What Do Christians Care About (Most)?

To the Class of 2019

Commencement Address | Bethlehem College & Seminary | Minneapolis

I have two sentences that I want to commend to you as biblical and true and loving. My persuasion is that if you embrace these two sentences — if you treasure them and are unashamed of them — they will have three long-term effects on your life.

  1. They will help you be formed decisively by Scripture rather than by culture.

  2. They will help you clarify how Christians are of use to the world while being radically different from the world.

  3. And they will help you keep God supreme in the forefront of your life and hold fast to Christ as absolutely crucial.

Christians Care

Both of the sentences are designed to prick the conscience of one group of Christians and call out the unbelief of another group of Christians, and, I hope, bring clarity and conviction and courage and joy to you. I’ll mention both sentences and then try to show how the Bible points to them.

  1. Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.

  2. Christians care about all injustice, especially injustice against God.

I use the phrase “care about” — care about suffering, care about injustice — because I am not saying that all Christians agree on the best strategies for how to address all suffering and all injustice. We will debate those strategies until Jesus comes.

What I am saying is more basic: Christians care. Suffering and injustice move us. Touch us. Awaken some measure of compassion, or indignation, or both.

“Christians care about all suffering, all injustice. ”

You can see this caring in John 10:13. The hired hand who is not a shepherd “cares nothing for the sheep.” He just wants to get his pay and live his self-absorbed life. He does not care.

Or you can see it again in what John said about Judas when Judas complained about money spent on Jesus’s anointing: He complained about this “waste,” John said, “not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief” (John 12:6).

Christians are not like hired hands, and they are not like hypocritical, religious thieves. Christians care about all suffering, all injustice. We are touched. We are moved. Our hearts lean in toward relief and protection and justice. If we don’t, we are not acting like Christians. Let’s consider these two sentences one at a time.

Suffering Stirs Us

Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.

Christians care about all suffering. All is intended to prick the conscience of Christians who believe that caring about the suffering of disease, malnutrition, disability, mental illness, injury, abuse, assault, loneliness, rejection, calamity — this caring has to be restricted, because caring about these kinds of suffering might distract from, and diminish, our commitment to the gospel of Christ crucified and risen, and from the greater need of rescuing people from eternal suffering through faith in Jesus.

Go and Do Like Jesus

And the first point of this sentence is to say, No. Christians care about all suffering. Jesus is our model. Over and over in the Gospels it says, Jesus cared, he felt compassion on the harassed crowds (Matthew 9:36), and on the sick (Matthew 14:14), and on the hungry (Matthew 15:32), and on the blind (Matthew 20:34), and on the leper (Mark 1:41), and on the demon-possessed (Mark 9:22), and on the bereaved (Luke 7:13).

And when he told a parable to teach us what he meant by “love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27) he said, “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion” (Luke 10:33). He cared. This disposition of the soul to care is included in the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Eternal Suffering

So, Christians care about all suffering. And the sentence ends, especially eternal suffering.

Especially — this is intended to call out the practical unbelief of those Christians who either don’t believe there is such a thing as eternal suffering, or who convince themselves that it is more loving not to warn people about it and not to plead with them to escape it through the provision God himself has made in the cross of Christ. In either case, practically, they don’t care about eternal suffering.

But Jesus did. In Matthew 25 he warned us that it was coming: “Then the King will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ . . . And these [on his left] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:41, 46).

And Paul shared the same conviction and warned us, “Those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus . . . will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:8–9). And John — the apostle of love — warns with the strongest language of all: “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (Revelation 14:11). They really cared about whether people suffer eternally or rejoice eternally.

How Much Hate?

Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) once asked, “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them?” Millions of Christians, including many missionaries, have convinced themselves that they are loving lost people by caring mostly about their suffering in this world, and little about how they will spend eternity.

“Christians do care about all injustice. Because all justice is rooted in God.”

I just read an article about reaching an unreached people group. It began by foregrounding the beneficial earthly effects of missionary work — education, medicine, prosperity, written language — and ended with a focus on earthly human flourishing, with one passing mention of Jesus in the middle.

No God. No wrath. No cross. No salvation. No forgiveness of sins. No faith. No hell. No heaven. No eternal joy with God. Whether the article was accurate or not, this is what was held up as a model of missionary success.

My prayer for you is that you will absolutely reject this either-or: either relieve suffering now or plead with people to escape eternal suffering into eternal joy through the gospel of Christ. I hope you will say No to that soul-destroying dichotomy — and even the prioritizing of temporal well-being over eternal well-being. I hope you will say — and display — for the rest of your life: Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.

Injustice Incites Us

Christians care about all injustice, especially injustice against God.

Christians care about all injustice. All is intended to prick the conscience of Christians who, because of self-indulgence or fear, have dulled the capacities of their hearts to care about the injustices of the world — all the countless ways that people, all over the world, are treated by other people worse than they deserve.

I say this is from “self-indulgence” because I think most indifference to injustice among professing Christians is not owing to convictional partiality or opposition, but rather to the moral stupor that comes over us when we are satiated with the comforts of this world.

But the dulling of our care about injustice also comes from fear of man — fear that some group will put a theological or political label on us that would be misleading and offensive. And so, we convince ourselves that indifference to injustice is a price worth paying to maintain a certain reputation.

Justice Rooted in God

But in fact, Christians do care about all injustice. Because all justice is rooted in God.

  • “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice.” (Deuteronomy 32:4)

  • “The King in his might loves justice.” (Psalm 99:4; see also Psalm 33:5)

  • “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!” (Revelation 15:3)

  • “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!” (Revelation 16:7)

  • “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until [Jesus] brings justice to victory.” (Matthew 12:20)

And from the justice of our God and Savior flow his commands to us:

  • “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

  • “By the help of your God . . . hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” (Hosea 12:6)

  • “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

  • “Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God.” (Luke 11:42)

If we neglect justice, if we do not care about all injustice, we are not acting like Christians. Because Christians care about all injustice.

Injustice Against God

And we care about all injustice, especially injustice against God. Especially — this half of the sentence is intended to call out the practical unbelief of Christians for whom injustices against humans ignite more passion in their hearts and in their mouths than the global tragedy of injustice against God. And it aims to call out the practical unbelief of Christians who are so anesthetized by the comforts and entertainments of this world that they don’t care about injustice against man or God.

“God is infinitely deserving of complete worship and trust and obedience.”

Injustice is to treat someone worse than they deserve from other people. And the more respect they deserve, and the less we render, the greater the injustice. God alone deserves the highest respect and honor and praise and love and fear and devotion and allegiance and obedience. Yet every single human being has fallen short of this worship, and exchanged the glory of God for the creation (Romans 3:23; 1:23).

Therefore, every human is guilty of an injustice that is infinitely worse than all injustices against man put together. God is infinitely deserving of complete worship and trust and obedience. Therefore, in treating God as unworthy of our total allegiance, every human is guilty of an infinite injustice against God.

Denied Justice for Us

This injustice against God came to a climax in the very moment when God himself, in great mercy, and without compromising his justice, came in human flesh to save us from the just penalty of our own injustice against him.

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
   and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
   so he opens not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him. (Acts 8:32–33)

And as God embraced infinite injustice against himself, he purchased a people who would prize above all things Christ crucified as the vindication of God’s justice, and the forgiveness of our injustice against him. He embraced injustice against himself to create a brokenhearted, bold people called Christians who would be marked by these two God-centered, Christ-exalting sentences:

Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.

Christians care about all injustice, especially injustice against God.

I pray that you will treasure them and be unashamed of them for the rest of your life.