By Andrew J. Spencer and David W. Jones
Scripture is sufficient to encourage Christians to seek both the temporal good of the world and the eternal salvation of its people. The sufficiency of Scripture provides everything needed for a white-hot pursuit of the Great Commission along with concern for resisting the effects of the fall in the world. There is no conflict in Scripture between seeking the welfare of the city and the salvation of souls. Scripture is sufficient to guide us in righteously doing both.
When Paul went to the Apostles in Jerusalem to ensure he was preaching the gospel correctly, they confirmed that his message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone was both correct and sufficient. But, according to Paul, along with his commission to evangelize Gentiles, “they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” (Galatians 2:10) Paul expands on this ethical imperative later in the letter, writing,
One who is taught by the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. . . . And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6: 6, 9-10)
There is no question about Paul’s credibility as a missionary and evangelist. In addition to his concern for the Great Commission, Paul seems to have a concern for pursuing the material well-being of the people around him. To “do good to everyone” certainly includes seeking their temporal well-being, because doing good to everyone is focused first on those who already have the gospel and thus have their deepest human need met.
God’s Word is sufficient to exhort us to fulfill the Great Commission and work for the common good.
We contend Scripture teaches that we are to pursue both evangelism and the common good. God’s Word is sufficient to exhort us to fulfill the Great Commission and work for the common good.
The good of all creation is woven into Jesus’s own ministry from the very beginning. He came to proclaim the good news—and to be the good news! In one of the earliest accounts of Jesus’s teaching ministry, Luke records that Jesus read a section of Isaiah to the listening synagogue:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:16-19)
Jesus was reading from Isaiah 61:1–2, which is set in the context of an eschatological vision that has yet to be completed. And yet, Jesus himself declares to his first century audience, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). It is based on passages like this that many Christians argue for an “Already, but not yet” understanding of the Kingdom of God; Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom (as the text indicates), but it has not yet been brought to completion.
Scripture is sufficient to explain this tension. For example, the expected future completion of the “restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21) from the effects of sin is proclaimed by Paul in Romans 8, where Paul speaks of the groaning of creation and the eager longing of the whole cosmos for redemption. He writes that “we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (v. 23) The future consummation of the Kingdom is anticipated, and it will arrive by divine, cataclysmic intervention.
And yet, the work that Jesus did while on earth demonstrated that the good news includes resisting and counteracting the effects of the curse in this life. Scripture is sufficient to explain why Jesus, and later his disciples, did miracles that demonstrated the power of God over the physical effects of sin.
With the possible exception of the cursing of the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 20-25), all of Christ’s miracles had a physical, redemptive aspect to them. He fed the hungry, healed the sick and raised the dead. He simultaneously called for repentance from sin and the pursuit of holiness. Jesus obviously did these actions as a unique human, being the perfect image of God. And yet, we are called to walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6). Scripture is sufficient to show that we ought to seek the flourishing of the world around us.
Scripture is sufficient to show that faith without works is deficient. As James notes, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (2:26). These works will certainly include gospel proclamation, but the context of James makes it unquestionably clear that faith in the saving gospel of Christ also compels us to be just in how we live in society (2:15-17). In fact, according to James, an essential characteristic of true religion is both personal holiness and seeking the good of others, particularly those in society most vulnerable to abuse (1:27). The gospel demands belief that turns into action for the good of others.
It is because of the sufficiency of Scripture that many Christians engage in discussions about sexual ethics, because Scripture commands Christians to flee from sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). Christians discuss the nature of poverty and our relationship to wealth because we recognize the siren call of prosperity (1 Timothy 6:10) and the numbing misery of abject poverty, which can tempt people to sin (Proverbs 30:8-9). Environmental ethics is a topic of concern because of the inherent goodness of God’s creation (e.g., Genesis 1:31), the covenant God made with every living creation after the flood (Genesis 9:8-17), the way that creation testifies to God’s character (Psalm 19:1-6), God’s continued involvement in sustaining creation (Psalm 104), and his promised renewal of all of creation (Romans 8:19-22). Scripture condemns partiality (James 2:1-13) and ethnic divisions (Colossians 3:11), so faithful teachers should rightly address racism when they disciple other believers.
Christians are rightly concerned about these topics because Scripture is concerned about these topics. Framing these arguments from the sufficient, inerrant Word of God is a vital role of Christian teachers because the world offers so many counterfeit views that contradict God’s moral law.
After all, Paul reminds Timothy of the sufficiency of Scripture including the expectation of good work being the result of its study: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16). Unless “good work” is interpreted here to mean only preaching and teaching, we must conclude that Scripture is sufficient to guide us toward godliness in our outward actions in this world as we seek to live up to our identity as adopted children of God.
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