter, the core team in Leven are church planting; surely evangelism is everything? Well, not entirely. In fact, as Peter went around the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people in Lydda.

There is so much stress on evangelism, and rightly so. If the church is going to grow and thrive, we will be a church which is engaged in evangelism. But spending time with your Christian family is essential. Indeed, in point 7 of our vision statement as a church we want:

To grow closer as a loving church family, through mutual support and practical care.

We want to be a church that reaches the world with the gospel, yes, but we want to be a warm Christian family for people to come into too. As Peter was wearied from his travels, how important it would be for this time of refreshment to be with God’s people again. Whilst we must never use the church as a comfort blanket to avoid spending time with non-Christians, it is important that when we spend so much time with non-Christians that it is good for our spiritual health to spend time with other Christians.

2. The importance of Christian witness

Now I use Christian witness and not evangelism because there’s no preaching in this section, Peter isn’t preaching a sermon to a group, or an Ethiopian Eunuch moment to an individual. What we see here is Christians caring about the good and needs of others and helping.

Before I embark on this heading, I still believe in the priority of gospel proclamation. Our mission given to us by the Lord Jesus is not to alleviate poverty or to open up foodbanks; it is to make disciples. Those things aren’t bad, and it’s not to say churches can’t be or shouldn’t be involved in any of those things. It is to say that the priority in the churches mission isn’t social action it’s gospel proclamation.

There’s a saying ‘Preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words. Whilst I appreciate the sentiment, the saying is unhelpful. First of all, the only way to preach is to use words and second of all, it can sometimes mean that no evangelism is happening at all.

Now, with all that aside, I’m going to speak of the importance of Christian witness, that is; doing good, serving the needy, caring for the outcast in the name of Jesus as a way to point others to him. To steal a phrase from John Piper, ‘Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.’

As Christians, we’re to care about the suffering and plight of others and do what we can to care for and support those who suffer. But we are to care especially for eternal suffering. The sobering reality that we’re not all just going to go to a party in the sky where we’re all reunited with loved ones and all going to have a good time. Apart from Christ, there is no party in heaven. Apart from Christ, is quite the opposite. If our faith isn’t in him alone for eternal life, it won’t be eternal joy but eternal suffering. That’s why we care especially about eternal suffering because it’s a reality and that’s why we prioritise gospel proclamation. However, we still do care for suffering in this life.

And these guys didn’t do this because it’s a nice thing to do, nor did they see it as an optional extra for those who were particularly benevolent and kind, they saw it as an essential outworking of the gospel. Not only do we have the example of Christians in the past caring for the needy and broken, we see it in this passage here today.

We see two people in this passage who serve the needy and care for the poor; Peter and Tabitha.
In Peter’s case, they are both miracles. One is to heal someone who can’t walk and the other is to raise someone from the dead. What are we to make of the miracles?

You might be sceptical about miracles ever happening, you might be on the opposite end of the spectrum and believe miracles happen today and in the same way as they did in the days of the Apostles. Whatever end of the spectrum we land on what is clear is the action of alleviating suffering.

Now, what are we to make of these two miraculous stories with this story of caring for the poor and needy in the middle? It is to say that one of the roles of Christians today is to do good and to serve the needy around them.

It’s why there is such a thing as Christians Against Poverty, it’s why there is such a thing as Bethany Christian Trust, it’s why there is such a thing as Blytheswood Care, it’s why there’s such a thing as Safe Families for Children, it’s why there’s such a thing as Christian Aid.

It’s why in the 1st century when babies with disabilities were abandoned by their parents, it was very often Christians who took in those babies and raised them as their own. It’s why in the 21st century Christians host foodbanks and soup kitchens.

Christians are to care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.

‘So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.’ (Galatians 6:10)

Are there those in need around you? Of course there are. In the church? Outside of the church? What needs are there today?

Lonliness and isolation : In 2022, just shy of 50% of people in the UK said they feel lonely occasionally, sometimes or always. Nearly 10% experience constant loneliness. Going by that one in two of you will be experiencing loneliness right now. Going by that 1 in 2 on your street will be experiencing loneliness right now. Going by that 1 in 2 at your workplace will be experiencing loneliness right now

Is there someone who lives on their own or you know to be isolated who you can get to know and spend a bit of time with and support that way. Friendship, what a beautiful way to support someone and care for them.

