Missional Priority #3: Gospel Mercy (Part 3)

At Gulf Coast Community Church, our mission is to be a faithful Gospel witness for this generation and the next. Our witness for Christ is the sine qua non of our existence, that without which our existence would be meaningless. Our missional priorities are those things essential to a faithful witness. At the heart of the missional priorities, intentionally at the center, is Gospel mercy.

In parts one and two on Gospel mercy, we defined how we are using the word mercy I this context (care for the poor) and looked at how it is essential to true Gospel ministry. We explored its centrality in Jesus’ ministry and Paul’s. In this installment we will see how it was central in the worship and ministry of the church itself.

The Priority of Mercy in the Church’s Worship

At the center of true worship is care for the vulnerable.

James, the brother of the Lord, wrote,

“Religion (worship) that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27 NIV)

Pure and faultless worship: to look after orphans and widows! It reminds me of Isaiah’s description of a true fast, which involves giving our bread to the poor. Orphans and widows are two parts of the repeated trifecta of those to whom God calls his people to show mercy: widows, orphans, and strangers. These were the people most vulnerable to exploitation at that time.

Strangers have little or no legally enforced protections in most societies. Orphans have no protector, so they are taken advantage of. Widows were likewise taken advantage of with little or no power to stop it. You could sum up the three for whom we are repeatedly called to show mercy as “the poor.” (Though, of course, not everyone in those categories is poor.) This doesn’t exclude other reasons people are poor, but these constituted the majority of the poor at that time.

At the center of true worship is care for the vulnerable.

The Priority of Mercy in the Church’s Ministry

The Gospels record “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1), and a big part of what he did was show mercy to the poor. We would expect, then, that what Jesus continues to do through the church in the book of Acts would also place care for the poor as a central priority. We aren’t disappointed. We see this in two summary statements about the church early in Acts.

44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. (Acts 2:44-45 NIV)

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

It is true that Jesus said we would always have the poor among us (Matt. 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8), but here there is a snapshot of the church in its most pristine moment and there are no poor among them. But because of their generosity and obedience to Christ’s ways, there was a snapshot of the future kingdom of Christ in their present in which there were no poor.

In the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), love of being praised tarnished generosity to the poor and threatened to undermine Gospel ministry to the poor. That is immediately followed with a story about how ministry to the poor widows created conflict in the church (Acts 6:1). The apostles’ response doesn’t get rid of ministry to the poor because it causes problems; it prioritizes care for the poor.

The whole ministry was restructured in order that two essentials would have priority: the Ministry of the Word, and the feeding of the poor widows (Acts 6:2-7). And the role of the deacon in the church was born. Going forward the church will have overseers, also called elders, and deacons (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1, 8). Elders are responsible for the ministry of the Word while deacons have responsibility for the monies for the needy in the church.

The apostles’ response doesn’t get rid of ministry to the poor because it causes problems; it prioritizes care for the poor.


While circumcision, dietary restrictions, and special days prescribed in the Law are no longer essential for Gospel ministry, mercy to the poor is (Gal. 2:9-10). The abundant, generous mercy of God to us through Jesus compels generosity from our hearts toward the poor. It was central in Jesus’ ministry, Paul’s ministry, and the whole church’s ministry. When the church has God’s heart, she has compassion on the poor. It’s that simple. It is core to our very existence.


Photo by Dulana Kodithuwakku on Unsplash.

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