Proverbs 11:10 says, “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.” Who are the righteous, and what does it look like for them to prosper? The “righteous” are Christians, the just, the people who follow God’s heart. They “prosper” when they steward everything God has given them to bless the Body, bless God and bless their neighbor. They do this for the common good, for the advancement of shalom.
What does it look like for a city to rejoice, then? Well, I think it looks a lot like the Kentucky community where Southland Christian Church is located. Under the leadership of Pastor Jon Weece, Southland is reaching into their city and changing it in big ways. Here are just a few of the ministries the church has founded or is involved in:
- A “Dollar Club” that collects $12,000 one dollar bills every week, and then gives that money someone in need.
- Free medical clinics throughout the city, providing primary care for 3,500 people who can’t afford a doctor.
- A school lunch program
- A community garden
- Tutoring for local students
- Prison care ministry for inmates
- A garage to provide cheap auto care
I can’t imagine a clearer picture of a city who is rejoicing because the Body of Christ, the “righteous,” is committed to blessing their neighbors. If Southland were to suddenly vanish from central Kentucky, no doubt their absence would be a tremendous blow to the thousands who are supported by them.
Sadly, according to this trending Relevant article, Southland’s focus on service is not without controversy. As the article puts it, “Critics have a name for Weece’s brand of ministry: social gospel… heavily criticized by the likes of Dwight Moody, who believed the Church’s mission on earth was a particularly spiritual one.” In other words, critics of these heavily social-service oriented churches are concerned that they are so focused on meeting physical needs that they lose sight of our important mission to share the good news of the gospel with our neighbors.
As it is with many such tensions, a balancing act is necessary. Meeting people’s physical needs does not negate their need for spiritual development, and vice-versa. So how does Pastor Weece respond to his critics?
“The most common pushback was, ‘What about me?” Weece explained. “What about my family? What are you going to do for us?’” he says. “It was a very consumeristic mindset. It’s, you know, ‘What can you do for me?’ as opposed to ‘What can I do for the Kingdom? What can I do to enhance what Jesus is doing in the city?’”
“Two things happen when we express love to someone in need,” he continues. “The person we love is more open to the love of Jesus and so are the people who watch us love the person in need. Our expressions of love come with a ‘so that’ attached to them. We love people so that they will understand the love of Jesus.”
When Billy Graham, one of the great Christian evangelists of our age, was asked “do you believe in the social gospel?” He replied, “Of course I do. I believe that there is a social involvement incumbent and commanded in the Scripture. Look at our Lord. He touched the leper. Can you imagine what that touch meant to that leper, ostracized forever, until his death, who had to cry constantly, "Unclean! Unclean!" Yet, Jesus touched him. Jesus was teaching by example as well as precept that we have a responsibility to the oppressed, the sick, the poor (Luke 4:18-19). When I think of the starving millions, I can hardly eat my food. This year alone, in Ethiopia, one hundred thousand people will die of thirst -- not hunger -- just thirst. They can't get even water, let alone food. And that's only one part of the world.”
Graham goes on to say, “Never forget, the church goes into the world with an extra dimension in its social concern. We go in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We reach out to meet needs and give, but we must always say, "Given in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." That is our motivation. And we can often use that means as a vehicle that they can see Christ in us. Therefore, it never becomes mere humanitarianism. We give because God gave.”
Proverbs 11:10 gives us a foretaste of what the Kingdom of God will one day be like. When Christ returns, we will all be a collectively prospering, rejoicing city. Revelation 21 tells us that Jesus will live with us, center square, in the city of God. But for now, that means Christians should see themselves as offering foretastes of that coming kingdom to our neighbors near and far. When we give ourselves, our gifts, our work, our money, our resources, our social positions, when we give all we have out of an overflow of love for our God and for our neighbor, the curse is pushed back and the virtues of the Kingdom are pushed in. When that happens, then the whole city rejoices with abandon.
Author’s Note: I’m indebted to Amy Sherman for her rich understanding of the implications of Proverbs 11:10. Those interested in reading more should take a look at Amy’s book, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good.
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.