“Love Your Neighbor”—What Is the Most Practical Way?
WHEN you see fellow humans in dire need, what do you feel? What does a picture of starving children, for example, make you want to do? ‘I feel pity,’ you will say, ‘and I want to help.’ The vast sums of money annually contributed to charitable organizations and relief agencies indicate that many people evidently feel the same way.
Performing such good works for the benefit of people in need is commendable, especially in view of Jesus’ instruction to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 19:19) Many sincere people believe that the most practical way of showing their neighbor love is by building and supporting hospitals and schools, by contributing to good causes, and by engaging in various forms of social work. ‘That is what Christianity is all about,’ they may say, perhaps adding, if speaking to Jehovah’s Witnesses, ‘certainly more practical than spending your time and energy preaching from house to house about religion as you people do.’
But is it? Just how can we love our neighbor in the most practical way and to his greatest long-term benefit?
What Does Your Money Accomplish?
Prospective donors to worthy causes have reason to ask: ‘Just how much of my contribution will directly benefit the people it is designed to help?’ A 1978 investigation of 15 leading charitable organizations in the Federal Republic of Germany, for example, revealed that at that time administrative and distribution costs ate up some 42 percent of the organizations’ total income.
When television officials checked the savings accounts of six “adopted children” in Bolivia, they discovered that only 6 to 15 percent of the total amount of contributions made by their “adoptive parents” in the Federal Republic of Germany had been credited to the children’s bank accounts. A spokeswoman for the organization denied charges of fraud, however, explaining that prospective donors are clearly told that the children will get only about one third of their “parent’s” contributions. The rest, after caring for administrative costs, reportedly would be used for educational and medical purposes.
Of course, examples of misused charity are not unknown. This is true of relief measures in connection with recent famines in Africa. In Ethiopia, political problems prevented much of the food from reaching those in need, and in some instances food donations were reportedly sold—at excessive prices—rather than distributed free of charge.
Carl Bakal’s publication Charity U.S.A. cautions: “Where the cause is noble, how the money is spent is never questioned. I don’t want people to stop giving. I just thought questions should be answered because they were giving so blindly.” Obviously, giving blindly is unwise and can hardly be considered practical.
Following the Example Set by Jesus
These facts are regrettable, of course, but would they justify refusing to support such worthy causes? After all, did not Jesus heal the sick and miraculously feed the hungry, thereby setting a pattern for Christians today?
It is true that Jesus was moved with pity when he saw people in need. Eight Bible texts mention this. Two refer to the people’s need for food (Matthew 15:32; Mark 8:2), three to their need for physical healing (Matthew 14:14; 20:34; Mark 1:41), and one to their need for comfort upon the death of loved ones. (Luke 7:13) But the other two texts refer to an even greater need. Matthew 9:36 says: “On seeing the crowds he felt pity for them, because they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.” And Mark 6:34 reports: “He saw a great crowd, but he was moved with pity for them, because they were as sheep without a shepherd. And he started to teach them many things.”
In fact, even though pity for the people prompted Jesus to care for them in a physical way, his chief interest was in offering them the spiritual help their religious leaders had failed to provide. (See Matthew, chapter 23.) Jesus was “the fine shepherd,” one willing to surrender “his soul in behalf of the sheep.” (John 10:11) Because he gave this preaching activity—not engaging in social work or building hospitals or running relief agencies—top priority in life, he was later able to tell Pilate: “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.”—John 18:37.
Although Jesus bestowed upon his apostles the ability to perform miraculous good works of healing, he made no mention of this when issuing his final instructions to them before ascending into heaven. Instead, he commanded: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” Obviously, then, the more important work was to “make disciples . . . baptizing them . . . teaching them.”—Matthew 28:19, 20.
Why Preaching Is So Practical
Preaching is practical because it helps people apply Bible principles. This in turn helps them avoid problems that might bring them into need. Applying Bible principles dealing with work and our attitude toward material things, for example, can help prevent poverty. (Proverbs 10:4; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Timothy 6:6-8) Or following the Bible’s advice on the use of drugs and observing its moral standard can improve our health and ensure a happier family life.
Take the example of a 35-year-old Yugoslavian, living in the Federal Republic of Germany, who admits: “At the age of 18 or 19 I was already becoming an alcoholic. At 20 I was drinking a liter of schnapps and at least a case of beer [20 bottles] a day. Three times I was hospitalized as attempts were made to cure me of my habit, but the doctors were unable to help. Although I earned DM1,300 a month, I brought scarcely any of it home for my family.” It was what Jehovah’s Witnesses told him during their preaching work that developed in him a desire to have a better relationship with his Creator. “By means of prayer,” he continues, “I was able to achieve what the doctors could not.” We can imagine the positive effect this has had upon his family life.
To be sure, preaching will not solve every problem. Yet it is practical because it offers hope. Under God’s Kingdom every problem will be solved. Jesus will then perform miracles of a physical nature for everyone alive, not for just a few. Rather than offering temporary relief, the benefits will be lasting, in fact, everlasting. (See John 17:3.) So teaching people to exercise faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice and its provisions will accomplish the most good in the long run.
Many religious organizations in Christendom point with pride to their “good works” of caring for the sick, the needy, and the unfortunate. But they would do better to place more emphasis on offering spiritual help, even as Jesus did. Like the religious leaders of the first century, they have failed to carry out the more important commission. They may have filled the stomachs of some poor people with literal food, but they have left their minds and hearts hungering for words of truth. (See Amos 8:11.) They may have donated money to help the needy of the nations, but they have not declared “to the nations the good news about the unfathomable riches of the Christ” or about God’s Kingdom government. (Ephesians 3:8) Their missionaries may have helped undeveloped nations to become more proficient in the use of the plow, but they have not induced them “to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears.”—Isaiah 2:4.
Be Balanced in Loving Your Neighbor
Rightfully placing primary emphasis upon spiritual help, of course, does not excuse us from offering physical help—either to individuals or to groups—when it is necessary and when we are in a position to do so. We should want to follow the example set by early Christians. (See Acts 11:27-30.) In times of real need or disaster, we should be quick to follow Paul’s advice to “work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.” (Galatians 6:10) To ensure accomplishing the greatest good, Jehovah’s Witnesses generally do this on a personal basis. And since Witnesses who help out in such relief actions serve without pay, administration costs are eliminated.
But while helping others in a physical way, Christians never want to lose sight of their primary obligation, preaching the good news of God’s established Kingdom. That Kingdom will soon rid the world of all sickness, poverty, and need. How gratifying to be able to assist people to gain life in a world where the word “pity” will no longer need to be used. Could you possibly love your neighbor in a way more practical than that?