This morning, at our midweek Communion service, I spoke on Matthew 25:31-46. It is a well-known passage about ‘The Sheep and the Goats’ and judgment. Here, Jesus teaches us that what sets Christians apart is how they put their faith into action.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Jesus goes on to teach us that failure to do any of these is a failure in following him. It’s a penetrating and, in many ways, a disturbing picture of what it means to live out our faith on a daily basis.
The Bible makes a link between faith and works – between what we claim to believe and what we actually do. So while we are not saved by good works, we are saved for good works.
We can’t say: ‘Yes I believe in Jesus, yes he died for my sins,’ but don’t allow it to make any difference to the way we behave towards one another, or treat our family, or fill in our tax return or … And yet that is precisely what many professing Christians do, and it is that sort of hypocrisy the final judgement will expose.
It’s often said that love is a verb. A verb, of course, is a doing word. It isn’t a feeling or an experience (though, admittedly, it’s both of those) it’s what we do to/for others that shows how much we love. To practise love, the Bible teaches, is to reflect the character and concerns of the Lord Jesus.
A lady handed this poem to a country vicar, when, after asking him for help, he promised to pray for her.
I was hungry,
and you formed a humanities group to discuss my hunger.
I was imprisoned,
and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.
I was naked,
and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick,
and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless,
and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
I was lonely,
and you left me alone to pray for me.
You seem so Holy, so close to God,
But I am still very hungry – and very lonely – and very cold.
The basis for judgement and approval will be whether we accept and love Jesus. And whether we really accept and love Jesus is not measured by how much we say or how much we sing or how much we read the Bible or how many times we attend church, but by how much we love and care for others. Those in need, including those who bring God’s message to us who can often be the ones thrown into prison or struggling in poverty.
As Jesus said elsewhere to his disciples: ‘Whoever accepts you, accepts me and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.’