Discerning the World’s Needs

By Pastor David M. Choi

Acts 11:19-30

What’s the purpose of a solution? It’s to fix a problem or to fill a need. But we cannot determine what the comprehensive solution should be without first understanding what the problem is. For instance, it’s difficult to conceive of what a car should be – that is, the required space, capabilities, and horsepower – if I don’t first understand what my transportational needs are, such as the distance I need to travel, the terrain upon which I’ll be traveling on, how many people are traveling with me, and so forth. Once we understand these things (i.e. the needs), only then can we begin to understand what sort of car we need (i.e. the solution).

However, when it comes to the world’s problem and solution, the Bible tells us that the order runs in the opposite direction. We understand what the needs of this world are only by seeing first the answer given to us in the person of Jesus Christ. As Karl Barth notes: “How can I understand and explain my faith, of all things, unless I turn away from myself and look to where the gospel message I believe in calls me to look?” Apart from Christ, it’s impossible to recognize what our deepest needs are. Only by revealing himself as the answer does Christ reveal to us the riddles plaguing our lives. In this, the Lord (i.e. the solution) helps us see what we cannot see on our own (i.e. the needs).

Now, in this passage, we see various groups responding to various needs. The Jewish Christians see the need of their brethren and preach to the Jews; those of Cyprus and Cyrene see the need of the Hellenists and preach to them the gospel; and the prophets of Jerusalem foretell of the ensuing famine and the Christians of Antioch respond with provisions of relief. Though the needs vary, common to each response is that the needs are recognized in light of their common solution, Jesus Christ, and through the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Commenting on this passage, Willie J. Jennings writes, “The Spirit speaks to us of what afflicts this world.” And to be sure, there are many things that afflict this world. Here, Luke simply assumes that Christians will be those who respond to the world’s needs with aid, not trying to convince them that they should. Therefore, the real question is how will we discern what those needs are and the manner in which we are called to respond. Notice, each group was drawn towards a different group. And they not only needed to identify the need of those to whom they were called, but also understand the nature of their specific need. Some required the preaching of the gospel, while others required famine relief.

Yet, what helped them to see and act accordingly? By discerning the needs of others through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, since it is the Holy Spirit who presents to us how we are to offer Christ to those around us. However, our problem is that sometimes we don’t even recognize that there are people in our lives who are in need or suffering. At other times, we may see that they’re in need, but we don’t know how to help them with the hope of the gospel. The question is not whether you’re called to help those in need. You are. Rather, the question is are you going to Christ to see who they are? Are you searching for godly wisdom in order to faithfully, lovingly, and mercifully respond? Indeed, who are those in need today? Ask the Lord to show you, to help you understand what it means to embody for them the gospel, and to have the courage to live it out.

Author: cyg-pd

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