Even a casual study of the life of Jesus reveals that He was interested in our response to the social problems we face. Since Jesus walked the earth, the thinking of the world concerning social matters has changed radically. Because of Him, the world witnessed a new reverence for human life and learned something of the dignity and worth of people.
Three out of every five men whom Paul passed on the streets of Rome were slaves. It was Christ’s assertion that every individual has immeasurable value in the sight of God, and it was this message that helped eventually to free the slaves. He said: “Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?” (Matthew 12:12). It was Jesus who taught us that every person is a potential child of God. Rank and social distinction meant nothing to Him. In taking our human nature upon Himself, He showed us what we might become, what God intended us to be.
Because of Jesus, women have been lifted to their present social position. In much of ancient literature, women were regarded as little more than animals. Here is an extract from the “Laws of Manu,” in ancient India: “Day and night woman must be kept in dependence by the males [of] their [families]. … A woman is never fit for independence.”
The coming of Jesus altered all that. He elevated womanhood forever when He was born of Mary. Some of His most faithful followers were women, and He included them among His closest friends, such as Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha.
The coming of Jesus Christ has changed the conduct of much of the world. Christians have given their lives to help their neighbors, to relieve poverty, to care for the sick. Many hospitals, orphanages and institutions for the poor have their origin in Him. The social conscience of man was deepened by Jesus’ coming. The history of the Christian church, with its triumphs and its failures alike, points to the fact that Christ has sensitized the life of the world. He has pointed humanity in a new direction.
Why, then, is the world in such a desperate plight? The answer is because it will not come to Jesus Christ so it may have life. The world has rejected Him. To be sure, part of its conscience is still with Jesus, but not its conduct. Christ can save the world only as He is living in the hearts of men and women.
Jesus walked among the people. He was not afraid to come in contact with them—the best and the worst, the sick and the well, the high and the low. “A leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him. … Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him” (Mark 1:40-41). The dirtiest, the loneliest, the most forsaken person in the world was the leper. Imagine what it must have meant to him for Jesus Christ to reach out and touch him in love and compassion. Probably no human hand had touched him since his disease became evident.
Anyone who cares enough to want to bless the lives of people must somehow “sit where they sit.” If we are going to touch the people of our communities, we must know their sorrows, feel for them in their temptations, stand with them in their heartbreaks. Jesus Christ entered into the arena of our troubles, and He wept with those who wept and rejoiced with those who rejoiced.
Yet here is where the tension in the church becomes acute. What is the church’s primary mission? Is it redemptive or social—or both? When most major Protestant denominations have their annual councils, assemblies or conventions, they make pronouncements on matters having to do with any number of issues, but very rarely are any resolutions passed that have to do with the redemptive witness of the Gospel.
The changing of people is the primary mission of the church, and the only way to change people is to lead them to Jesus Christ. Then they will have the capacity to live up to the Christian command to “Love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:39).
There is no doubt that today we see social injustice everywhere. Looking on our American scene, Jesus would see something even deeper. The great need is for the church to call in the Great Physician, who alone can properly diagnose the case. He will look beneath the mere skin eruptions and pronounce on the cause of it all—sin. If we in the church want a cause to fight, let’s fight sin. Let’s reveal its hideousness. Let’s show that Jeremiah was correct when he said: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). Then, when the center of man’s trouble is dealt with, when this disease is eradicated, then and only then will man live with man as brother with brother.
I believe in taking a stand on the moral, social and spiritual issues of our day. I had not been preaching long before I decided that I would never preach to another segregated audience in any situation over which we had control. This was long before the Supreme Court decision of 1954. I lost many supporters. I had many threatening letters. I was called a radical, a liberal and a Communist. Certain churches no longer would have me in their pulpits. However, I felt this was the Christian position, and I could do no other.
In my Crusades, I have preached on every conceivable social issue. I have used my radio program to preach on every social issue of our day. However, the social issues of our day have not been the main theme of my preaching. My main theme has been the same as that of the early Apostles: “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
To the hungry, Jesus says: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). To the thirsty, He says He will give living water (John 4:10). To the tired, He says; “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). To the guilt-laden person, He says: “Your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). Even to the dead, He says: “I am the resurrection” (John 11:25).
We as Christian citizens have no right to be content with our social order until the principles of Christ are applied to all people. As long as there is one person enslaved, as long as slums and ghettos exit, as long as any person goes to bed hungry at night, as long as the color of a man’s skin is his prison, there must be a divine discontent.
This sounds like a paradox, but it is not. We as Christians have two responsibilities. One, to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only answer to man’s deepest needs. Two, to apply as best we can the principles of Christianity to the conditions around us.
Jesus taught that the Christian is “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). Salt adds zest to food, and it is a preservative. If it were not for the Christian salt, our society would become corrupt. Greed and lust and hate would lead our nation into a veritable hell. Take all the Christians out of America and see what chaos would be created overnight. It is partially because the church has lost its saltiness that we have such appalling moral and social needs now.
He also said: “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). The darkness of our world is getting ever darker. There is only one true light shining, the light of Jesus Christ, which is reflected by those who trust and believe in Him. Jesus Himself had come to shed light so that we might see God through Him. His followers are to shine and to radiate His light. He said: “Let your light … shine before men” (Matthew 5:16).
The problems in our national life are serious, and every Christian has a responsibility. The Christian is a citizen of two worlds. In view of this dual citizenship, we are told in the Scriptures not only to pray for those in political authority but to participate and serve our government. The Christian is the only real light-bearer in the world. Just as there is danger that salt shall lose its saltiness, so there is danger that light may be lost in darkness if it is not tended and given a chance to shine. The lives of the early Christians were their invincible witness. The world may argue against a creed, but it cannot argue against changed lives.
That is what the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ does when it is preached in the power and authority of the Holy Spirit.
Not only do we as Christians follow Christ and learn from Him, but we also must act. The world judges Christians by our life, not by our belief. Our acts are an indication of our faith. The Apostle James said: “Someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18). An evangelist was once asked if he thought the world was growing worse. He replied: “If it is, then I am determined it shall be in spite of me.” We can paraphrase that: “If the world is growing worse, then it will be in spite of the Gospel of Christ and those of us who trust in Him.” ©1965 Billy Graham
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Taken from “World Aflame,” by Billy Graham. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Photo: Russ Busby/©1968 BGEA