A woman named April Stringfield and her thirteen-year-old son moved into their new home in Virginia just in time for the holidays. Here’s why this is news: her twelve-hundred-square-foot house is Habitat for Humanity’s first 3D-printed home in the US. The technology allowed the home to be built in just twelve hours. It comes with a personal 3D printer that will allow her to reprint anything she might need, from electric outlets to trim to cabinet knobs.
However, the CNN article nowhere mentions that Habitat for Humanity’s mission is “to put God’s love into action” or that the first of its principles is to “demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ.”
After the December 10 tornado outbreak, Samaritan’s Purse served a hot, free meal to over fifteen hundred people in Mayfield, Kentucky. South Garland Baptist Church in the Dallas area partnered with Texas Baptist Men to deliver supplies enabling a Hispanic Baptist pastor in Mayfield to minister to his community. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams brought help to victims in six states.
A church in Massachusetts recently donated two hundred backpacks filled with various supplies and Bibles to two police departments, partnering with them to aid the local homeless population. Kidnapped missionaries in Haiti recently escaped and then forgave their captors.
Why is altruism so appealing?
Yesterday we focused on the fact that our secularized culture insists on relativistic “tolerance” and increasingly considers biblical morality to be outdated and irrelevant, if not dangerous. I then promised to “identify some practical ways to champion biblical truth.”
My first response is to follow the example of the believers we’ve read about today. When Christians do good for the world, the world takes notice for at least three reasons.
One could be called the thanksgiving factor: when people help us, we are attracted to them in gratitude for their service. When doctors saved our son from cancer some years ago, we were only too glad to pay their bill. When Cuban Christians prayed for our son during his surgery, I could not wait to speak with their pastor to thank them.
A second explanation could be called the curiosity factor: when people help us in ways we do not expect and cannot explain, we want to know why. For example, I will never forget meeting with village imams in Bangladesh some years ago; one of them asked me why the ministry with whom we were partnering was serving their people in ways their government and even their mosques were not. I have never had a greater opportunity to share the gospel than I was given that evening.
A third explanation is the credibility factor: when altruism is part of our “brand promise,” it elevates our larger message and mission. Selfless generosity is not endemic to the secular materialism of our culture, but it is intrinsic to a faith claiming that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. When we know the needs of others and meet them effectively out of sacrificial generosity, we imitate the One who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
But there’s a catch
I often repeat the biblical directive to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT). If Satan cannot lead us to neglect both, he’ll tempt us to choose one over the other.
In recent generations, many “liberal” churches and denominations—influenced by relativism’s denial of biblical absolutes—have emphasized social service to the detriment of clear biblical proclamation and personal evangelism. In response, many “conservative” churches and denominations have emphasized biblical proclamation and personal evangelism to the detriment of social service.
Years ago, a dear friend quoted Jesus’ call to give others “a cup of water in my name” (Mark 9:41 NIV) and remarked that we often focus on the water or the name, but seldom both.
How can we do both? Let’s consider three “resolutions” as ways to end this year and begin the next.
One: Be winsomely gracious.
Desmond Tutu, the subject of yesterday’s Daily Article, was especially known for his humble spirit and quick humor. In this he emulated his Lord who taught us to “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35). Jesus’ beloved disciple added, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
Even when we must ask hard questions or deliver hard truth, let us do so with the humility that remembers our mutual humanity and shared need for grace. A wise pastor once advised, “Never preach on hell without a tear in your eye.” We are truly beggars helping beggars find bread.
Two: Be positively altruistic.
In How God Works: The Science Behind the Benefits of Religion, psychologist David DeSteno documents a startling list of benefits accruing to those who practice their religion with sincerity and commitment, including improved physical and mental health, enhanced ethical behavior, transformative community, and overall happiness. His research demonstrates what Christians have long known: biblical morality is the best way for every human being to live.
Because God is indeed all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving, his will can only be for our good. Never forget that the gospel is literally “good news.” When you declare and defend biblical truth, you are giving the world the gift it needs most.
Three: Be sacrificially courageous.
In Man’s Search for Himself, psychologist Rollo May writes, “The opposite to courage is not cowardice: that, rather, is the lack of courage. . . . The opposite to courage, as one endeavors to understand the problem in our particular age, is automaton conformity.”
The philosopher David Hume listed “willingness to undergo severe loss if proven wrong” among the criteria he demanded of those who claim to have witnessed the miraculous. He’s right: if we are unwilling to pay a price for our convictions out of conformity to the culture, others have the right to question the veracity of our faith.
The reverse is also true, however: when we serve Christ and others with sacrificial courage, even our enemies are forced to acknowledge the sincerity of our faith and are attracted to its transformative power. In this way, God providentially reframes opposition to the church as an opportunity for the gospel.
To whom will you give a cup of water in Jesus’ name today?
NOTE: We live in a culture that seeks to silence us more and more, so it’s more important than ever that Christians are able to discern the news differently. That’s why Denison Forum has set a $2 million year-end goal — and why we’re asking friends like you to help reach it by Friday, December 31. So please don’t delay. Help more people live out their faith with your tax-deductible gift today.