Missional Priority #3: Gospel Mercy (Part 1)
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 our missional priorities, intentionally at the center, is Gospel mercy.
Mercy is a non-negotiable of Gospel ministry for the Church (I capitalize Church because I mean the whole church). What is mercy? In Latin, misericordia, according to its original literal sense, means to have one’s heart (cor) with the poor (miseri). In other words, to have a heart for the poor.
In Latin one can transparently see misery. The poor are those in misery. This sense is captured in our word compassion, or sympathy, as both have suffering (passion/pathos) in them. Mercy and compassion involve suffering with. Gospel mercy calls us into the suffering of Christ for the poor.
At the heart of our missional priorities, intentionally at the center, is Gospel mercy.
The Necessity of Mercy in Gospel Ministry
9 James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along. (Galatians 2:9-10 NIV)
Putting these verses in context, Paul tells the Galatian churches that circumcision, dietary restrictions, and special days were not essential. Though prescribed in the Law, they were, so to speak, negotiated right out by the cross. They were no longer necessary for participation in the Messianic kingdom. There is, however, one thing that is non-negotiable in Christ’s kingdom: remembering the poor. He and Barnabas agreed with Peter, James, and John that, literally, “only we must be remembering the poor.”
Remembering the poor does not mean simply calling them to mind. When God remembered his people, it always resulted in His acting on their behalf. Remembering the poor means to act on their behalf.
Paul himself demonstrates this priority of the poor in Gospel ministry. Both in Acts and in many of his letters Paul talks about the offering he is collecting for the poor saints in Jerusalem. This text in Galatians implies that if we do not remember the poor, we have placed ourselves outside the realm of Gospel ministry. This continues the pattern of Christ and Gospel ministry began with him.
If we do not remember the poor, we have placed ourselves outside the realm of Gospel 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.
While circumcision, dietary restrictions, and special days prescribed in the Law are no longer essential for Gospel ministry, mercy to the poor is. It was central in Paul’s ministry as the Galatians text makes clear, and, as we will see in part two, it has priority in Jesus’ ministry.
Click here for part 2.