You know the old saying: “Christians are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.” It’s meant as a derogatory reference to Christians who spend their time and energy on spiritual activities, while seeming uninformed on current events or unavailable for making any positive impact on the world around them.
There are others who say that doing good – helping those who are hungry, poor, sick, or in prison, or providing disaster relief – is what it’s all about. For them, getting busy helping others is the mark of spirituality.
The Christian church has had heroes in both camps. The best known “heavenly minded” saints would be those in certain monastic religious orders who spent their days primarily alone and in prayer. And perhaps Mother Teresa would be the best known example of the “earthly good” camp. And yet all these saints understood that both aspects are needed. Many of the monastery residents worked to provide help to those in need, and Mother Teresa is well known for her deep personal spiritual life.
Jesus talked about both aspects – the need to love both God and people. “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”” (Matthew 22:37-40) To focus on one to the exclusion of the other is to dishonor God.
That wasn’t a new concept. In the Old Testament, Micah had exhorted, “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) Yes, God requires both of us.
Get The Order Right!
Our spiritual life can get all mixed up when we get things in the wrong order. Jesus made clear that the first priority is to love God fully. Our heart must be right. If we don’t settle this first and make it a priority, all the good “stuff” we try to do can deteriorate into a religion of works.
But if we stop with only the personal spiritual disciplines our faith isn’t worth very much. “But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:18) Faith results in deeds. Love results in action. What’s in your heart results in changes in your behavior.
Being heavenly minded isn’t really being heavenly minded unless it results in “acting justly and loving mercy.” Loving people is what “heavenly minded” does. And doing good deeds is empty unless it flows from a heart that has been ravishingly loved by God, and has loved Him in return.
Making Them Work Together
Yes, God has given each person a unique personality, specific gifts, and a personal role to play in His kingdom. There’s no need to become anxious that we aren’t doing it all; we only need to be concerned that we’re doing what God has given us individually to do.
Here are a few questions that apply regardless of your personality, and will help you see whether you’re both loving God and loving people:
- Is my relationship with God stronger than it was a month ago? Than a year ago? Than when I first came to know Jesus?
- Can I point to specific ways in which my character has become more like Jesus since I became a Christian?
- If I met someone for the first time, how long would it take for them to know that I’m a follower of Jesus?
- In what specific ways do I invest in growing my relationship with God on a daily basis?
- What effect has my life had on the people closest to me, such as my family and friends?
- In my business or my job, am I treating business associates, employees, coworkers, clients, or customers with respect and integrity?
- Who are the people in need who have been helped by my investment of time, energy, or money? (Matthew 25:40)
There’s a gospel song that begins, “Loving God, loving each other.” One results in the other.
If your relationship with God is not growing, that’s the place to begin. Get that right first. Spend time in His presence, getting filled up with His love.
And then let that love leak out to others as you love them in Christ’s name. Then you will be both heavenly minded and earthly good!
Tour Turn: Which do you struggle with more, loving God, or letting that love work itself out in loving others? Leave a comment below.
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