Read what the Bible has to say
- Is outreach Biblical?
- Isn’t outreach a matter for individuals rather than organized groups?
- Doesn’t public outreach go against Jesus’ command not to let others see us doing good?
- What do I do if I want to get involved in outreach, but some in my ecclesia don’t?
- Doesn’t outreach work contradict the command that we should be separate from the world?
- What are some Bible verses that talk about outreach?
Quick answers about outreach and the Bible.
- Outreach is an act of worship, which need not be justified by direct preaching, though it often does lead to conversations about our hope in Jesus
- Our neighbor is anyone we might meet – even our enemies
- We can worship (reach out) together or as individuals
- Outreach is: serving, encouraging, giving and showing mercy (Romans 12), just as the Good Samaritan showed “mercy” to the man who was beaten, stripped, robbed and left for dead (Luke 10)
- Outreach is a different act of worship, or spiritual sacrifice, from preaching and teaching, but equally as valid
- There is one body, we have all been given different abilities. We need to encourage and support those who are able to reach-out, just as we support our speakers, preachers and teachers.
- Our motives in reaching-out must be sincere – and not to be deliberately seen by others so that we can massage our own egos (Matthew 6)
- If there are differing views on outreach as an ecclesial activity, rather than arguing, we need to submit to one another in love, and find a “win-win” solution.
Is outreach Biblical?
If we want to obey Jesus’ fundamental command to “do to others what you would have them do to you” we have to reach out to those around us.
Romans 12 is a key passage in thinking about the strong scriptural foundations for The Garden’s type of outreach work. We read: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1, NIV).
Notice that offering our bodies, or our lives, is our true and proper “worship”. The Greek word for worship (translated as “service” in the KJV) is “latreia” defined as “the service or worship of God according to the requirements of the Levitical law”. In Romans 9:4, the same word is used of temple worship. This is a word which should make us stop and think. Surely, we are no longer under the Levitical law? Surely, God would not expect the believers in the first century to keep the ceremonial laws and temple rituals? Obviously not.
So why use that particular word for worship? Paul, through the spirit, goes on to explain what our true and proper worship now entails in our Lord Jesus : “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully…” (Romans 12:4-8, NLT).
It is vital that we grasp Paul’s argument here if we are to wholeheartedly embrace outreach as an important spiritual sacrifice in our worship as individuals and as a community. We all have different skills. We are not all able to preach or teach from the platform. But many of us have the ability to worship by:
- Serving (v7);
- Encouraging (v8);
- Giving generously (or sincerely) (v8), and
- Showing mercy (v8).
Outreach projects allow us to worship as a community in that, together, we can: “give generously” and “show mercy” to those at “our gates” who, like Lazarus the homeless beggar, have absolutely nothing (Luke 16:20). It is an opportunity to “do good to all people” whilst not forgetting our greater responsibility to those who “belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10).
Other passages which support Paul’s words in Romans 12, that outreach is worship, or a spiritual sacrifice, and different from direct preaching, are Isaiah 58 and James 2. Isaiah talks of what the Jews of his time saw as worship: to fast and to keep the Sabbath day. Yet whilst they were fasting, they were doing what they wanted, rather than what God wanted, and mistreating the poor in exploiting their workers (58:3). The type of fast, or worship, that God was looking for is explained in verse 7. He wanted his people to: “Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help” (NLT).
On this basis, as part of their worship, some ecclesias have started to collect food on Sundays to drop off at the local food bank. Others are collecting clothes for Jewish relief. These acts do not detract from our exhorting, preaching and caring for our brothers and sisters, but rather are part of the whole gamut of “faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6) which is pleasing to our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus.
James underscores this point: “Religion 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). Again, the Greek word for religion here is: “threskeia” which is defined as “religious worship, especially external, that which consists of ceremonies”. For the Jews, this word would perhaps have reminded them of their ceremonial worship under the law – animal sacrifices, tithing, offerings and perhaps of the legalistic practices that had been mistakenly built up around this system.
