I’ve sometimes wondered why Jesus spent so much time doing ‘good works’—caring for the poor, healing, etc.—as well as preaching the gospel. It’s not that I’m against good works—I like a good work as much as the next guy! It’s just that it doesn’t seem to quite ‘fit’ what Jesus was about. Jesus is crystal clear that the biggest problem humans face is sin and the consequences of that, death and hell. Why then, during His earthly ministry, does He spend so much time on what could be seen as the theological ‘detour’ of good works?
The answer is that Jesus came not just to deal with sin but its effects, which include suffering. Jesus deals with sin because it is an absolute affront to the holiness of God. But He also deals with sin because it is the root cause of suffering, and suffering frustrates the purposes of God for His creation. God made us to enjoy Himself. The Shorter Westminster Catechism puts it this way, in its first question: ‘What is the chief end of man?’ ‘To glorify God and enjoy him forever.’ But when we sin, we not only offend a holy God, we also bring judgement and suffering upon ourselves, and thus frustrate God’s purpose for us: enjoying Him. God wants to reverse both results: the affront to His holiness, and the stifling of our joy in that holiness.
That is why Jesus both preaches the gospel and cares for the poor and sick. He is not only dealing with the problem of sin but also its effects. And therefore, we are to do the same. One of the ways we can do that at Trinity City is by supporting our good works ministry: City Light. There are multiple opportunities to partner together in this ministry. It’s exciting work, and I commend it to you.
Does this mean we should prioritise good works over gospel proclamation? Of course not. As John Piper puts it, ‘Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.’ The key word here is ‘especially.’ We don’t want anyone to suffer the eternal sufferings of hell, and so we prioritise the work of evangelism. But we will still not be unmoved by suffering now, so will do all we can to stop it now. Believers care especially about eternal suffering, but also about all suffering. Hence evangelism. And hence good works.