Poverty : Of course, there’s massive amounts of poverty in this country, in this area, in your street. Some of you may know or not know, we have a small crate in the kitchen that we fill up to take to the foodbank in Kirkcaldy. Maybe in your next food shop you can buy a couple of tinned foods or a jar of instant coffee or a bag of porridge to give to that.

Perhaps you can even serve in our cafe either through baking or through serving on the day if you don’t already. There there are many people who face isolation, mental ill-health or poverty. It could be a great way for you to serve and to care for the needy.

In our Christian tradition to which we belong, we rightly uphold the priority of gospel proclamation, we rightly uphold that people need to come to know Jesus Christ for themselves, we rightly see that the church is not a social enterprise nor does it exist only to care for the needy. However, this mustn’t be a smokescreen to avoid caring for the needy and the poor at all. The priority of the gospel is preaching, is conversion, is folks coming to know Jesus, but the plain outworking of this is good works to the needy.

Could you say that care for the poor and needy, concern for the suffering of others is the clear outworking of the gospel in your life or is it instead of apathy, indifference and inaction?

Friends, God has been so incredibly generous to us in our neediness, in our weakness, in our spiritual poverty. Now he has saved us, now he has cared for us, let us be people zealous in good works to care for, support and love people who are in suffering and in need for the sake of Christ here in Kirkcaldy.

3. The importance of Christian belief

In the coming months, teenagers will sit their exams at school and, if they study hard and work hard at revision, it’s likely to produce good results. If they don’t study or work hard at revision, it’s likely to produce poor results. We have seen healing miracles, we have seen resurrection miracles, but what do they produce? They produce belief.

‘All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw Aenaeus and turned to the Lord.’ (Acts 9:35)

Then again in verse 42 after the resurrection of Tabitha from the dead, ‘This became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.’

It’s amazing to see that end, that as a result of these miracles many believe in the Lord. And that’s what we long for as we serve the needy as we live lives of good works as we seek to show kindness to all, that many will believe.

What I don’t mean is that’s why we do it. We aren’t to do these things so that people will be converted but rather in the hope that people will be converted.

In verse 42 as many believed in the Lord, was what Peter did a waste of time because not everyone believed? Absolutely not. People are not projects.

We don’t do these things so that they become Christians, we do these things in the hope that many will become Christians.

‘In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’ (Matthew 5:16)

That as we live our lives that many may look on and glorify God. That people would look on at our care for the needy and say “do you know what? There’s got to be something in this if they’re willing to do this.”

We do what we do so that people may take notice, not of us but of God. Why? Because Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.

I want to take you for a moment to John chapter 5. Jesus heals a man who was paralysed, had been for 38 years. He heals him and then he drops this absolute bomb: ‘Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’ (John 5:14)

I remember the first time reading that thinking, ‘That’s a bit harsh.’ Thinking of how threatening it all seemed as if Jesus was saying, ‘Don’t sin otherwise I’m going to get you in an even worse way!’

But, of course, that’s not what Jesus is saying that, ‘If you sin again I’ll make you paralysed and blind and deaf!’ Jesus is talking about hell. He’s saying, ‘It’s all well and good you’re healed, but follow me because if you don’t something much worse than being paralysed is heading your way – eternal punishment in hell.’

I think, in that story, is the realisation people can be cared for, the needy and poor served, the lonely befriended but if they never come to know the Lord for themself they can have all their earthly needs met but they will be separated from Christ forever. It also shows our priority that, as we care for the needy, as we do good to all, we do it willingly and gladly for the sake of Christ, but how we long for many to flock to God and find lasting hope, peace and joy in him.

So, as you go out and do good to the glory of God, in the words of Peter the Apostle who performed these miracles, always be ready to give a reason for the hope you have that many might not simply have their lives improved, but their eternity secure.

You never know the impact that your actions can have on someone. Especially cause in Scotland we don’t tend to share about those kinds of things. Someone very dear to me who is not a Christian, it took them nearly 5 years to say to me what an impact it made on him to see my wife and I supported from Cornerstone, our church when we were in Edinburgh at the time that our eldest son Ally was born.

So persevere in doing good, be ready to give an answer for the hope you have that many may find their eternal joy in Christ.