James calls us away from this kind of ritualistic worship. Now we are to worship in a different way, a practical way of “faith expressing itself through love”, by looking after the orphans and widows in their difficulties. This kind of worship means that we have to get up out of our seats, leave the comfort zone of our ecclesial halls, and reach out.
Isn’t outreach a matter for individuals rather than organized groups?
Where is the precedent set by the apostles for helping non-believers as an ecclesia?
Some might agree that helping others is an act of worship, or service, but that the service should be kept for strengthening the body of believers, or that we should only help those outside of the faith as an individual and not an organised group. Where is the precedent set by the apostles for helping non-believers as an ecclesia? Good question.
A similar list to that in Romans 12, of the practical jobs of different people, is found in 1 Corinthians 12:27-28: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church:
- first of all apostles,
- second prophets,
- third teachers,
- then miracles,
- then gifts of healing,
- of helping,
- of guidance, and
- of different kinds of tongues.”
Whilst these appear to have been spirit gifts, they can also be natural talents that God has given us. Note that precedence is rightly given to preaching and apostleship, but some members have the gift of helping. These gifts weren’t just to be kept within the body – obviously apostles preached to unbelievers and performed miracles and healing to confirm that their message was from God. Can we really argue that “helping” has to be confined to the body? Would we argue that we could preach together on campaigns and as organised groups, but could only help unbelievers as individuals?
It is clear that Jesus and the apostles were first and foremost to preach, teach and heal. Yet, they clearly made organised provision for the poor as a group of believers (Matthew 26:9, John 13:29). We discover this almost by accident, as the record focuses on their skills set and God-given preaching mission.
God has given some people skills to perform different acts of worship in caring for the needy. It is so much more enjoyable and uplifting to do this work together: to preach together, to look after the household of faith together, and to do good to all people – together.
Doesn’t public outreach go against Jesus’ command not to let others see us doing good?
Jesus didn’t say: “Don’t do your good deeds publicly.” He actually said: “Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others.”
He was talking about our motives – not whether we are physically seen doing good.
In all these things our motives are so important. We want to show love to all, regardless of race, class, gender and lifestyle, because that is what our Father does: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that… But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6: 32-36).
As Matthew says, “God provides for the just and unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45). So should we.
But isn’t this type of outreach, for example in publicly giving sleeping bags to those sleeping on the streets, going against the Lord’s commands? He clearly instructs us: “‘Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. ‘So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you’” (Matthew 6:1-4).
Firstly, it should be noted that, in Matthew 6, Jesus is addressing his hearers as individuals: “you” in verses 1 to 4 is singular, not plural. So this is not talking about how we give as a group of believers, or an organisation. By contrast, as a group we are commanded to: “Let your [you plural] light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Secondly, and more importantly, the motive of our outreach is not to gain praise of others (Matthew 6:5) but simply to worship and to be like our master: “Our motives should be the compassion that the Lord Jesus showed, and we should be willing to do what good we can, irrespective of whether others will see what we have done. Then, if it should happen that others see our good works, it should be our Father in heaven who will be glorified, not us as individuals, not CBM, not even the Christadelphian community” ( “Preaching and Welfare”, The Christadelphian, September 2012, Andrew J Walker)
Just like the widow who publicly cast her two mites into the temple treasury, the Lord’s teaching here is about our motives – not necessarily whether we will be physically seen or not: “Observe that the Lord Jesus did not say, ‘Take heed that ye do not your alms before men.’ Such a command, if not impossible to carry out, severely limits the field in which almsgiving may be practised, and limits it in directions in which it is most desirable that it should be practised. There are many works of righteousness which must of necessity appear before men, for the simple reason that men are the subjects of them. No; Christ said, ‘Take heed that ye do not your alms before men to be seen of them.’ In other words, do not practise the giving of alms merely to be seen of men as these ostentatious hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets. That is the whole point of the lesson. Whether men see our works of righteousness or not, should be of no importance to us. Our motive should be as far removed as possible from worldliness in this feeble imperfect state, and that man is happy who can, without shame and without privacy, cast his pence into the Treasury (as did the widow woman), knowing that his sacrifice is acceptable to God” (“On Almsgiving”, The Christadelphian, volume 54, 1917 (electronic ed.), 170–171, E.W. Newman).
