Don’t forget the Small Stuff

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.‘”   Mat 25:40

I remember my wife recounting something that happened to her several years ago.  She was taking care of our niece Savannah who was around nine months old, and she decided to take her out to a store for a little time away from the house.  They had already selected the items they were going to purchase and were waiting in line to pay, when this lady walked up to them and said hello.  Now, this lady was unlike anyone else in the store.  She was dirty, unkempt, and wore old and worn out clothing.  She had several missing teeth and you could definitely see the pain of a hard life in her face.  Both Linda and Savannah looked at her and responded with “hello!”  Everyone around them edged slowly away from this woman, but little Savannah had a great big smile and reached out to her from the shopping cart to give her a hug.  The lady looked down at Savannah, and with a smile on her face, asked if she could hug her for a moment.  Linda was in a quandary, but felt this would be a good thing, so she consented.   The lady then leaned over to Savannah who still had her arms stretched out, and wrapped her arms around the lady and gave her a huge hug.  As Linda watched, she saw the eyes of the lady close as a peace and joy came over her face.  After a minute, she stood back up and with the smile still on her face, said something like, “Thank you, I really needed that.”  She then turned around slowly and walked away. 

When you talk to many people about what ministry is, you hear words like preaching, teaching, counseling, and prayer.  And I will not minimize these.  But when you look in the gospel of Matthew, you see what really matters to Jesus.  Not that the above does not, but the simple things we do for others mean as much, if not more in the grand scheme of things.  Let’s look at the parable of the sheep and the goats and see what Jesus has to say about ministry.

First, lets read it. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.   Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  Matt 25:31-46.

The list he gives us is as follows:

  • Giving the hungry food
  • Giving the thirsty drink
  • Welcoming a stranger
  • Clothing the naked
  • Visiting the sick and the imprisoned.

Now these five things may not sound like much.  But they mean the world to those who do not have food, water, clothing, a friend to stand beside them, or just simply do not feel welcome.  When you give a starving person something to eat or a thirsty person something to drink, you have met a basic need in their life, nutrition and water.  Without these basic necessities, they would die or get very sick.  You are also showing them you care, that you love them.  Is this not what ministry is all about?  Showing love and meeting needs?   I say this is the most basic of ministry.  When you give a naked person clothing, you are taking away their shame.   No one wants to be naked in front of a watching world, unless their is something wrong with them.  You are showing again how you care for them by removing the ridicule and shame they are experiencing.  In many cases, you are giving them a means to go out and have self worth by being able to fend for themselves.  And who doesn’t want to have company when they are sick or imprisoned?   I love to have someone around when I am not feeling well.  Even if it is to just provide water when I am thirsty, or someone with whom I can talk.  When I am sick, I just want to lay down and sleep.  It is nice to have someone remember to give me my medication, ensure I am drinking enough, and addressing distractions that would force me to get out of bed, such as when our dog has to go outside.  And if we find ourselves in prison, we find ourselves in a very lonely place.   You desire someone to bring sanity to your existence.  It can be a very boring place, and a break in the monotony is always welcome.  I do not speculate on this, I had a friend who spent thirty years in prison, and he told me this often as we talked.  And when a stranger enters into your group and you introduce yourself and let them know they are welcome, it opens the doors to new friendships to someone who may not have many friends at all.  Maybe they are new to the area, or they have been lonely and in need of someone who cares about who they are, and desires to spend time with them.  We have no idea what they have gone through or what their needs are.  However, if you never welcome them, you may never know,

These are all examples of ministry.  But there are so many more.  For instance, like little Savannah in the opening paragraph, a hug and a smile meant so much to that lady in the store.  Giving someone something they absolutely need but cannot afford, such as a car or a place to live.  Teaching a person how they can get financially stable again, then helping them through the process.  Standing with someone who has lost a loved one.  Or simply offering your assistance in moving a piano.  These are practical things, but they are also very much ministry, just as much as is preaching, teaching, counseling and praying.  They may be small things to us, but they are big to those who need help.

And even more important than this, Christ sees them as showing who we really are.  Someone who preaches and teaches can hide their lack of spirituality behind their public persona.  There is a paster in the Atlanta area who had seen His church grow quite large, and whom the congregation felt delivered great messages each week, only to find out that he had been a closet homosexual for the majority of his time as a minister.  And another pastor in the area had been having an affair for some time while still ministering to the congregation.  However, when you love someone enough to meet their needs by sacrificing what you have for another, be it money or time, and are not doing it for show or gain, that shows the reality of your walk.  If you are only willing to do the “big” things, and not do, or even think to do the “small” stuff, then that shows a lack of true love for the brethren.  And what did Christ say to those who did these things?  He said, ” Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Matt 25:40.  And conversely, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”  Matt 25:45.  He said as we aid those, or refuse to aid those in need, then we have done the same to Christ.  For He accounts us His brothers and sisters.  And He judges the sheep and the goats by what they did or did not do, and passed judgment accordingly.  Does this show a salvation based on our works?  No!  But He is demonstrating that if we show love to the body in small ways; giving a cup of water, a morsel of food, a set of clothes, or needed companionship, we are acting as we truly are.  No masks or deception.  We are being a true minister to the body.  And if we are ministering to the Body of Christ, we are ministering to Christ.  Just as when a doctor mends my broken arm, he is tending to me.

Just because we do not teach or preach in the church, or lead the congregation in worship, or hold the position of Elder or Deacon, does not mean we are not ministers.  Moreover, ministry is not exclusively done within the local church or as a function of the local church.  Going out and meeting the needs of people you meet every day is as much, if not more, true ministry as with those who preach or lead worship.  Giving a sandwich to a starving man is just as important as preaching on Sunday morning.  Visiting sick people ministers just as much as counseling someone who is struggling with issues.  Do not fall into the trap of separating those things done within the church walls as ministry, however those things done outside of them as merely good deeds. And if you simply smile at someone who is struggling in life, and it brightens their day, then you have accomplished as much, if not more, then the man who preaches a message to a group of gang members.  You see, the idea here is love.  Loving others in the small ways that reach to the heart of people in need.  Everything is ministry that helps those in need.  Because when you show someone love, no matter how trivial to you it is, you have ministered greatly to that person.  The smallest need met is as great as the largest.  And God will remember all acts of ministry you perform.  So, as little Savannah reached out to this person who was rejected by practically everyone else and showed her love and acceptance, we also need to keep our eyes open and our spirits in tune with God to do all we can to minister to those who need us.   Remember, the smallest of all seeds produce one of the largest trees.  So, do not forget the small stuff, for they may have the biggest impact in the lives of those we seek to reach out to.

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