November 10, 2015
Preaching to the Choir
It was such a lovely evening, really. The gorgeous wreath on the door greeted me as I walked up the well-swept path, and the glow from the windows invited me to come inside. Delicate coffee cups stood at attention next to the folded linen napkins, waiting for the scrumptious chocolate dessert that would soon be served. The woman seated next to me admired the hand-crocheted doilies underneath the fresh-cut flower centerpiece. The conversation around the table was muted and polite, nice young ladies making small talk with each other.
I had thought that this was going to be a wonderful, relaxing evening, one I had looked forward to for weeks. It had been such a long, long time - years probably, since I had been able to find a babysitter, get away from the responsibilities at home, and make arrangements to attend a ladies Bible study.
I hadn't been there too long, however, before I began to feel
embarrassed and awkward, realizing that I didn’t really have much in common with these nice young ladies. I think most foster and adoptive mothers might feel the same way: How can we be nice, after all, when most days we are warriors, fighting a battle for a child’s health or wholeness or future? 1 Honestly, we don't want someone to invite us to a Bible study. What we really want is someone to come mop our floors or run errands or hold our foster babies while we take a nap. We feel so isolated sometimes, that we long for someone else to understand what it’s like to love the most vulnerable members of our community. 2
We often hear the familiar phrase: Preaching to the Choir. It means, basically, that the nice people in the choir are already doing what they should be doing. That the message isn’t meant for people like them. It is other people, the unregenerate heathens, the ones “out there” who need to hear it. They are the ones who need to change.
But maybe it’s time to reinterpret the meaning of the phrase. Maybe we really do need to start preaching to the choir. After all, Jesus didn’t just preach to people “out there.” He challenged the misconceptions of the religious leaders as well. Those who lived righteous and pious lives. Those who were actively involved in ministry. Jesus had no problem preaching to the choir.
Of course I have nothing against people who sing in church. Or nice ladies who invite other nice ladies to their homes for coffee. Or crocheting doilies in one’s free time. Scripture says that we are all one body with different gifts, and it is beautiful when believers use their God-given abilities to serve the body of Christ. 3
But serving in a ministry, and living a life of ministry are two entirely different things. There is a big difference between being involved in a ministry one hour a week and offering our bodies as a living sacrifice. It’s a lifestyle of sacrifice that is pleasing to God. That is true and proper worship.4
I believe that we, in our western affluent culture, have redefined “ministry,” expanding it to include interests, hobbies, sports, music, social events, and entertainment. Anything we naturally enjoy doing, we call “ministry” so long as we are doing it in the name of Jesus.
It’s true, I admit, that 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” So we can and should enjoy our hobbies and interests. But if that’s all we’re doing, we are missing the point.5 We can, and should, get together with other believers to study God’s Word. But if that’s all we’re doing, we are deceiving ourselves.6
Are we really that far removed? If we live in our nice homes and know lots of nice people and are busy serving in our various ministries, and yet ignore the plight of starving, homeless, exploited children – does that mean that their perilous situation is any less dire? That they are any less hungry? That they are any less lonely?
As we meet together for our Bible studies, how does that impact the struggling single mother who is trying to keep her children from being taken into protective custody? Or the young woman who is selling herself on the streets to support the drug habit she can't conquer? Or the pregnant teenager who is, at this very moment, making an appointment to murder her baby before her Christian parents find out? If, in our desire to serve, we aren’t making a difference in the lives of others, maybe it’s time to re-examine our priorities.
And it’s not just about doing more or adding more ministries or creating more programs. Martha, if you remember, loved to serve. She was a do-er. She evidently had the gift of hospitality, inviting people into her home and caring for their needs. It’s commendable. People do have a need for a warm meal, a place to stay, and a cup of cold water.7 But again, Martha missed the point.
The question we need to be asking ourselves is,
Do we love serving, or do we love Jesus?
Anyone can open their home and demonstrate warm hospitality. My neighbor down the street can donate food or clothing to a family in need. Civic groups can feed the homeless. Members of the LGBT community can adopt a child. It is entirely possible for anyone to meet the physical and even the emotional needs of hurting, desperate, vulnerable people. But their hunger is relieved only temporarily. Their need is satisfied only for a moment. They experience the security of a family only for this brief lifetime.
For those of us who follow Jesus, who love Him and desire to obey Him and please Him, here’s the difference. Here is the point:
It is the gospel that compels us.
When God’s love so completely fills our empty hearts, His love can’t help but overflow onto others. When we understand the incredible sacrifice He made for us, it becomes a joy to sacrifice, to become a living sacrifice, for the needs of others. We are in such awe at the hope and joy and peace He has given us, that we can’t wait to share it with others!
It’s the gospel that changes lives.
The gospel is what helps hurting hearts heal from the past. It’s what gives empty lives meaning and purpose. It’s what offers burdened souls forgiveness and freedom. It’s what gives despairing spirits a reason to hope. It’s the most beautiful, most powerful, most significant, most meaningful gift we have to offer to a person in need. It’s the only thing we have to offer to a person in need.
We do need to study Scripture together. We do need the fellowship and encouragement that comes from having coffee together. From meeting regularly to spur one another on towards love and good deeds.8 But not for our own enjoyment and entertainment. Not just so that we can have another social event. Not so that we can admire one another’s doilies.
The "getting together" part is not ministry. It's what prepares us for ministry. It's the place where we remind each other of why we do what we do. What the choir needs, what all of us need, is a reminder of the gospel. A reminder of the grace that has been poured out on us abundantly (1 Timothy 1:14). The grace that has transformed our lives.
It’s the gospel that opens our eyes.
Once our eyes have been opened to God’s amazing grace, we don’t need someone to encourage us to serve, because we are already eagerly involved. We don’t need anyone to give us a list of ways to make a difference in the life of a foster or adopted child, because we can think of hundreds of ways. It’s not too outrageous to consider fostering or adopting a child ourselves, because it is our joy and honor to do so.
It’s simple really: He loved us . . . and so we love.
Do I dare say this? Why do we need a care ministry, an outreach ministry, an evangelism ministry, an orphan care ministry? When God’s grace and love overflow our hearts and lives, we can’t help but care. We are compelled to reach out. We can’t wait to evangelize. We are passionate about caring for orphans.
Once our eyes have been opened to the amazing gift that Jesus has given us, there is no limit to our desire to share that gift!
Once our eyes have been opened, there is no more need for preaching to the choir.
4. 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
5. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. - Matthew 6:19-21
6. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. – James 1:22
7. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward. – Matthew 10:42
8. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24-25