On reading about other examples in the New Testament, such as Barnabas, Cornelius and Dorcas, it is evident that sincere brothers and sisters were known for their good deeds – it was their motive in not doing good to be “seen” by others that was the important thing. Indeed, the widows had to be known for good deeds: “No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds” (1 Timothy 5:9-10).
If we are noticed doing good, we should not become proud or show off as the hypocrites did in Jesus’ day. Our service should be kept between ourselves and our Lord.
What do I do if I want to get involved in outreach, but some in my ecclesia don’t?
Pray about it and talk to people about their concerns. God can move mountains.
In our community, there are differing views as to whether brothers and sisters should be involved in this kind of work, as per the bullets below:
- We should only help those inside and outside of the faith as an individual. It is wrong for ecclesias to be involved in organised outreach in their local communities, or to have visiting rosters to help those within our community;
- We should only help those outside of the faith as an individual, but can help brothers and sisters as an organised group, e.g. visiting rotas. Has no problem with others being involved in communal, organised outreach according to the individual’s conscience.
- We should help everyone according to opportunity – both inside and outside of the Christadelphian community – either as an individual or in an organised group.
- We should help those inside and outside of the faith as an individual and as an ecclesia. It is wrong for ecclesias not to be involved in organised outreach in their local communities.
First of all pray about it! God can move mountains. If you have the above mix of opinions in your ecclesia, it is hoped that you can discuss matters together in a spirit of love, rather than “quarreling over disputable matters” (Romans 14:1). It is hoped we can all “submit to one another in love” and move to more central ground – moving from the views 1 and 4 to views 2 and 3. If we take an extreme view, we cannot, and should not, force our opinions on others. It is hoped that if enough members of an ecclesia want to conduct an outreach project together from the hall, that they would not pressurize people to join in, when it is against their conscience. Equally, one would hope that individuals would not prevent or discourage a group in their ecclesia from participating in an outreach project, and allow use of the meeting room if necessary.
It might be that everyone would be happy with a project that had a spiritual element to it – for example a community toddler group, with a time for a Bible Story and some songs. Try to find a win-win solution.
Another idea is just to find some kindred spirits in your ecclesia and get on with some outreach work with them, you don’t need to make this an official ecclesial activity. For example, you could get a small group together and volunteer to serve a meal at a soup kitchen, or make lots of PBJ sandwiches for a homeless charity to distribute – or even distribute them yourselves if it’s safe to do so.
Remember, you can always apply for a grant from us if you’d like to start your own outreach initiative.
Doesn’t outreach work contradict the command that we should be separate from the world?
“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27 Darby Translation).
Firstly, we need to consider what the Bible teaches about separation, and how our Lord Jesus Christ has shown us the way in this matter.
Is separation simply about being different from other churches in our practices? If so, we would have to stop breaking bread, singing, praying, reading from the Bible etc. because other churches do all of these things. Being different just to be different is not true separation.
Biblically speaking, separation is not a virtue in itself, but it is intended to:
- Divide – Protect the faith of oneself and others from damaging outside influences – divide ourselves from the world (Leviticus 20: 24-26, 2 Corinthians 6: 14 – 18)
- Dedicate – Bring one closer to God – dedicate ourselves to God like a Nazirite (Numbers 6:1-12)
There are also forms of separation which are condemned. For example:
- When Peter separated himself from Gentile believers because Jews do not eat with the uncircumcised – he feared guilt by association and the wrath of the Judaisers (Galatians 2:12);
- Diotrephes, who was expelling anyone from the ecclesia who didn’t share his views (3 John 8-10);
- The Pharisees who refused to eat with “sinners” or to fellowship with anyone not of their sect for fear of guilt by association and being made “unclean” (Matthew 9:9-13).
And so, when we think about how and why we should be separate – we need to be sure it is for the right reasons. Our Lord was separate in his thoughts, words, teaching and actions. This was not a physical separation – as he reached out to all people, regardless of class, race and gender – eating and talking with prostitutes, tax collectors, Samaritans and sinners, in order to show them that God’s grace was open to all. He was separate in that he was dedicated to God and rejected – or divided himself from – the practices and teachings of the Pharisees. Though he still spoke and ate with Pharisees – he did not physically separate from them (Luke 7, Matthew 16:12, Matthew 23).
The Pharisees mistakenly concluded that as the Lord mixed and fellowshipped with such people (“the world and those who had false beliefs”) then he was condoning and commending their life-styes and beliefs – which he patently was not! (Matthew 9:9-13). What our Lord was showing was that our Heavenly Father shows his grace and mercy to all people, and provides for their needs, regardless of whether they believed in him, or worshipped him: “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5, ESV).
And again, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35).
Again, in the Lord’s parable of the Good Samaritan, our master deliberately represents the Samaritan as the hero – one deemed by the Jews to worship God in a false manner. Yet, we are told to show mercy to others – just as he did (Luke 10:37). Was Jesus commending the Samaritans and condoning their false beliefs? Not at all. Was he challenging our beliefs in limiting those whom we perceive to be our neighbours? Definitely.
From these passages, we make the following points about what separation is not and what it actually is. Separation is not:
- avoiding unbelievers,
- refusing to socialise with “sinners” or those with different beliefs,
- refusing to share food, clothing and support with unbelievers,
On the contrary, separation is:
- being perfect as our Father is perfect, which means providing for the poor (just and unjust alike), and
- showing “mercy” (Luke 10:37) to those who need our help.
And so, if there is a need in our cities to provide shelter for the homeless and a system is already set up whereby we can use our halls for this purpose – by joining a rota established by different churches – we are neither saying that we believe the same things nor that it does not matter what we believe. What we are saying is that we believe that God commands us to shelter the homeless: “I want you to share your food with the hungry and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people. When you see someone naked, clothe him! Don’t turn your back on your own flesh and blood!” (Isaiah 58:7). This is not uniting with other churches in false doctrine – it is obeying the Lord’s command that: “In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
In this way, we are actually being separate as we are dedicating these acts of service to God. We are fulfilling the type of work we are commanded to do: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27 Darby Translation). It seems that there could be a direct connection here between visiting “orphans and widows” in order to keep ourselves “unspotted from the world”. And so the work of outreach is actually a practical way in which we separate – or dedicate – ourselves to God in acts of service and worship.
What are some Bible verses that talk about outreach?
These verses are just the tip of a very large iceberg.
- “Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him; the LORD protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.” Psalm 41:1-2, ESV
- “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.” Proverbs 19:17, ESV
- “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” Proverbs 28:7, ESV
- “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:19, ESV
- “A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.” Proverbs 29:7, ESV
- “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.” Proverbs 14:21, ESV
- “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” Proverbs 21:13, ESV
- “Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.” Proverbs 22:9, ESV
- “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6(NIV)
- “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35(NKJV)
- “You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy…” Deuteronomy 15:11(NKJV)
- “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philipians 2:4 (ESV)
- …whoever is kind to the needy honours God.” Proverbs 14:31(NIV)
- “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, generous and willing to share.” 1 Timothy 6:18 (NIV)
- “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none…” Luke 3:11(NIV)
- “Anyone who has food, share it with those who are hungry”Luke 3:11(NLT)
- “…I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”Matthew 25:36 (RSV)
- “…weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15
- “God is able to bless you abundantly…so that you will abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NIV)
- “Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness…” Isaiah 58:10 (NLT)
- “Love one another with brotherly affection.” Romans 12:10 (ESV)
- “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” Hebrews 13:16 (NRSV)
- “…care for orphans and widows in their distress…”James 1:27 (NRSV)
- “Sell your possessions and give to those in need…” Luke 12:33 (NLT)